Ahmedabad/ Urban Hierarchy and Structure in 19th century

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Painted cloth map of Ahmedabad © 1800s, Vakhatchand Sheth

The urban structure and organization of Ahmedabad in 1800s can be understood through a simple depicted drawing of the times. By no means being objective and factual, the drawing shows the subjective perception of the citizens towards their own city by reinterpreting the orientation and geographical structure of the place. Ahmedabad in 1800s was regarded as a self-oriented and self-supporting territory bounded by the city wall, acting both as defense mechanism and territorial definition. One one side of it is punctured by the Sabarmati River supplying water as a daily necessity. Centered to the city are mosques and temples with dwelling fabrics interspersed around the the area. The structure of the city is very much similar to that of ancient China – a bounding city wall shielding the territory from the outside, having the core programs rooted at the city centre (in the case of ahmedabad the temples and mosques) linking people together socially, and most importantly, activated by the stream of river passing through the area. The urban hierarchy  is perceivable as the religious facilities as the highest order, while dwelling units are grouped around them. Closer to the city walls are the relatively poorer regions ( more like slums), with the affluent sectors are found closer to the river side.

City Wall of Ahmedabad © 1866, Colonel Biggs
City Wall of Ahmedabad © 1866, Colonel Biggs

The 19th century Ahmedabad can best be depicted as a self-sustaining state. There was no need for the area to collaborate or compare with other cities in India. Yet the fact that the city is so complete within itself is a double-edged sword. Amid the reformation and rapid city growth in the 19th century, outward forces applied to the area have disturbed the well-calibrated mechanism long existed in the city. Within the struggle between city growth and resistance to change, the urban hierarchy and structure of Ahmedabad has gone through a tremendous shift in the later period.


K.L. Gillian, Ahmedabad: a study in Indian urban history, University of California Press, 1968

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