Mumbai Heritage Sites: Tagged along

Mumbai Heritage Sites: Tagged along

Recently, some buildings in Mumbai were labelled for their heritage by the UNESCO.

Strong National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai

What is your immediate impression of the city of Mumbai? Financial hub? Bollywood Mecca? Organised chaos? Amid the contradictory hullabaloo and the clockwork precision with which the city works, there stand structures witness to the grandeur of the past and the architecture of an era gone by. The past months have put these silent structures back under the arc lights, their rightfully earned place, with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) having bestowed on them the heritage label. Specifically, this includes Mumbai’s Victorian Gothic and Art Deco ensembles encompassing the Fort area and the buildings along the Marine Drive and around Churchgate, and those around the Oval Maidan. It has been a 14-year-long crusade, but Mumbai has done it.

Among the notable Victorian Gothic buildings are the Bombay High Court, Mumbai University, Old Secretariat, National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Elphinstone College, David Sassoon Library, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS – Museum) and the Western Railway Headquarters. These Victorian Gothic buildings were largely built in the 19th century, and were characterised by heavy stone and masonry work, pointed arches, carved external elements, flying buttresses, arched windows and stained glasses.

On the other hand, the Art Deco buildings inspired by Cubism did away with the earlier asymmetrical flows and got symmetry back into business. Linear symmetry and geometric form took precedence and the focus was on bold colours. Chief among those under the heritage tag are buildings on the Marine Drive, the Cricket Club of India and the cinemas – Regal, Liberty and Eros.

Bombay High Court

This imposing structure designed by General James A Fuller was completed by 1878, alongside the other prestigious buildings — the University Library and the Convocation Hall. It stands at a grand 562 feet tall (approximately 168 metres); its tower itself is about 53 metres high. Back then this structure was completed at the cost of Rs 16, 44,528 which, unbelievably, was roughly about Rs 3,000 less than that sanctioned for the purpose! Two octagonal towers greet you at the entrance with the statues of Justice and Mercy at the pinnacle. The large-arched porch beckons you just as it has over millions of justice seekers in the last century and a half.

A walk inside reveals some amazing architecture, including sundry heads of wolves and foxes with counsel’s bands round their necks in odd nooks and corners of the walls and ceiling. You will even find a carved half-blind monkey holding the scales of justice. It is believed that this monkey carving is inspired by the story of the monkey and the two cats from Aesop’s Fables.

University of Mumbai

A good two decades earlier than the Bombay High Court, in 1857, a very important structure was coming up adjacent to the plot earmarked for it — the Mumbai University complex. It houses some of the finest structures including the Senate Hall, the University Library and the Rajabai Clock Tower. The Mumbai University is one of the earliest universities established in British India, along with the universities of Madras and Calcutta. It was designed in England by Sir George Gilbert Scott who was famous for his Gothic architectural design of London’s St Pancras railway station. A lot of private Indian money has gone into the building of these structures. Prominent city merchant Premchand Roychand (after whose mother the clock tower is named) and Parsi philanthropist Cowasjee Jehangir readily loosened their purse strings for this one.

The most impressive design of the University of Mumbai is the open spiral staircase measuring 32 metres in length, 19 metres in height, and 13 metres in breadth. With palm trees lined up around its mansion-like structure and the buzz of students surrounding it, the University of Mumbai is one of the finest living heritage structures in the city.

National Gallery of Modern Art

Housed in the heart of the art district of Mumbai, Kala Ghoda, is the NGMA. It was formerly known as Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Public Hall and functioned as an auditorium where many an evening were spent in the company of Mehli Mehta and Yehudi Menuhin, and some even listening to the freedom calls of Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi.

The Cowasjee Jehangir Public Hall was built in 1911 by Scottish architect George Wittet and was part of the Institute of Science. Wittet was in fact responsible for a lot of Mumbai’s historical structures including the Gateway of India, the Prince of Wales Museum, the King Edward Memorial Hospital and several buildings of Ballard Estate. Currently, only the external façade remains testimony to the era gone by. The auditorium has been converted to a modern art gallery.

Elphinstone College

Elphinstone College was the first ever institution in India to offer university education. It was inaugurated way back in 1880. This impressive structure is a mix of golden basalt that is used for its main façade, while lighter coloured Porbunder limestone is used for the detailing. The Ephinstone College stands out in the city’s art district as a monumental expanse with turrets and spires, and tiled roofs. It has brackets and balconies reminiscent of the Gothic period. The finest of Victorian Gothic architecture in Mumbai, the college was designed by James Trubshaw. Not only is the architecture impressive, the Elphinstone college boasts of an illustrious alumni as well, Lokmanya Tilak, Dadabhai Naoroji, and J N Tata, to name a few.

David Sassoon Library

Had it not been for the generous funding by Jewish philanthropist David Sassoon, this library would not have seen the light of day. It was built in 1879 and shares the same yellow Malad stone found on the other Victorian Gothic structures on Rampart Row — Elphinstone College, the Army and Navy Building and Watson’s Hotel (Esplenade Mansion). The library was designed by J Campbell and G E Gosling for the Scott McClelland and Company. Believe it or not, David Sassoon Library was initially designated as a museum and a library for mechanical models and architectural designs.

Western Railway Headquarters

What was known earlier as Churchgate Terminus and is now the Western Railway Headquarters was designed by Frederick Williams Stevens a little after 1888. It was opened in 1899, an interesting structure in blue basalt. The inlays were bands of white and red Bassein sandstone. The Victoria Terminus was being built almost simultaneously but Churchgate was built faster though it could not match its rival in beauty or in expanse. Ornate domes and winged figures flank its façade while there is a female figure holding a railway engine in one hand sits atop the structure. She is believed to be the symbol of either progress or of engineering.

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