You don’t need to travel to the Acropolis of Athens. You have everything here -Le Corbusier on visiting Ahmedabad

Heritages are more than just physical landmarks. They hold assets of connections, sentiments, recollections, feelings, smells, hopes, crowds, and tales of people, society, and time. Ahmedabad is such a statement of the time. On July 8, 2017, the more than 600-year-old Walled City of Ahmedabad, founded by Ahmed Shah, was designated as India’s first UNESCO World Heritage City, recognizing the walled city’s distinctive heritage and heritage value. The city exhibits an extensive sultanate architectural legacy, including the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the Fort city, numerous mosques and tombs, and significant Hindu and Jain temples from later periods. The urban structure consists of tightly clustered traditional homes (pols) in gated traditional streets (puras), many of which have distinctive elements like bird feeders, public wells, and religious buildings. For six centuries, it flourished as the state of Gujarat’s capital.

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Ahmedabad Heritage Walk Map_© Heritage Lab
History of Ahmedabad

On the eastern bank of the Sabarmati River, Sultan Ahmad Shah established the walled city of Ahmadabad in the year 1411 AD. Many rulers and leaders passed through the city, bringing with them a variety of influences. Some built walls and mosques, while others battled against all odds to get the nation to where it is today. One cannot deny the rich history of Ahmedabad, or as the locals call it, “Amdavad.” The old city is regarded as an archaeological entity with its extensive, long-lasting plotting. Based on artefacts from the Pre-Sultanate and Sultanate periods, its urban archaeology strengthens its historical significance.

The Sultanate period monuments’ architecture displays a singular fusion of the multicultural nature of the old city. The rich domestic wooden architecture of the ancient city, which consists primarily of distinctive “Havelis” (neighbourhoods), “pols” (gated residential main streets), and khadkis (inner entrances to the polls), is associated with this heritage along with the complementary traditions embodied in other religious structures. Since they are also an essential part of Ahmadabad’s urban heritage, they are presented as an expression of the community organizing network.

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Pol-House Architecture at Shantinathji Mandir _© Planet Gujarat

The most distinctive feature of the city’s heritage is its timber-based architecture, which is of exceptional significance. It demonstrates Ahmadabad’s significant contributions to cultural practices, arts and crafts, building design, and material selection, and its ties to myths and symbolism that emphasize its cultural connections with the occupants. 

The domestic architectural typology of the city is described and interpreted as a significant illustration of regional architecture with a community-specific purpose and a family lifestyle that plays a vital role in its heritage. The historic urban structure of Ahmadabad is an exceptional and singular example of multicultural coexistence due to the presence of institutions belonging to many religions (Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism).

Selection as a World Heritage site

The selection parameter followed by UNESCO is called “Outstanding Universal Value”. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of ten selection criteria. Ahmedabad fulfils two of its significant criteria.

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Dada Harir Well_© Planet Gujarat

Criterion (ii): Exhibit an important interchange of human values, over time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design.

The city’s historic architecture from the Sultanate era in the fifteenth century demonstrated a significant exchange of human values over time, accurately reflecting the culture of the governing immigrant communities. Planning for the settlement was based on the agreed-upon principles of human values and shared standards of communal living and sharing. Its monumental structures, which served as examples of religious philosophy, showcased the best in craftsmanship and technology, resulting in the development of a significant regional Sultanate architectural expression that is unmatched in India. Most mosques were constructed using local masons and artisans to the fullest extent possible, giving them complete freedom to use their native craftsmanship. The monuments of the Sultanate period offer a distinctive stage of architectural and technological development for monumental arts during the 15th-century period of western India’s history.

Criterion (v): To be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land use, or sea use which is representative of a culture (or cultures) or human interaction with the environment, especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.

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Mangaldas  in Haveli_© Planet Gujarat

The hierarchy of living spaces and streets that serve as both public and private rooms in Ahmadabad indicate the local knowledge and sense of a tight-knit community. The house is an independent structure with plumbing, sewage, and climate control systems (the courtyard is the focus). Its conception and image, which incorporate religious symbolism through woodcarving and canonical bearings, are a creative use of habitat. The self-sufficient gated street “pol” was created when this was accepted by the community as an acceptable and agreeable form, creating an entire settlement pattern with community needs expressed in its public spaces at the settlement level. As a result, Ahmadabad’s close-knit neighbourhood pol patterns serve as a superb illustration of human habitation.

Integrity & Authenticity

Apart from the criterion parameter, the integrity and Authenticity of the city contributed to being a World Heritage Centre.

Integrity

Six centuries have passed since Ahmadabad’s inception, and during that time, it has undergone numerous cycles of growth and decay. In general, the city still radiates wholeness and intactness in its urbanity and fabric, and it has embraced development and change with its customary resilience.

Authenticity

Through domestic structures, Ahmadabad’s settlement architecture conveys a strong sense of the city’s origin. The city is the only one with wooden architecture that is so pronouncedly preferred. Given the climatic response for year-round comforts for the residents, the entire settlement form is very “organic” in its function.

Sarkhej Roza_© Planet Gujarat

In Ahmadabad, there are 2,696 significant buildings protected by the Heritage Department of the Ahmadabad Municipal Corporation, 28 monuments listed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), one memorial listed by the State Department of Archaeology (SDA), and one monument listed by both organizations (AMC). To learn about history, it is undoubtedly a wonderful place to visit.

References:
  1. Centre, U.W.H. (n.d.). The Criteria for Selection. [online] UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Availableat:https://whc.unesco.org/en/criteria/?fbclid=IwAR33Tu5rIX_ZcL3OZUjvuKvqIyDH7WV6-wEviTqsVd0v_T4dnZ0hPQfnta4 [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
  2. Centre, U.W.H. (n.d.). Historic City of Ahmadabad. [online] UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1551/#:~:text=The%20walled%20city%20of%20Ahmadabad [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
  3. Correspondent, S. (2017). Ahmedabad declared India’s first heritage city by UNESCO. The Hindu. [online] 9 Jul. Available at: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ahmedabad-declared-indias-first-heritage-city-by-unesco/article62057366.ece [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
  4. Lab, T.H. (2017). 5 reasons to celebrate Ahmedabad as a World Heritage City. [online] The Heritage Lab. Available at: https://www.theheritagelab.in/ahmedabad-world-heritage-city/ [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
  5. Wikipedia. (2022). Historic City of Ahmadabad. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historic_City_of_Ahmadabad [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
  6. Planet Gujarat. (2020). Explore India’s First UNESCO World Heritage City – Ahmedabad | Heritage Monuments. [online] Available at: https://planetgujarat.com/explore-indias-first-unesco-world-heritage-city-ahmedabad/ [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
Author

Toukir is an undergraduate student of architecture at Khulna University, Bangladesh. He is fascinated to explore the relationship of human psychology and build environment in this age. He dreams to be impactful to the people, to the planet with sensible and responsible architectural practice.

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