A team of officials from the French city of Lorient collaborates with Kochi Corporation to create a roadmap for preserving Kochi’s heritage

Kochi today is developing at a breakneck pace. A bustling sea route, a developing Infopark, proximity to the sea and backwaters that promote tourism and a diverse culture have seen an influx of migrants and tourists that have turned the city into a cultural and commercial hub. But it is at this crucial point that the line between becoming an industrialised metropolis and a preserver of heritage becomes apparent and it is this fine line that divides a good city from a great city.

The Kochi Corporation has not overlooked this fact and had in 2012 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Lorient, a coastal city in the North Western part of France. As part of the joint effort, a French team of five officials has arrived in the city to conduct a three day workshop and discussion with Kochi city officials to create a roadmap for the preservation and development of the city’s heritage. Fittingly, the meetings will be held on the premises of the pristine Bolgatty Palace.

Port cities

The Deputy Mayor of the city of Lorient, Jean-Paul Solaro, believes that Kochi has a heritage that its people can be proud of and that developing iconic landmarks and promoting intangible aspects of the area’s past can go a long way in adding to the allure of the city.

“In many ways Kochi and Lorient are very similar. Both are port cities and have a history that is centuries old. In fact, Lorient was originally used as a point of connection for trade between France and India in the days of the French East India Company. Also, since almost 90 per cent of Lorient was destroyed during World War II bombings and the city was since rebuilt, we hope to bring some of that experience to the table in helping Kochi develop and conserve its heritage at the same time,” he says.

The three-year agreement aims to use the expertise of Lorient city officials and town planners in developing areas while preserving important landmarks and promoting as well as renovating aspects of the city’s past as necessary. The officials on the team include specialists in town planning, technical services and heritage development, who will exchange ideas with city officials about promoting culture, educating citizens on the importance of heritage and its conservation, creating walkways that allow residents and tourists to explore famous locations by foot and so on. The partnership is being overseen by the UNESCO-led Indian Heritage Cities Network (IHCN), with officials from both bodies present for discussions.

The General Manager for Technical Services at Lorient, Jean-Michel Herry, believes Kochi has immense potential for development. “The location that Kochi is blessed with has amazing possibilities, whether it is for coastal, commercial or tourism development. In fact, we almost wish we had this kind of a bay back in Lorient!” he says candidly.

For those who feared that the cultural heart of Kochi would be lost in the race for rapid development, this is a heartening move. If all goes according to plan, the near future should see the cultural landmarks of the city shine like bright beacons in the city landscape instead of getting submerged in grime and squalor. After all, there is no question that they deserve to shine, as glittering jewels in the crown of the Queen of the Arabian Sea.

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