Prior to a state visit from Prince Albert Edward — the eldest son Victoria, queen of the United Kingdom and her consort, Prince Albert — in 1876, the Maharaja of Jaipur did what most of us would do before welcoming an important guest into our house. He spruced up his place a bit, and the entire city too. Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II ordered the city of Jaipur to be repainted in terracotta pink — a colour that traditionally signified hospitality. This move earned the city its moniker ‘Pink City’.
The historic city of Jaipur has remained pink since and most of its culture and architecture is intact, thus winning it the UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
The announcement was made after the 43rd Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee examined the nomination of the Walled City of Jaipur for inclusion in the World Heritage list this year.
Fit for a king
The historic Walled City of Jaipur in Rajasthan, was founded in 1727 by Sawai Jai Singh II, after whom the city is named. He wanted to build an appropriate capital for his kingdom to accommodate the increasing in population.
Bengali architect Vidhyadhar Chakravorty drew up the city’s plans, basing it on a grid system. According to the plan, the city was divided into nine blocks, known locally as chowkries, with wide and uniform streets, surrounded by a formidable wall.
Each block was earmarked for a specific purpose and community like residences of royalty, courtiers, merchants, and artists, areas for temples, businesses, bazaars and so on.
The city featured, and does to this day, bazaars with shops selling colourful textiles, leather footwear, jewellery like lac bangles, wooden and jute handicrafts and silver items.
The walled city contains within it the areas of Chandpole, Surajpole, Ajmeri Gate, and monuments like the City Palace and the famous Hawa Mahal.
The bustling modern city of Jaipur developed outside the walls of the ancient city. Making your way in feels like stepping back in time into the era of Rajput royalty, experiencing a living heritage. This is one of the reasons that qualified the ancient city for the UNESCO status.
The citation reads: “Unlike other cities in the region located in hilly terrain, Jaipur was established on the plain and built according to a grid plan interpreted in the light of Vedic architecture. The streets feature continuous colonnaded businesses that intersect in the centre, creating large public squares called chaupars. Markets, stalls, residences and temples built along the main streets have uniform facades. The city's urban planning shows an exchange of ideas from ancient Hindu and modern Mughal as well as Western cultures...Designed to be a commercial capital, the city has maintained its local commercial, artisanal and cooperative traditions to this day.”
When the Indian government proposed Jaipur for UNESCO World Heritage recognition, it explained that the recognition would help boost local economy through domestic and international tourism that would in turn result in employment generation, development of infrastructure, and increased sales of local handicrafts and other products.
The UNESCO certification will help in the funding of cultural projects and conservation initiatives. But such a status would also impose certain restrictions and obligations, mainly around construction and infrastructure development.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. In keeping with its mission, UNESCO regularly identifies places of historical, cultural and environmental significance and assigns the World Heritage status. To qualify for it, a site must “be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria”.
As of July 2019, a total of 1,121 World Heritage Sites (869 cultural, 213 natural, and 39 mixed properties) exist across 167 countries.
India has 38 World Heritage Sites which include 30 cultural sites, seven natural sites and one mixed site. India has the sixth largest number of sites in the world.