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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK
India's piece of Denmark
Fort Dansborg in Tarangambadi
The coast is dotted with fortresses dating back centuries

A "little piece of Denmark" on the south-east coast of India is undergoing a renaissance.

Tarangambadi, on the poetically-named Coromandel Coast in the state of Tamil Nadu, is today a sleepy village with a wonderful beach.

But less than 200 years ago it was a major trading post for perhaps Europe's most overlooked colonial power - the Danes.

Known historically as Tranquebar, the settlement still boasts a magnificent 17th Century fort, churches, orderly streets and old governors' buildings, all constructed along Danish lines hundreds of years ago.

They have long been in a state of severe dilapidation.

It's like a piece of Denmark here in India

Poul Petersen,
Danish volunteer
But now, thanks to the efforts of a small group of Danish volunteers, the southern wing of Fort Dansborg has been restored.

The Tamil Nadu and Indian Governments have followed suit and carefully renovated the old gateway into the town, known as the Land Gate.

History revived

"It's amazing," says Poul Petersen, who heads the Danish group that initiated the renovation project.

Dignitaries inaugurating the restored wing
Dignitaries inaugurating the restored wing
"If you go to a small Danish harbour village, it's just the same atmosphere.

"It's like a piece of Denmark here in India!"

The Coromandel Coast is dotted with fortresses dating from the age of early European trade in Asia.

The Portuguese, Dutch, French and British all made a mark here.

But as early as 1620, before most of these powers arrived, a Danish admiral, Ove Gedde, had signed a treaty with the king residing in the city of Thanjavur.

This enabled him to build Tranquebar, 120 kilometres (75 miles) away - principally to import spices such as pepper to Denmark.


After it was sold to the British in 1845, Tranquebar fell into disuse and has been largely overlooked by travellers until today.

But some people have been keeping an eye on it.

Land Gate
The Land Gate has been restored
"I've been waiting for this moment since 1956," says Thomas, a history lover who lives in Thanjavur.

"I'm a happy man today. I'm 74 years old, and I want to see all the monuments in Tranquebar restored before my death."

Fort Dansborg was in fact one of Denmark's biggest forts - second only to a much more famous one, Kronborg in the town of Elsinore, the inspiration for Shakespeare's Hamlet.

And economically, Tranquebar was more valuable to the Danes than their much bigger and far colder colony of Greenland.

Tourism potential

Tarangambadi today is peaceful but poverty-stricken.

Most of the people of the village and its hinterland depend on agriculture, and crops are constantly threatened by severe water shortages.

Flag of India and Denmark on the highest turret of Fort Dansborg
Indian and Danish flags were hoisted above the fort
Sudeep Jain, local representative of the Tamil Nadu government, believes the restoration of Tranquebar could offer new hope for the future.

With its virgin beach, Danish monuments and also an ancient Hindu temple, he believes there is great potential for tourism and local income-generation.

"I really feel very lifted that the place is being developed now, and I'm confident that the place will grow," he says.

Mr Jain has canvassed local views, and says there has been a highly positive reaction to the idea of tourism development.

Heritage bid

In the past few days, the Indian Government has said it will fund the renovation of the rest of the fort.

The Queen of Denmark has also made a donation.

The restoration work so far has been done remarkably quickly - within the space of a few months.

It may be difficult to sustain this momentum.

But the Indian and Danish collaborators on the project, now firm friends, are aiming high.

They want to get Tranquebar recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage Site - like Hamlet's castle.

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