Tranquebar has been declared as a heritage town by the government of Tamil Nadu due to the presence of a significant number of well-preserved built structures, especially dating from 1620-1845, when the town was a Danish trading colony. These remains of past cultural encounters attract wide public and private interest, both from Indian and Danish agents, who have in recent years initiated an unprecedented number of restoration projects; but whose heritage is being preserved in this present cultural encounter? Establishing Tranquebar as a heritage town is far from being simply a question of preserving built structures. The shape and changes of the townscape in which the historic buildings of Tranquebar are a part are subject to many interests, ranging from social development to widely differing aesthetic ideals. The current development in Tranquebar may therefore be seen as a cross-cultural process of interpretation and negotiation, in which the material traces from the past comprised by the built environment not just are historical, but become so, as they acquire special significance by being treated as heritage. To capture the coexistence of differing experiences of historicity and uses of the same townscape analytically I propose the concept of the heritage palimpsest.
Review of Development and Change, 2009, Vol xiv, Issue 1-2, p. 227-250