World Heritage Day observed amidst fears for local heritage

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The Riche-en-Eau castle will be open to the public this weekend as part of the World Heritage Day. © Fabien Dubessay

The Riche-en-Eau castle will be open to the public this weekend as part of the World Heritage Day. © Fabien Dubessay

The international day for sites and monuments – also known as the World Heritage Day – was observed on Wednesday. As per tradition, several sites and monuments across the island will be open to the public over the weekend. Sites and monuments like the State House in Réduit, the Robert Edward Hart Memorial Museum in Souillac, the Frederik Hendrik Museum in Vieux Grand Port, the Vagrant Depot in GRNW, the Martello Tower in La Preneuse and the Château Riche en Eau in Riche en Eau will exceptionally welcome the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The Bank of Mauritius Museum, Port Louis will be open to the public free of charge on weekdays from 16 to 30 April.

Marked every year since 1983, World Heritage Day aims, according to the International Council on Monuments and Sites, “to encourage local communities and individuals throughout the world to consider the importance of cultural heritage to their lives, identities and communities, and to promote awareness of its diversity and vulnerability and the efforts required to protect and conserve it”. The 2018 theme is ‘Heritage for generations’.

Locally, concerns have been expressed about the quasi-systematic destruction of and lack of regards for sites and monuments over the recent past. The historic building of La School at Edith Cavell Street in Port Louis and the ENT hospital in Vacoas were both pulled down in July 2017 and January 2018 respectively. Also, the Metro Express has had consequences on sites and monuments found on the route. For example, the cut stones of the former train depot, located on the Metro Express route at the south entrance of the Caudan, were numbered and the depot set to be rebuilt elsewhere. Old railway tracks were also uncovered in Rose Hill following the demolition of a former railway bridge behind the Loretto College Rose Hill. Speaking to Weekly, Dev Beekharry, communications manager of Metro Express Ltd, claims that the “cut stones and the tracks are in the custody of the Ministry of Public Infrastructure”. “The stones and some of the railway tracks might feature at the planned Railway Museum, although the location of the museum is yet to be finalised,” he adds.

Likewise, the restoration of the former Trou Fanfaron police station, listed as a National Monument and which caught fire in August 2017, is yet to materialise. Contacted by Weekly, the Ministry of Arts and Culture stated that “a surface area of 800 m2 to accommodate the [former] Trou Fanfaron police station which will be preserved as a heritage” would be comprised in the new Immigration Square terminal. However, the modernisation of the Immigration Square bus terminal and the Metro Express pose a threat to the World Heritage status of the Aapravasi Ghat as the technical committee of the buffer zones has not been consulted and the architecture of the new terminal and the operation of the Metro Express might not be in line with buffer zones architectural harmony regulations.

A national heritage since 1951, the former Trou Fanfaron police station caught fire in 2017 and still has not been renovated.

 Commendable restoration efforts stand out though. The first one is the renovation of the Port Louis Theatre which finally kicked off in March. Besides, the third phase of the renovation of the Plaza Theatre, Rose Hill, is set to start in October. The two theatres have been shut since 2008 and 2004 respectively.

List of sites and monuments opened to the public in the context of the World Heritage Day 2018.

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