The architecture of a place gives character and, in some way, defines that place. It is the representation of the cultural richness of the region — their stories, ways of life, and proud heritage. More importantly, it is the key to the times long gone: a historical record. As a memorialization of past events, these monuments ultimately validate human endeavour against the ravages of time. In more materialistic terms, they are also important sources of revenue through the tourism industry. All of this makes it pertinent that the architectural integrity and diversity of a place be preserved and maintained. However, recent times show that many places are battling against the threat to their unique architecture and monuments — detailed in this article.
Primarily, it witnesses the emergence of modern urban centres — populated by tall buildings, modern technology, and crowded constructions. These tend to overshadow the existing heritage sites, either abandoned or repurposed for everyday usage. In a world dominated by capitalist ideology, the contemporary utility of skyscrapers is preferred over the artistic value of ancient monuments. It is not just the historical landmarks that suffer such neglect, but the whole city organizing system is reconsidered. Old maps, designs, alleyways, buildings, etc., are replaced with frameworks that meet the growing population's demand, corporate office culture, modern convenience, and show of development. This has naturally translated into ‘new’ and ‘old’ towns of a city — creating a dichotomy — where the ‘old’ town is seen as the backward counterpart of the newly formed regions.
In the face of the fast-paced need for development that has gripped the world, certain safeguards must be implemented to preserve the rich architectural heritage. To illustrate, London, as one of the most significant urban centres in the world, formulated certain acts to protect its many monuments, as noted by a CNN article: “The London Building Acts of 1888 and 1894 ruled that architects should not be allowed to build structures in London higher than a fireman’s ladder – roughly ten stories – to ensure the city’s finest landmarks, specifically St Paul’s Cathedral, were not overshadowed or obscured”. Even though, as the years progressed, this act has been modified to keep up with the modern times — especially symbolized by the 72-storey skyscraper, The Shard — yet the new constructions must still follow a code not to obfuscate the heritage sites. In short, a careful balance of modernity and history needs to be maintained.
Furthermore, these historical landmarks also suffer due to excessive pollution, littering, and industrial activities. Since these spaces become popular tourist sites, they have become hubs of tourist activities — such as picnics, photoshoots, and wall graffitiing, among many others — often adding to the deterioration of these places. The irresponsible behaviour of the people who visit these sites results in inconsiderate littering or accidental damage to the architecture. Additionally, with increasing industrialization, vehicular emissions, and rampant construction projects, the pollution levels of a city rise, adversely affecting the structures of many ancient buildings. These could even erode the very foundations of many monuments — erasing important figments of history.
For instance, the Taj Mahal, one of the seven Wonders of the World, was threatened by the increasing pollution of Agra city. Taj Mahal is not only a beautiful artistic creation, but it also signifies aspects of Mughal history and culture. However, concerns regarding the preservation of this landmark arose as its exquisite white marble showed yellowish tinges due to the nearby factory pollution. An article in Reuters explained this: “One of the seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal flanks a garbage-strewn river and is often enveloped by dust and smog from belching smokestacks and vehicles in the northern city of Agra.” These environmental concerns have a direct impact on the structural integrity of the monuments, thus increasing the importance of bringing strict environmental laws and protection acts.
In addition, as signifiers of cultural heritage, many monuments must also deal with coordinated attacks, as they often get mired in cultural controversies and fights. Certain groups, due to their vested political interests, weaponize culture and religion, leading to assaults on places associated with these issues. The discursive battles are converted into a physical confrontation where such historical-cultural sites must bear the brunt. For example, many communal riots have involved looting, burning, and damaging the religious sites of the parties involved. Moreover, sometimes active political protest also escalates into attacking landmark monuments to create a more significant impact due to their national, cultural, and historical associations.
One clear example is the damage done to the Chittorgarh Fort while protesting the movie Padmaavat. The movie was a period drama encapsulating the life of Rani Padmini — the Rajput queen of Chittorgarh. The film was accused of hurting the religious and cultural sentiments of people, which erupted into large-scale protest and violence — including vandalism at the Chittorgarh Fort. An Economic Times article recorded this: “Two out of the four mirrors at the fort were smashed by the Rajput Karni Sena activists some months ago, prompting the ASI to close down the mirror room in Padmini Mahal to tourists. Karni Sena activists stormed the small ASI office inside the fort on November 19, demanding that the ASI remove the stone plaque that mentions Rani Padmini's reflection shown in a mirror to Khilji. They also demanded that the light-and-sound show be scrapped”.
It can be concluded that the multiple pressing factors of modernity, urbanity, industrialization, pollution, and cultural/communal riots are responsible for the damage caused to many ancient heritage sites and landmark monuments. However, as we progress, we must be mindful of these reservoirs of historical facts and cultural capital. With conscious awareness, restoration programs, protective laws, and sustainable development, the preservation of these spaces can be ensured. These architectural wonders are, after all, what make cities beautiful, engaging, and unique!
Edited By: Whitney Edna Ibe
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