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Conservation of the Catacombs and Adaptive Reuse as the Maharana Mewar Special Library (MMSL)

The Original

At the original

The catacombs carved out on the eastern edge of the hill are the foundations of the Manak Chowk, the main grounds of the The City Palace. This sixteenth century subterraneous space served as an erstwhile store for horse and elephant fodder, and grain for humans from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century in times of siege on the earlier Mewar state.The catacomb structure is representative of the unique Rajput spatial planning of hill forts in this region. These catacombs were walled up for more than a century since the historic Mewar state had shrugged off sieges. The Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation, reopened these catacombs in 1996. The catacombs were found in a dilapidated state, filled with debris, damaged plaster on walls and ceilings and profuse seepage on the western end. The guiding principle for conservation work initiated by the Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation in 1998, was, two fold. Firstly, to restore the dilapidating historic structure and secondly, to provide an appropriate reuse with minimal intervention and, in harmony with the spatial ambiance of the catacombs.

Considerable technical ingenuity and aesthetic sensibility transformed these catacombs without altering the character of the historic space. It took two years of laborious conservation work and 200,000 USD to convert this 1216 square meters of space into the Maharana Mewar Special Library (MMSL).

The metamorphosis of the catacombs in the year 2000, into the state of the art library for special studies on Mewari culture was a commendable addition to the culturescape of Udaipur. The library with its discreet location acts as a central athenaeum in the complex.

The vision behind the project was “A World Unto Itself ”, an extraordinary space where the past meets the present, in order to contemplate the future. The ancient storehouse for the sustenance of body was transformed into a contemporary storehouse for the sustenance of the mind.

Its proposed reuse as the Maharana Mewar Special Library was envisaged as a modern facility that had to house a rare collection of about 30,000 manuscripts and tamrapatras (palm leaf manuscripts), paintings and illustrations, books, maps and almanacs, collected by several generations of the royal family of Mewar.

The objective of this endeavour was to create research opportunities for indian and foreign scholars of fine arts, social sciences, history, and architecture with a special focus on Mewar region in Rajasthan.

The Maharana of Mewar Charitable Foundation took the initiative of conserving these excavated catacombs in 1998 as severe flooding in 1997 lead to further seepage and caving in of the roof on the western end, thus posing a structural threat to these foundations of the palace grounds.

The first phase of the project to conserve 1216 square meters of the catacomb area was completed in a time period of two years and included:

1. Restoration Work – Excavation work, cleaning of debris, removal of existing defaced lime plaster, grouting and strengthening of the western walls, waterproofing work and restoration of lime plaster.

2. Adaptive Reuse of the Catacombs as Library – Civil work including introduction of steps at the cross passages, introduction of partition walls, placing openings on the eastern façade, introducing stone ducts for air circulation, electrical work, finishing work on walls and floor, installation of close circuit TV, furniture etc.

The second phase of the project is ongoing and it includes incorporating another 600 square meters of area in the Library across the catacombs as the Maharana Mewar Research Institute