Kochi's Synagogue Lane prepares to get back its 1950s look

A view of a lane leading to the Paradesi Synagogue at Jew Town, Mattancherry.   | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

The civic work and enhancement of the over 450-year-old Synagogue Lane in Jew Town, delayed due to the pandemic and prolonged inclement weather, is posing a problem for stakeholders.

Undertaken by Cochin Smart City Mission Limited (CSML), which was tasked with creating exemplar areas in Kochi, the work does not affect the heritage value of the area, said Shanavas S. CEO, CSML. Biley Menon, co-convenor of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) described it as a “great opportunity for a classic conservation.”

Interestingly, the relaying of the road has unearthed a few items of possible antique value, including pottery, bone, teeth, coins, ceramic shards, roof tiles, and smoking pipes.

“The area demands and deserves sensitive infra development, as it has great cultural value. Jew Town in Mattancherry and Fort Kochi are top global destinations,” said Ms. Menon

The 120-m heritage lane houses the famous Paradesi Synagogue, built in 1568 by the Sephardic Jews, with a 45-ft clock tower at the far end. These properties, which share a common wall with the Dutch Palace, built in 1545, draw visitors from around the world and generate a substantial amount of revenue from tourism.

The main points of contention are the placement of RMU (Ring Main Unit), a sealed type of switchgear used for medium voltage power distribution, on the sidewalks; raised footpaths and the resulting danger of waterlogging. These points were discussed at a recent meeting convened by Mr. Shanavas.

The enhancement proposes to place all overhanging cables and electrical wiring in an underground duct constructed in the middle of the lane, a task that is nearing completion. While this is a neat option, it requires the placement of RMUs of distribution boxes on the sides of the lane, which could be visually unappealing and also block private entrances.

The issue of flooding caused by raising the skirting has been addressed by building two drains to remove excess water, said Mr. Shanavas.

Stakeholders have been asked to come up with a suitable design and plan for the overall aesthetics of the area (lighting, colour coding, and common signage) that will be funded by CSML.

The street was last retouched in 1968 when the Synagogue celebrated its 400th year, with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Granite paving was done around 10 years ago.

Fifty years ago, it housed the Cochin Jewish families. Today, shops, cafes, antique warehouses, and a few residences line the lane. “The vision is to restore the street to a 1952 look before the Jews began to emigrate. It was a residential area and had certain characteristics,” said entrepreneur Jose Dominic.

Looking at the possible new character of the area, Mr. Dominic said that the stakeholders were in sync over the common aesthetics required — street lights on walls, embedded roller shutters for shops, no placing wares on the streets, and removal of sign boards are being discussed.

To pay tribute to the past, Raigon Stanley, a history enthusiast, and Thaha Ibrahim, a resident upholding the legacy of the late Sara Cohen, who popularised Jewish Malayalam songs and handicrafts, are in touch with the Archaeological Department on the artefacts found over the past year, with the roadwork.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2022 12:01:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/synagogue-lane-in-jew-town-prepares-to-get-back-its-1950s-look/article37694442.ece

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