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How Danish government is sprucing up a corner of Mamata’s Bengal

If the National Museum of Denmark, the West Bengal Heritage Commission and the Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal government have their way, Sreerampore, a Danish colony  from the early 18th century, will soon become a quaint tourist destination.

The Seerampore Initiative, a five-year old project funded largely by the Danish government, is looking at restoring the prominent St Olaf’s Church, the twin gates on either side of the Governor’s House and other heritage structures of the now ubiquitous town. The project, which will cost around Rs 11 crore, is being funded by the culture ministry of Denmark. The government of West Bengal, it is learnt, is already restoring the Governor’s House at Seerampore.

Located by the river and the former Danish Government Compound (now the District Administration Court Compound), the St Olaf’s Church forms the historic core of the town. ‘The roof of the church is in a precarious state. It needed emergency scaffolding which we have already done,’ says conservation architect Manish Chakrabarti, who is consulting the Danish government on this project.

The report prepared by the team of architects also points out that the layout of the town square was probably planned in conjunction with the construction of St. Olaf’s Church, since the open space provides a full view of the church, especially an alignment of casuarina trees to each side of the square, as it appears from early photographs. The steeple contributes to the town silhouette when seen from a distance, even from Barrackpore on the opposite side of the river.

But the team of architects foresee a few problems as well. ‘The square in front of the church is being usurped by the busy bus terminal and a heart-shaped memorial ground in front of the church with high fence and tall trees do blur the former view of the church. The former proportion of the church has been affected by the modern urban development. The construction of the post office building in particular, built to five storeys to the south of the church, has diminished the view as well,’ says the report.

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