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Setting a new course for an old port city

Chitra Narayanan Kochi | Updated on January 16, 2018 Published on September 27, 2016

Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac with Dutch ambassador HE Alphonsus Stoelinga and First Secretary at Palliam Nalukettu museum; (right) Cheraman Juma Masjid at Kodangallur.   -  A Somakumaran

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Netherlands to support Muziris project to revive over 3000 years old Spice Route

The Kerala government has already pumped in ₹54 crore and the Centre another ₹40 crore into the Muziris Heritage project that seeks to bring back the scent and spices that once dominated the ancient port city’s trade. It is touted as India’s largest heritage tourism project.

Ahead of World Tourism Day on 27 September, Kerala’s finance minister TM Thomas Isaac, tourism minister AC Moideen and Dutch ambassador HE Alphonsus Stoelinga took a trip along the Muziris trail to get a first hand feel of how the project was faring. The first phase, which included eight museums and four live sites, was completed earlier this year.

The site offers a glimpse into Muziris, once the epicenter of spice trade with Phonenicians, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Greeks, Arabs, Romans and Chinese Dutch, Portuguese, Germans and British.

Project in progress

The ministers chafed at delays plaguing the project, pointing out how the renovation of Kottapuram and Paravur markets are only half-way done.

The project is important for Kerala as it is one of the new products that the state hopes will help in boosting tourism in the state, which has been stagnating of late.

This year Kerala tourism also launched the Spice Route Culinary Festival which integrates into the Muziris heritage in a bid to give further impetus to the project.

The second phase of the Muziris heritage project, which will take three years to finish, will open 27 museums spread over a 40 sq km area covering North Paravur and Kodangular municipalities.

In the last phase a water sports park is planned, the land acquisition process for which has already begun.

After his tour, finance minister Thomas Isaac pledged ₹100 crore more for the project. Even as the Kerala ministers lamented about the slow progress, the Dutch ambassador appeared quite impressed, especially by the Cheraman Masjid at Kodangular, which was the first ever mosque in India, in 629 AD and the 400-year old Palliam Palace built with Dutch support.

Dutch support

Stoelinga promised assistance from the Netherlands to speed up the project.

The ambassador referred to three ways in which the Netherlands would get involved in the project.

An expert in architecture from Netherlands would arrive on October 8 to offer advice for the project, he said, adding that three Ducth universities would partner with the Kerala government to study and disseminate information on the historic port.

The Dutch government would also help in getting all the 31 countries that traded on the ancient spice route involved in the project.

He would arrange a meeting of the countries’ambassadors with the Kerala ministers.

Finally, he said the Dutch could help by looking into the waterways network and pollution levels in the Muziris.

“You know we live along canals: we Dutch know all about getting our feet wet,” he said, pointing out that heritage revival should not be an isolated project. “If the heritage is restored but the river is smelling, that’s not good. You have to do social things,” he said.

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Published on September 27, 2016
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