Vadodara, a city influenced by its rich culture and heritage is one of the most beautiful cities in India, situated in Gujarat. The city was named after ‘Vad’ trees, otherwise known as Banyan trees that were found in abundance in the area. The city is known for its deep-rooted culture and heritage just like that of a Banyan tree. Just like Mumbai and Calcutta, Vadodara was a princely state located on the banks of the river Vishwamitra. Buried in the depths of British-India’s history, the city is a remnant of the past and is a constant reminder of the struggles our country went through during the pre-independence era. The city was a symbol of power passed on to the Gupta, Rashtrakuta, Sultanate, and Solanki dynasties before it finally came to rest in the hands of the Gaekwad dynasty. Vadodara was originally discovered as a small town inhabited by Jains and was given the name ‘Ankottaka’.
The city has undergone drastic changes right from the 5th century to the pre-independence era. Due to this, we now come across a series of hybrid heritage structures that weave Mughal, Colonial, Persian, Gothic, and European architecture together. Initially, Vadodara was considered a fortified town that went through massive development in terms of the growth rate of settlements and social structure. After the British invasion, a few ground rules were laid out by Maharaja Sayyajirao Gaekwad to introduce several institutional and hospital buildings along with libraries and museums that preserved the most beautiful artifacts and architecture in the city. Textile and tile factories increased the revenue of the city which led to industrialization. Some of the famous examples include the Maharaja Sayyajirao University of Baroda, the Baroda Museum and Picture Gallery, the Kothi building, Sayajirao Gaekwad Hospital, Kirti Mandir, and the Maharaja Fateh Singh Museum. Some of these structures were built to serve as memorials of Maharaja Sayyajirao Gaekwad. The museums housed a collection of numerous European art pieces, sculptures, Chinese and Japanese porcelain vases, Wedgewood bone china, and Doulton collectibles.
Vadodara is an exemplar of architectural masterpieces that belong to different timelines. Some of the earliest heritage structures and places include the Kadia Dungar caves, Ratanmahal sloth bear sanctuary, and Champaner-Pavagadh archaeological park. The medieval era was marked by historical structures made of a mix of elements like onion-shaped domes, jaali, chattris, chajjas, and gothic arches that belonged to different architectural styles. Later on, a blend of these architectural styles came to be known as eclecticism. Most structures of this period consisted of palaces, forts, museums, gardens, and temples that continue to mesmerize tourists and citizens today. Some of these examples include Laxmi Vilas Palace, Pratap Vilas Palace, Nazar Baug Palace, Jubilee gardens, Sayaji Baug and Lal Baug. Some of these palatial buildings faced open courtyards and fountains where the king would relax. Locally sourced materials like stone, brick, and age-old architectural techniques were used to construct these eclectic structures.
In the current scenario, Vadodara is a cosmopolitan city also ranked as a smart city. Today it is a fast-growing city, rich in tourism and known for its exceptional architecture whose beauty remains in the heart of the beholder! Some parts of the city brim with flamboyant malls, multiplexes, lounges, bars, cafes, exquisite restaurants, fast-food eateries, discotheques, and nightclubs while the older parts of Baroda bring us back in time through a series of heritage walks as we maneuver through narrow lanes and bustling markets. The Khanderao Market is one such example where an old structure serves as a market space for fruit vendors and vegetable sellers. Some of the market streets house an exotic collection of local handloom and handicrafts like Patola silk saris, Bandinis, Ghagra-cholis, appliques quilts, bangles, Khadi, jewelry, and beadwork. People bustle in and out of small tea shops with a plate of samosas and kachoris. The Fatehgunj area is lined with snack shops selling snacks like Sev usal, bhakarwadi, jalebi, fafda, papdi, khaman, and idad.
A recent interview held by ‘Architects and Interiors India’ had a group of leading architects put forward their views on the new urban fabric and structure Vadodara should ideally lean towards. The development of the city lies in the strength of its culture and heritage that bind people together. Although Vadodara seems to have a fast-paced growth in terms of urban and social expansion, they believe that it’s important to keep local heritage alive. When we look at the complexity of the environment and the need to provide climate-responsive architecture, one must always look at the context and the availability of materials. In this case, basing new architecture on the local ethos and heritage sites is what compels us to design thoughtfully. Vadodara is a beautiful city because of how old structures remain intact centuries later and will continue to be so as long as we respect the climatic and contextual aspects of the city. After all, timeless architecture thrives longer than the rest!