Taking a heritage walk through the popular sites of Vizag: Imagine yourself in an elaborate evening dress, dancing with the who’s who of the city on a wooden floor to a live band. Imagine living in a huge house with high ceilings, imagine walking on clean sands with the blue sea at one end and stretches of green on the other. Imagine friendship with the same people you would later revolt against.
Vizag’s heritage is a treasure chest of wonderful stories with One Town area being the focal point in the late 1800’s. These are the by-lanes where stories from the past can come alive while walking in the evening of what was once known as Soldierpeta.
Relive the experience with Jaya Siva Murty who accompanied Jayshree Hatangadi, a Heritage Narrator on a heritage walk and rick-ride through those parts of our city you never knew existed.
Spread over 5000 sq yards, the Town hall was a prestigious place to be during the 1900s. With the sea visible at one end and the town on the other, it was a gift from the Maharaja of Bobbili to the public. The ‘Victoria Diamond Jubilee Town Hall’ commemorates the British Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations.
Showcasing Victorian architecture, this two-storied building, is an impressive example of stone masonry, has a grand portico, large stair-cases, a huge tiled-roof, false turrets and circular rooms. Not to be missed are its tiles from Mangalore, beams from Scotland and the grand wooden flooring.
Fact file: A venue for formal dance parties when the British and Indians were friends, it was this hall that later became the centre where the salt satyagraha and other campaigns of the freedom movement were initiated.
Town hall lane
Right across the town hall, are the once-broad lanes that used to be the pride of the city. With the elite of the city residing here, it boasted of huge houses, with grand stone exteriors and some with a well within the home! Where a congested housing exists today, lived the Vizag’s rich and famous.
With the high-ceilinged spacious homes having great ventilation systems, they also were examples of amazing stone masonry. Ample space was provided between houses that existed along well planned streets which would run at right angles to each other. The area also had huge drains that were regularly cleaned and maintained.
Fact file: Only a few of those lofty homes remain today, as compared to previous years.
Also known as King Edward VII Coronation Market, this was actually the very first market of erstwhile Vizagapatam. Records state that this market was actually a gift to the city by the Rajah of Kurupam, on the occasion of King Edward VII coronation, which took place in 1902. History tells us that this Kurupam market area was home to the weavers’ colony. Suited to the traditional style of local markets, it had a huge central courtyard with shops all around it. With four gateways at the centre of each side, the most elaborate of them was the Eastern gateway which had a clock mechanism on its top as well. While the market lost its importance owing to modernisation, a few petty traders still operate from here.
Fact file: The entrance arch, a beautiful edifice no longer exists, as it was brought down in November 2013, with the concerned administration citing vague reasons.
The dead tell stories, and the European cemetery is living proof of the history our city holds. With tombs in varied architectural styles, each is engraved with a part of history, with the earliest of the buried dating back to 1699. In fact, Patrick Lawson, a wealthy merchant sailor, after whom Lawson’s Bay is named lies here too.
Often mistakenly known as the Dutch cemetery, the region has no Dutch tombs and stands testimony to two major historical events. . The first was the native sepoy mutiny of 1780, where three British officers were killed, and the body of one of them, lies here. The second is the Naval war of 1804, between the British and the French where British were able to defend Vizagapatam successfully, but lost John Dykes, who lies buried here.
Fact file: The grave stones indicate that the dead were buried here from 1699 to 1833.
Queen Victoria’s Pavilion
Story goes that in 1900, Sri Akitam Venkata Jagga Row, a zamindar went to England to pay respects to Queen Victoria and Prince of Wales. He was presented with a bronze statue of the queen, which was then shipped to Visakhapatnam and finally erected at the Queen Victoria’s pavilion in 1904. With her features and finest detail etched with care, it is also said that the queen never portrayed a glamorous version of herself and that each statue was an exact replica of what she was wearing on that particular occasion. The cuboid pavilion that houses the statue showcases fine ashlar stone masonry, and has the queen facing towards the One Town area.
Fact file: The Greek cross over the dome enhances its architectural value.
St. John’s Church
The third oldest church of Vizag, St. John holds a special place in the city’s history for varied reasons. For one, it was the first church to be built by the East India Company using its own funds. Designed and supervised by Sir Arthur Cotton, it boasts of teak wood from Burma and glass paintings from Europe. Finally, it has an ancient pipe organ that is still functional. While numerous dedications on marble, granite and metal adorn the walls of the church, what takes your breath away is the typical Anglican dome, huge round pillars and cobble-stoned porch.
Fact file: While few alterations have been carried out over the years, the central part of the structure remains the same.
Queen Mary’s School Building
A school building with canons on either side of its entrance! The Queen Mary School has a rich history dating back to 200 years ago. During 1873 onwards, it served as the Collector’s office and became a school like it appears now, only in 1952. However before it became the collector’s office, it was also used as an arsenal for storing guns, and hence the canons at its entrance. From 1913, the building started functioning as a school uniquely for widows who were dropouts. In fact, in order to encourage them to study, they were paid a stipend of Rs. 15/- per month.
Fact file: While there is no written proof, legend goes that this building also served as a jail and the gallows were used for executing prisoners.
The river Meghadri joined the sea near the Dolphin’s nose, and the backwaters of this river formed the lavender canal. Most of the trade happened along this canal that had an awful smell, so strong that soon an initiative was taken and plenty of lavender was planted on either sides of the canal, thus giving it the name. In fact many local ship owners had their docks along this stream. Ship building activities were extremely popular too, and took place upstream towards the north.
Fact file: In close proximity to the canal is Vizag’s old railway station, which became dysfunctional in the mid 1960’s.
Abu Sarang Street
While the lavender canal gave a safe harbour to many ship owners, there were few names more prominent than the others. One name that survived the trials and tribulations of time was that of Abu Sarang and the street where he lived was thus named as such. Known to have come from the Malabar Coast, he is said to have reached here sometime in the later part of the ninteenth century. Sarang means, one who steers the ship, and later the street became popular as Abu Sarang Street.
Fact file: Abu Sarang later built a mosque here in 1894 that became known as the Hajee Aboosarang mosque.
Dargah Lane – Kotaveedhi
Narrow lanes where plenty of markets once thrived made the Kotaveedhi or Dargah lane. With Kota meaning fort and Veedhi meaning street, this was an important lifeline for the town, as it was popularly used by the traders headed to either the station, the canal or the Dargah.
Fact file: These streets were planned to be perpendicular to each other, making the entire region easy to navigate through.
Ishaq Madina Dargah
While the exact date of construction of the Syed Ali Ishaq Madina Rahmatullah dargah, built over the tomb of the Muslim saint Syed Ali Medina, is not known, historical records dating way back to 1869 show that people across religions would come to pay their respects here. In fact, legend says that every vessel leaving or entering the harbour would lower and hoist their mast three times. After every successful voyage, sailors would present a silver dhoni (replica of a boat) to the mosque. On the same hill, a little above the dargah is a mosque, and as per legend, it had been there when Aurangzeb’s army came. They renovated it and gave it the name ‘Alamgir’. Nizam rulers during the seventeenth century gave two villages of Yarada and Devada for the upkeep of this mosque too.
Fact file: Legend also says that the town got the original name of Ishakpattan, from the name of this saint, and later got changed to Vizagpattam.
Unity in Diversity View
With India being a melting pot of varied religions, to find a space that has since ages seen three religions come together in their diversity is a sight to behold. This viewpoint shows 3 separate places of worship located on 3 separate hills, and is an interesting view for many, especially the mariners entering Vizag port. These three places of interest include the Sri Venkateswaraswamy temple built in 1866 by Captain Black Moor, the Mother Mary’s church on Ross hill which was built by the Roman Catholic mission in 1867 and the dargah.
Fact file: This view point also gives excellent views of the ship building yard as well.
St. Aloysius Garage
The St. Aloysius industrial school is in fact the largest automobile garage in the city. At one point of time, this space was used to impart vocational skills of shipbuilding/repairs, typing, telegraphy and automobile. Some skill classes in tune with current times continue to be held here. While the structure has stood the test of time and is well maintained, it continues to be under threat from the expansion plans of the city.
Fact file: Ship building was a popular vocational skill taught here for the fishermen community that once dominated the local population.
St. Aloysius School
One of the oldest schools of the city, St. Aloysius started as an Anglo vernacular school by the missionaries of London society. Father Tissot from France is said to have started the school from the two rooms of a house he acquired for the purpose. This house exists towards the eastern corner of the school. While the school started off small in 1847, the first floor was raised above it to create a Church that was in harmony with the school. With a U shaped structure, the building is a resplendent example of Gothic Arched doors, windows and ventilators, reminding the onlooker of Vintage Europe.
Fact file: This was the first Catholic school in the diocese of Visakhapatnam.
After Vizag’s oldest lighthouse atop Dolphin hill was built in 1874, came this lighthouse. It used to be fitted with a white light, was visible till a distance of 12 miles and placed at a height of 40 feet over the water mark. Showing the way into the Vizag harbour, it fell into disuse during the early 1960s. However, since the past few years it is being restored and maintained by the Visakha Container Terminal Pvt. Ltd.
Fact file: This happens to be the only lighthouse that has been conserved in the area.
Hamilton Memorial Masonic Temple
Soon after freemasonry was established in India by the colonial rulers during the 1730s, efforts were on to set up a Masonic lodge in Vizag by the British Coast Artillery. The ground floor was laid in 1808, after its constitution in 1895. The stone edifice located by the beach road has two storeys which were completed by 1912 and the construction was named after NAW Hamilton, a renowned freemason. With a simple architectural plan, the building was consecrated for lodge meetings, and to cater to this esoteric society. To be noticed is its make from rubble masonry and architectural style with a main hall surrounded on three sides by verandas’ and the beautiful Madras terrace.
Fact file: Maintained even today, one needs special permission, as entry to this is restricted.
Interested in taking this ‘Colonial History’ Vizagapatnam heritage tour too?
Jayshree takes large groups of children and adults who are willing to heritage walk all the way, as rick rides are still getting ready. The tour usually starts at 15:45, takes approximately 90 minutes, covering an average distance of 2.3 kms. She however warns participants that the area is dirty and messy, but then a city’s best gems often get uncovered from such places.
To take the tour, contact Jayshree at 9441225338.