A legacy fondly preserved
ALONG NAPIER Street, in Fort Kochi, you come across elegant houses, which, though they are redolent with history, are still well maintained and cared for, often refurbished with style and put to practical use.
One such delightful surprise is Fort Heritage, now a classified heritage hotel. Walking into the foyer of this building another surprise awaits the heritage buff. For once you don't have to make overt enquiries about the building's antecedents as in the lobby, the hotel owners have it all put down on a brass plaque, either to escape questions put by the innumerable visitors to Fort Kochi, who are interested in the history of its buildings or to whet one's appetite to know more about it. In both cases they have succeeded.
A brief history of the building is outlined on this plaque. The Dutch East India Company constructed the building in 1668 and called it the `Crystal Palace' or it was termed `Kannadikottaram' or the `Palace of Glass.'
The latter bit of information was, an informed source at the hotel reveals, gathered from local sources, which used the term extensively. It must be mentioned here that the Dutch conquered Cochin in 1663 and so this must have been one of the early buildings put up by them, though it has been stated often that the Dutch did not construct many buildings here. Also, a noteworthy fact is that in 1667, Dutch possession in Malabar was placed under the Cochin Command and therefore this construction must have served an immediate need. By the time it was taken over in 1796 by the British, to be used by the British Navy, it had been witness to the whole period of Dutch history in Cochin. The British government in 1874 sold it to Captain John William Maiden and Mrs. Indiana Maiden sold it to Mrs.Letitia Pereira in 1890, for Rs. 1,325. In 1914 it was again sold to Captain Robert and then again to Dr. A. O. Mathew Sankaramangalam in 1945, who gifted it to his daughter Mrs. Elizabeth Raju. The family converted it into a heritage hotel in 1997. According to the plaque, this heritage hotel has a lady, Mrs. Sujay Issac, as its managing director.
This heritage building has supporting pillars visible from outside and the typical rounded arches, which characterise the architecture of this area. Sources at the hotel claim that the structure made of laterite, limestone, wood and tiles is intact, while only those parts, which were broken or ruined, have been replaced.
The renovation has been consciously aimed at cultivating a period atmosphere with the aid of antique furniture and design on the halls and in the other rooms and copies of old Dutch masters on the walls. An interesting feature is the number of staircases which take you to the floor above making it accessible at different places. Incidentally, grand staircases are a distinguishing feature of several older buildings in this part of Fort Kochi.
At the back is a courtyard with a lawn. Here a feature, which is bound to catch attention, is the manner in which paintings have been moulded into the walls of some of upper storey rooms, which are visible from the lawn. Some of the paintings are copies of Kerala masters, presenting a departure from the general décor, where a different type of European colonial ambience is emphasised. A closer look reveals that local artists have executed these paintings.
The Fort Heritage Hotel building is an archetypal example of the heritage buildings in this area. Like it, many of them here have passed through various hands, often refurbished to suit the need and taste of the owners. It is difficult to find a place, which has retained an unchanged image over the centuries, though this one claims an adherence to the original. It is also an example of how many of the buildings have been refurbished today, adopting a style which contributes consciously to the image of the heritage zone that this area has now acquired.
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