Rani Rajkumari Suite
Rani Rajkumari Suite

Restoration of Fort Barwara: Past forward

The restoration of 700-year-old Fort Barwara and its transformation into a luxury property is the perfect example of heritage conservation

In early spring when the sun peeks out from behind the Aravalli range looming over the Chauth Ka Barwara village, the mountain is framed perfectly by the window of the five-ft-thick and 20-ft-tall wall of 700-year-old Fort Barwara. The sunlight splashes shades of orange, yellow and red on the clear, cloudless sky overlooking the gentle slopes of the mountain and the periphery wall of the heritage structure in Sawai Madhopur, near the Ranthambore forest, 169 km away from Jaipur in Rajasthan. The fort, constructed in 1417 by Maharaja Bheem Singh Chauhan in the erstwhile kingdom of Ranthambore, is spread across 5.5 acres. Today, after 10 years of restoration, it is India’s first Six Senses spa resort with 48 suites.

In 2011, Prithviraj Singh, descendant of the family of the current owners of the fort, roped in Parul Zaveri and her late husband Nimish Patel of Panika, a conservation architectural firm, to restore the fort to its former glory and convert it into a luxury hotel. “When I first saw the site, it was scary,” admits Zaveri. It was once used as a war post with horse stables, a store for arms and ammunition, and has seen a lot of changes and wear and tear over the centuries. It fell into disuse after 1947, letting nature take over. Hundreds of bats had made the fort its home. “There were offshoots of plants and trees everywhere, deepening the cracks in the buildings. Parts of the fort’s wall and other structures were falling apart. It required a lot of work, especially to ensure that the heritage value and its old aesthetic were restored and its design and aesthetic continued in the new structures to make room for a luxury hotel,” she says.

The exterior
The exterior

The architects studied the layout of the fort, its building style and the materials used in the original construction, and assessed the damage of the decades. The buildings within the fort complex were constructed in different styles, at different times, depending on each ruler’s aesthetic, budget, purpose and technology. For instance, the Mardana Mahal (men’s palace) with five-ft-thick walls was rather plain as compared to the Zanana Mahal (women’s palace), which was covered in relief motifs and Shekawati frescoes. The Mardana Mahal now houses the reception and lounge.

The banquet hall is a perfect example of adaptive reuse. The architects suspected that the high plinth on which the Mardana Mahal stood was hollow. They were right; they opened it up and discovered a big space beneath, which was, perhaps a hiding place in times of war. The architects converted it into a banquet hall for 200 people. The central passageway to another courtyard is now an all-day dining space with a view of the fort’s two watch towers. The architects have turned the Zanana Mahal and the ancillary, incomplete British-era structure in the complex into a spa, ringing the old courtyard. The temple near the Mardana Mahal is now the spa’s reception area.

destination dining
destination dining

Part of the dome of the Kharbuja Mahal (which looks like a musk melon), which houses the owners’ quarters currently was dilapidated. Instead of tearing down the entire dome, the architects rebuilt the broken part and repaired the existing portion to make the dome look like how it would have been hundreds of years ago. The step-well on the property has been restored into an amphitheatre. There are two temples on the site. Their sanctum sanctorums have been kept intact. “Our focus was to reinterpret the regal ambience of Rajasthan’s royal forts and palaces,” says Zaveri. The wide colonnaded corridors with traditional flooring—chevron/leheriya pattern, using a combination of white marble, Dholpur beige and Kandla red stone parapets—were added to the structure. “The guiding design principle was to adapt. In essence, restore and utilise all the existing structures of the war fort without tearing them down and make it into a luxury hotel,” she adds.

Restoring forts, palaces and havelis of Rajasthan is a specialised passion for many architects. Getting it right is the tough part. But when the tough get going...

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