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Impulse for revival: “Little Europe” clings to the remnants of its cultural legacies

In certain areas of Gangetic Bengal, “Little Europe” had begun to take form even before the British created Calcutta (now Kolkata).

Early in the 16th century, the Portuguese founded the first European settlement in Bengal at Bandel on the Ganges riverfront. After it, the British settled in Calcutta, the Dutch settled in Chinsurah, the French settled in Chandannagar (formerly Chandernagore), and the Danes settled in Serampore.

Today’s election will take place in these once colonial outposts, which are now a part of the Serampore and Hooghly parliamentary seats.The roughly 20 lakh voters who support these seats want local MPs, as well as the state and federal governments, to boost trade and commerce, protect their cultural heritage, repair architectural monuments, and boost tourism.

The towns, which are located around 60 km north of Kolkata, saw an increase in capital and began to thrive in trade and commerce, eventually becoming home to some of the largest riverine ports. Along with bringing their own food, culture, and architecture, the foreign lords built houses and churches.

The “Little Europe” villages lost prominence as Kolkata gained prominence under the British in the 18th century. Their exquisite architectural legacy started to deteriorate, their cuisine vanished, and commerce decreased.

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The only thing left of these locations are overcrowded mofussil (suburban) settlements. The quality of life has been negatively impacted by uncontrolled real estate development, poor drainage, and inadequate infrastructure, according to Soumen Banerjee, a former English professor at Serampore College, which was established in 1827.

Because of their physical and intangible cultural legacy, the residents believe the sites have a lot of promise for tourism.

These communities have maintained remnants of their European past in their public areas, architectural styles, and cultural practices. Rapid urbanization has put “Little Europe’s” colonial architecture, cultural customs, and traditions under jeopardy. A strong revitalization strategy and immediate conservation measures are required, according to Bandel cafĂ© owner Susmita Mukherjee.

These sections of the Hooghly are being promoted by West Bengal Tourism, which also highlights the European merchants’ settlements along the river’s banks.
The Hugli River of Cultures Project has been supported in part by the UK and India in order to conserve and record the legacy.

The project is being worked on by a group of academic researchers who live in and near Chandannagar, as well as partner teams from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and the University of Liverpool.

Numerous landmarks, such as public areas and churches, have previously undergone restoration. According to a tourism department official, there has been an increase in the quantity of people visiting these locations.

In addition to attracting visitors and piqueing public interest, the restoration of The Denmark Tavern using traditional building methods and materials has raised expectations for the restoration of other historical sites in a manner that supports the regional economy. Originally built in the 1780s, the tavern provided European guests with literature, wine, and entertainment.

“There are other historical sites that could benefit from the restoration of the Danish tavern,” according to Anirban Ghosh, a history walk guide who leads tours around “Little Europe.”

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