Historical Places in Mumbai

  • Post last modified:6 February 2023
  • Reading time:20 mins read
  • Post category:Tourism in India

16 Historical Places in Mumbai

  1. Gateway of India
  2. Prince of Wales Museum
  3. Victoria and Albert Museum
  4. University Library and Rajabai Clocktower
  5. Rajabai Tower
  6. Great Western Hotel
  7. Council Hall
  8. Town Hall
  9. University Convocation Hall
  10. Mumbai High court
  11. Elphinstone or Horniman Circle
  12. Custom House
  13. Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus
  14. Municipal Buildings
  15. Rajabai Clock tower Government House
  16. Victoria Gardens

Gateway of India

The city of Mumbai abounds in a number of historical monuments. These monuments form important landmarks of the city and are a legacy of the Mumbai`s rich historical past. By far the most famous of all monuments in Mumbai is the Gateway of India.

It stands at Apollo Bunder, overlooking the Arabian Sea. This symbolic national landmark, the Marble Arch of India, was designed by George Wittet to commemorate the visit of George V and Queen Mary, en route to the Delhi Durbar of December 1911. In 1948 it was the point of exit for the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, the last British regiment to leave India.

It has been built in the Indo-Saracenic architectural style and is the signature monument of Mumbai. The Gateway of India has been modelled on 16th-century Gujarati work and constructed in honey-coloured basalt, with side chambers and halls to accommodate civic receptions. It stands tall with four turrets and intricate latticework carved into the basalt stone. In recent years the surrounding area has been landscaped as part of a welcome civic improvement scheme. In the gardens stands an equestrian statue of Chatrapati Shivaji, erected in 1961.

Another major historical landmark of Mumbai is the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. It is a monument in its own right, powerful and with an atmosphere of self-assured Edwardian solidity. It was built by the millionaire industrialist J. N. Tata and it still retains its social cachet. It is best viewed from out at sea; its prominent red dome, belvedere and curved corner towers, capped by Moorish domes, form a metropolitan landmark. The Taj Mahal hotel is often touted as one of the great hotels of the East.

Prince of Wales Museum

The Prince of Wales Museum is yet another major monument of Mumbai. The Museum, designed by George Wittet and commenced in 1905, is dominated by a huge tiled concrete dome and, at present, comprises two out of the three planned ranges disposed around a central courtyard. The central range (1914) and one wing (1937) are complete.

This vast complex, based on local Gujarati architecture of the 15th and 16th centuries and built in local stone, is typical of Wittet`s accomplished Indo-Saracenic architecture. A bronze statue of George V stands outside. An equestrian statue of Edward VII, by Boehm, presented by Sir Albert Sassoon, stands on the other frontage.

There are three main sections in the museum – Art, Archaeology and Natural History. The Art section contains an excellent collection of arms, the Sir Ratan Tata bequest of pictures, including works by Lawrence, Gainsborough, Poussin and Titian, and fine examples of Indian silver and brass, jade and tapestries.

The Archaeological exhibition has three main sections: Brahmanical, Jain, Prehistoric and Foreign collections; and Buddhist. The Natural History section is based on the collections of the Mumbai Natural History Society, founded in 1833. The Prince of Wales Museum is regarded as one of the finest and best museums in the country.

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum was founded by Sir George Birdwood and designed in 1862 by William Tracey. It is a two-storey range in a Palladian style, unusual in Mumbai, where Gothic usually prevailed. The foundation stone was laid by Sir Bartle Frere and, when opened nine years later, it was eulogized as one of the greatest boons which England could have conferred on India. The Museum houses an interesting collection depicting the history of Mumbai.

Flora fountain In front of the Museum is an Italianate Clocktower built in 1865, the gift of David Sassoon to the designs of Scott, McClelland & Co. It is built in Porbandar stone with panels of Minton tiles and dressings of Blashfield`s terracotta from Lincolnshire. The four faces portray morning, evening, noon and night. At the base is a drinking-fountain.

University Library and Rajabai Clocktower

The University Library and Rajabai Clocktower were constructed to designs sent by Sir George Gilbert Scott from England. Built between 1869 and 1878, it is one of his best schemes, a sophisticated amalgam of 14th-century French and Italian Gothic.

The library comprises a two-storey structure with arcaded galleries, pierced parapets and delicately carved stonework. In each corner are open spiral staircases raising full height, capped by stone spires. The cool interior is lit by traceried windows filled with stained glass.

Rajabai Tower

The colossal Rajabai Tower is based on Giotto`s campanile in Florence. It takes its name from the mother of its benefactor, Mr Premchand Roychand. Around the octagonal lantern are sculpted figures 8 feet high which represent the castes of western India.

Above these, forming crocketed finials, arc another set of figures, twenty-four in all, modelled by the Assistant Engineer, Rao Bahadur Makund Ramchendra. Under the clock dials on each face are four small machicolated balconies. From the top of the tower a magnificent view of the city can be obtained, but access is not always possible. However, the clock chimes can hardly be held now.

Great Western Hotel

The Great Western Hotel is a late 18th century house. Originally occupied by Governor Hornby between 1771 and 1784, it later became Admiralty House and the High Court before it was converted into the Hotel. The core of the building is original but the veranda has been demolished.

Apart from these, a number of buildings of civic utility are also monuments in construction. Built during the era of Bristish rule, these monuments continue to serve their purpose ages after the colonial rulers have left.

Council Hall

The Council Hall is an imposing structure built by the outstanding architect of Victorian Mumbai, F. W. Stevens, under the supervision of General James Augustus Fuller. Commenced in 1870 and completed in 1876, it superseded earlier designs for a cast-iron structure by the English architect J. Macvicar Anderson.

It is a large Indo-Gothic structure, 270 ft long, with two wings and a central entrance hall and staircase faced in blue basalt with dressings of Porbandar, Coorla and Hemnager stone. The sculpture on the front gable by Bolton of Cheltenham depicts Neptune with nymphs and seahorses.

Full details of its construction can be found on a memorial tablet in the Hall. In 1928 the home was taken over by the government and a new Council Chamber for the Mumbai Legislature was added at the rear.

Town Hall

The Town Hall is the finest neo-classical building in India, a sophisticated, assured essay in the Greek revival style. It was designed by Colonel Thomas Cowper and completed after his death in 1825 by others, mainly Charles Waddington, although a certain Augustine of Portuguese origin is reputed to have played an important subordinate role. The facade is raised high on an arcaded basement approached by a massive flight of steps.

Projecting jhilmils or window hoods are part of the original design and demonstrate the successful adaptation of Greek Doric architecture to an Indian context. Greek palmettes are seen on the pelmets to the jhilmils. The Doric columns were shipped from England but were considered so monumental on arrival that the original idea of paired columns was dropped, the leftovers being diverted for use at Christ Church, Bycullah, which was under construction at the time.

Close to the Town Hall is the Mint. It was built by Major John Hawkins on the Fort Rubbish dump between 1824 and 1829. It is a restrained, rectangular building with an Ionic portico.

The former Secretariat of the government of Mumbai was designed in 1874 by Captain Henry St Clair Wilkins in Venetian Gothic style. It is 470 ft long, with wings terminated by three sides of an octagon. The facade is made up of arcaded verandas enriched with structural polychromy, with a central axis accentuated by a huge gable which breaks forward beneath the 170 ft tower.

The gable, carrying the great staircase window in a single 90 feet arch, is the central feature of the composition. It is faced in buff-coloured Porbandar stone, enriched with blue and red basalt and details carved by native artists in white Hemnagar stone.

University Convocation Hall

The University Convocation Hall was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1874.It has been built in the Decorated French style of the fifteenth century. It was financed by the great Parsee benefactor Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney, to whom there is dedicated statue by Thomas Woolner in the Gardens.

The south end is apsidal and separated from the body of the hall by a grand arch. A handsome carved timber gallery carried on enriched cast-iron brackets encloses three sides. Open spiral staircases, recalling those of the great French chateaux at Blois and Chambord, provide external access to the side verandas.

Mumbai High court

The Mumbai High court is another tropical English Gothic construction. It was designed and built by Colonel James Augustus Fuller, the leading constructional engineer of his day. This enormous pile is 562 ft long and 195 ft wide, dominated by a large central tower 186 ft high, on cither side of which arc lower octagonal spire-capped towers crowned by figures of Justice and Mercy.

These contain private staircases for judges, the main staircase on the eastern side being approached by a groin-vaulted corridor in Porbandar stone with a floor of Minton tiles. The gaunt exterior is roughly dressed in blue basalt enriched with dressings of stucco, Porbandar, Coorla and Sewri stones, surmounted by steeply pitched roofs clad in Taylor`s patent red tiles.

The Public Works Office is another magnificent essay in Venetian Gothic, by Colonel Henry St Clair Wilkins. It is similar in conception to the Secretariat but with a curious centrepiece, a deep staircase tower with twin pyramidal roofs. The wings are terminated by end bays with arcaded stories enriched with structural polychromy, but much of its impact is now reduced by the mature trees on the forecourt.

The old General Post Office (1869-72), now called the Telegraph Office, was designed by James Trubshawe in mediaeval Italian style with wide bracketed eaves. The building stands opposite the Public Works Office, with its main facade to Vir Nariman Road It is punctuated by two towers with steeply pitched roofs, between which projects a cavernous porte-cochere. The upper part was once used as an outdoor dining-room for clerks. Unsightly modern aerials impair the roofline.

Town Hall Adjacent to the north is the original Telegraph Office, built like the Post Office under the supervision of Colonel James Augustus Fuller, but designed entirely by W. Paris, who had collaborated with Trubshawe on the design of the Post Office. Both buildings are faced in honey-coloured sandstone from Coorla, with columns and dressings of blue basalt.

Elphinstone or Horniman Circle

Elphinstone or Horniman Circle lies on the site of Bombay Green and was laid out from about 1860 under the instructions of Charles Forjett, the Municipal Commissioner, to a scheme prepared by George Clerk, a predecessor of Sir Bartle Frere. The buildings were designed with unified Italian facades enriched with cast-ironwork from England.

On the western edge of the Circle by Vir Nariman Road is Elphinstone Buildings (1870), a splendid Venetian Gothic palazzo in warm-brown sandstone with interlacing arches and arcaded storeys, one of the most accomplished Victorian Gothic buildings in Bombay. The central gardens, enclosed with Victorian iron railings, provide a pleasant resting-place.

Custom House

The Custom House is an ancient structure, parts of which may incorporate a Portuguese barrack block of 1665. Over the entrance, portico are the arms of the East India Company and the inscription Hon. W. Ainslabie, 1714. Vestiges of the original Portuguese fortifications survive, including, incredibly, parts of the original Manor House (c. 1560), built by Garcia da Orta.

These are embedded in the old Arsenal or Pattern Room. Nearby are a sundial and coat of arms of similar age. Over the gate in the bastion wall is a cartouche of Portuguese soldiers. Fragments of the old Fort walls can be discerned, but the most complete stretch lies within the restricted Naval Dockyard complex.

Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus

The Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus or Victoria Terminus is one of the oldest and finest Victorian Gothic buildings in India. It was designed by F. W. Stevens in a riot of polychromatic stone, decorative ironwork, marble and tile. The frontage is symmetrical, with projecting wings and a colossal dome, the first applied to a Gothic building on scientific principles. Beneath the dome is a majestic staircase.

The booking hall is arcaded and ornamented in High Victorian Gothic style, with stained glass, glazed tile and stencilled patterns. It is a highly original work, inspired by Gilbert Scott`s St Pancreas Station but wholly different in conception.

The dome is crowned by a huge statue of Progress, 14 ft high, executed by Thomas Earp, who designed the stone medallions of Imperial figures which enrich the facade, as well as the Imperial lion and Indian tiger which crown the monumental gate piers. Most of the architectural ornament was carved locally by the Mumbai School of Art.

Municipal Buildings

The Municipal Buildings were also designed by F. W. Stevens in 1893. This colossal edifice has a 255 ft high tower, capped by a bulbous dome, an ebullient expression of Indo-Saracenic architecture symbolizing Victorian civic and imperial pride. The statue crowning the gable is Urbs Pritna in Indis. It is a fine building by the most accomplished practitioner of Indo-Gothic architecture. The statue outside is of Sir Ferozeshah Mehta, by Derwent Wood.

Rajabai Clock tower Government House

Rajabai Clock tower Government House (Raj Bhavan) stands in a large private compound at the summit of the hill. The house has a rustic character, with a pitched roof and timber verandahs. It was enlarged by Mountstuart Elphinstone in 1819 and again in 1828, by Sir John Malcolm.

The dining hall, billiard room, porch and verandah were added in 1868. Since 1885 it has been the Governor`s official residence by Noble, which once stood at the junction of Mayo Road and the Esplanade, and a splendid bracketed cast-iron lamp column and drinking-fountain formerly on the Esplanade.

Victoria Gardens

The adjacent entrance to Victoria Gardens (14 hectares: 34 acres) is through a classical screen enriched with medallions of the then Prince and Princess of Wales by James Forsyth. The capitals are copied from the Temple of Jupiter Status in Rome. Within the gardens are a statue of Prince Albert, by Noble, and a rotunda with a bust of Lady Frere designed by Tracey and modelled on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens.

Fort House, now Handloom House, was once the mid-19th-century residence of the great Parsee Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, and nearby lies his eponymous Institute (1871), built in a Gothic style.

The Flora fountain is situated in the heart of South Mumbai. It was built in 1864. It has been sculpted in imported Portland stone and depicts the Roman Goddess Flora. The fountain stands exactly at the point where the original Church Gate of Bombay Fort stood.

The Wellington Fountain was built in 1865 to commemorate the two visits made here by the Duke in 1801 and 1804. Also, worth mention here is Forbe`s House. It is a late eighteenth-century house of John Forbes, a Scots trader and leading businessman. The house today survives in a state of precarious dilapidation.

These are therefore the chief historical monuments of Mumbai. Though most of them are still in use today for some civic or public service, their architecture, period of construction and role in India`s historical past contribute towards their role as termed monuments of Mumbai.

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