Muziris Heritage Project to conserve historic port’s legacy rudderless

Officials say efforts are under way to make up for the inordinate delay in completing the conservation works

Updated - July 15, 2022 10:39 am IST

Published - July 14, 2022 12:04 pm IST - KOCHI

 A view of the Paravur synagogue.

A view of the Paravur synagogue. | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT


Conceived during the V.S. Achuthanandan-led government over a decade ago to conserve the legacy of Muziris, a legendary port that is said to have been the hub of the historic spice route about 2,500 years ago, the ambitious Muziris Heritage Project (MHP) is far from complete and appears rudderless.

Officials, however, claim that efforts are under way to make up for the inordinate delay in completing the conservation works. 

The port which was located in the North Paravur-Kodungalloor-Mathilakam area on the Ernakulam-Thrissur border is said to have been erased from the global maritime map following large-scale floods which caused the creation of the Kochi harbour. While its exact location is still being debated, the port was a great trading centre in the East. A multitude of goods from spices and precious stones were traded with the Greeks, Romans and many other parts of the world. It was also a doorway to India for varied cultures and races.

Efforts to restore the heritage of the region to days of its lost glory were hampered by slack upkeep from about a decade ago in the first of phase of the MHP. The second phase has run into rough weather due to government apathy. 

Funds aplenty 

Despite high expectations, the project that was touted as an exemplary model for heritage conservation efforts in India remains without a full-time managing director, a key stakeholder points out. “The conservation of innumerable heritage structures has not begun, although money was sanctioned years ago. They include the Jewish houses in North Paravur and Chendamangalam, and the second phase works of the Kottappuram market. Worse so, no new museum has been opened during the last five years. Much more ought to have been done during the past 12 years,” he laments.

Conservative estimates suggest that approximately Rs 200 crore was allotted for Phase I and II of the MHP. 

Delayed conservation 

The other projects which have been dragging on for a long time include conservation of museum buildings in Pattanam, the Canal House in Thiruvanchikulam, the Iranikulam temple, Pathinettaralam House and Temple Museum in Kodungalloor, and writer P. Kesavadev’s house. “The project’s implementing agency INKEL-- it was KITCO earlier-- needs to get its act together in speeding up the long-overdue works,” the stakeholder adds.

Manager of Paliam Eswara Seva Trust Krishnabalan Paliath expresses dismay at the state of the roof of the Paliam Kovilakom Palace and many other structures developing leaks within only a few years of the structure being restored. “Loose ends plague innumerable other projects that the MHP has undertaken. Regular maintenance works ought to be carried out at least once in every five years,” says the 80-year-old Krishnabalan, who has been steadfastly pursuing the State government and other stakeholders for timely maintenance and prompt completion of pending projects in Muziris. 

Paliam Palace Museum

Paliam Palace Museum | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

The Paliam Palace that dates back by approximately 350 years to the Dutch colonial era is unique in that it has a sound mix of both Kerala and Dutch architecture. It was converted as a museum in 2010. Many of the artefacts that are on display were painstakingly restored after the 2018 deluge. The Paliam Palace and adjacent Nalukettu were the traditional residences of the Paliath Achans, who were Prime Ministers to Kochi kings. A visit to the locale shows that the structure and its premises are in urgent need of maintenance. It is the same case with the Paravur Synagogue and many other historic attractions which were restored in the past decade. 

The synagogues at Paravur, Chendamangalam and Mala are a confluence of Jewish and Kerala architecture. Above all, they speak about the history of Jews who are said to have arrived in the State following persecution by the Romans.

T restored Cheraman Juma Masjid.

T restored Cheraman Juma Masjid. | Photo Credit: THULASI KAKKAT

Despite scepticism , officials of the MHP are hopeful that a bulk of the long-pending conservation and maintenance works will get over by December. They refer to completion of restoration works of the Cheraman Juma Masjid at Kodungalloor -- the oldest mosque in the Indian subcontinent that dates back to 629 AD -- and the Holy Cross Church at Chendamangalam built by Jesuit priests in 1577 AD as examples of structures whose conservation works were completed during the past year. 

Experiential tourism 

Manoj Kumar Kini, a doctorate holder in urban design who is the new managing director of the MHP after the retirement of the last full-time managing director, is confident that all pending conservation works would be completed by December. “Six projects are ready for inauguration, while work has been fast-tracked for the others. There are engineering solutions for issues like leaking roof of a few heritage buildings. Once completed, the perspective of tourism in the locale will change from destination-based to experiential tourism (which is the emerging global trend).”

Visitors to Muziris will be able to have a holistic experience – a unique mix of tangible heritage in the form of historic structures and intangible ones through ethnic cuisine, festivals, art forms, folklore and literature. The project is passing through its investment stage and will yield dividends. The interpretation and facilitation centres in Pattanam and Paliam will be the salient/starting points from where multiple loops will take off. They will also sell local produce, boosting the regional economy, he adds.

Mr. Kini adds that the project is based on the living museum concept, by enlivening heritage-tourism assets in the coastal region, by delving into Kerala’s roots and the traditional spice route (of which the MHP is a component). The project will also be extended to Ponnani, Beypore and Kollam, he says.

Genuine seekers of art and history will gain substantially by spending a week or so in the locale. The number of homestays and other accommodation units in the region is increasing, anticipating more footfall. That the heritage locales are linked by a fleet of hop on, hop off boats helps recreate the traditional waterways that were once the sole way to connect them. 

But all this will happen only if the project gets some momentum, says a heritage enthusiast.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.