French consul-general Damien Syed lights a lamp to start the foundation celebrations at the Institut de Chandernagor as Vieilles Maisons Francaises president Philippe Toussaint (right) looks on. (Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya)
Five years ago, a project that took off as an inventory of the heritage buildings of Chandernagore has blossomed into an interactive website that acts as a repository of memories, a tool for heritage consciousness and a global platform for the former French colony.
The website www.heritagechandernagore.com will be unveiled on Wednesday at Alliance Francaise du Bengale. "The website enables people to see the magnificent built heritage of Chandernagore. Once one knows what is there to protect, there is no excuse not to do it," Philippe Toussaint, president of Vieilles Maisons Francaises, the NGO which has provided most of the funds for the website, told Metro.
"The inventory was necessary to protect the buildings which would otherwise disappear," said French consul general Damien Syed.
Syed and Toussaint had travelled to Chandernagore to be a part of the foundation day celebrations at the Institut de Chandernagor (IdC), marking the signing of the treaty of cession of Chandernagore in 1951.
"The website will evolve as it is not static like the one we built for Chinsurah," said architect and conservation planner Aishwarya Tipnis, who led the project and has also built www.dutchinchinsurah.com on the history of neighbouring Chinsurah. "A blog will be part of the website where people will continue to contribute. There will be a continual crowd-sourcing of history."
While the inventory of 99 buildings was ready by 2012, a host of community engagement activities was held in May 2015. "Contests were organised for schoolchildren alongside various workshops and a citizens' forum. Local youths went door to door collecting memories which form a part of the website. They are now trained to take tourists on guided walks," Tipnis said.
Toussaint is ready with another gift for Chandernagore. "We want to fund the digitisation of the important documents at IdC." IdC curator Arup Ganguly has drawn up the list of documents. "Some, like our single copy of Le Petit Bengali, need immediate attention before crumbling to dust," he says. The project awaits government approval.