Heritage Sites in MumbaiAmong the beautiful skyscrapers, the azure Arabian Sea, the vast clean roads of a glamorous urban city of Mumbai, there lies a magnificent old piece of land that tells the tale of a city of the quondam era and its gorgeous past. Mumbai is the biggest city in India and considered the economical capital of the country. From time to time, the city has adopted many colours of different cultures of different people, different life style and different legacies. Eventually Mumbai has become one of the most fascinating cities in India which grew up on a strong heritage of a coalesced acculturation. Mumbai houses several sites which are its true heritage of a long and miscellaneous history. Let’s take a look below at the most important heritage sites of the city of Mumbai:
Fort/ Mumbai Precinct
One of the most popular heritage sites of Mumbai is the Fort area of South Mumbai. This area used to be the heart of Mumbai (then Bombay) in the 18th century. The Fort area is located around the Fort George which was built by the British East India Company. The Fort George was actually an extension of the Bombay Castle built in 1769. It was named after George III of the United Kingdom. The Fort was demolished in 1862.
The Fort area is now a very busy financial hub of Mumbai city. It houses several important offices and headquarters. Some significant names are the Bombay Stock Exchange, Tata Group Headquarters and Reserve Bank of India headquarters etc. This is also one of the most famous shopping destinations of the city. From the pirated software, music CDs and DVDs, electronic equipments, old and new books to the Mumbai’s famous street foods and cinema halls- Fort area has it all.
The Fort Area of Mumbai was declared a protected area under the regulations of Maharashtra Government Urban Development Department and hence a dedicated committee was set up to look after the repairs, renovations and further developments of the heritage structures in this area.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Station
One of the most prominent heritage sites of Mumbai is the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station. This is also one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites situated in India. CST was formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station and is the perfect example of the glorious Victorian Gothic Revival architecture that also took place in India in the mid of eighteenth century.
This trend in India beautifully intermingled with Indian traditional architecture and the European Gothic designs. The building that houses the headquarters of the Central Railways was designed by the acclaimed British architect F. W. Stevens. He received influences from both the Mughal Pattern and the Victorian Italianate Gothic architect and gave the design a revival. Victoria Terminus actually gave Bombay the term of ‘Gothic City’ of India which essentially was popular among the international mercantile ports.
The main building at Bori Bunder was built in 1887 to honour the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It took typically ten years to turn the design of Mr. Stevens a marvelous piece of reality. The arched tympana, stone mesh works, stone carvings of flora and fauna and all the other detailing of the heritage building is still carrying its past authenticity. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was declared a Heritage site by the Maharashtra Government in 1997.
Apart from all the refurbishment and renovation work at the building a special Buffer Zone was also created to prevent and reduce the unauthorized and negative development in the surrounding area. The terminus building is a proud cultural possession of not only Mumbai but also the whole country. The name of the Victoria Terminus Station was replaced by Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in 1996.
Mount Mary Church
The church edifice is itself 100 years old, but the history of the statue of Our Lady takes us back to the 16th century. The Jesuit priests of Portugal carried the current statue to India and made a chapel here at the current location. The church became a victim of Arab pirate attack and the statue was somewhat discarded. It was rebuilt and the statue was subbed by a statue of Our Lady of Navigators in the nearby St. Andrews’ Church.
The new church building was designed by Shapoorjee Chandabhoy in 1902. The church is still very popular among people from various religious faiths. The beautifully serene interiors of the church, the sanctorum, the nave and all the other motifs of Mount Mary Church make it a must-visit place for the heritage lovers.
Haji Ali Dargah
If the words Haji Ali reminds you of just a beautiful Hindi filmy song, you are definitely missing something. Haji Ali Dargah, mosque of the famous saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari and is one of the most important and popular heritage landmarks located in Mumbai. It is synonymous to the multiculturalism of the vibrant city of Mumbai.
Haji Ali Dargah or popularly called only Haji Ali is situated at about 500 yards off the shoreline of Worli in the heart of Arabian Sea. The complex of the Dargah houses a tomb of the Saint and a mosque as well. It is standing on a set of rocks rising from the water that creates a unique feature of the place. This early nineteenth century marvel has white domes and minarets influenced by the Mughal School of Architecture of the fifteenth century.
It is a fine example of Indo-Islamic architecture which still manages to fascinate the visitor’s mind. The entrance causeway connecting the land and the Dargah is 620 meters long and is dependent on the sea tides. The pavement remains submerged in water during the high tides and hence is accessible only during the low tides. This is an exceptional attribute of the place.
Haji Ali is not only popular among the Muslims but devotees from all the other communities also come here in large numbers seeking blessings from the divine soul of the Saint. It is voted as one of the Seven Wonders of Mumbai recently.
Asiatic Library/ Town Hall
Bombay or the present day Mumbai has long been witnessing the numerous important events of the country. The city dwells countless places those hold some past glories in several fields. If the city had been one of the most significant abode for India’s freedom movements, Mumbai has a grave heritage of conglomerate ignited minds. Asiatic Society of Bombay is a perfect example of Mumbai’s cultural and literary inheritance.
This learned society was set up in 1804 by Sir James Mackintosh to encourage field of Asian studies and to promote useful knowledge about India. The literary Society of Bombay which was initially named as the Bombay Branch of Royal Asiatic Society (BBRAS) was an important extension of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland till 1954 and renamed as the Asiatic Society of Bombay after the separation.
The library of the Society houses over a hundred thousand books and manuscripts among which 15000 are declared rare and immensely valuable. Over 3000 manuscripts are in ancient Sanskrit, Persian, and Prakrit languages. The library also possesses around 12000 coins including a gold coin of Gupta King Kumaragupa I, a rare gold Mohur of Mughal emperor Akbar and some coins of Shivaji. But the most important and valuable possessions of the library are one of the two original copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy, a manuscript of the Persian great epic Shahnama of Firdausi, five Buddhist caskets unearthed from the ancient port of Sopara etc.
The Town Hall of the Asiatic Society of Bombay was built in 1830, much later than the establishment of the main society and now declared as a heritage structure. The architecture of the Town Hall was influenced by the classical Greek and Roman architecture. The beautiful building was once stated as the most significant structure yet erected in India by Sir John Malcom, the then governor of Bombay.
The Gateway of India
The British Government of India wanted to commemorate the landing of King George V and his wife Queen Mary on the 2nd February, 1911 at Apollo Bunder of Bombay (Mumbai). A magnanimous monument was set up for the reason on the waterfront in the Apollo Bunder area in Southern Mumbai. This monument which is still pronouncing the pride of architectural marvel is called the Gateway of India. The ‘Taj Mahal of Mumbai’ the Gateway of India is the numero uno tourist destination in the city. Brainchild of architect George Wittet, the Gateway of India is an 85 feet high basalt arch built in the Indo-Saracenic style combining the Roman Triumphal Arch and the architecture of Gujarat in 16th century.
A five star hotel at its best of luxury and services, Taj Mahal Palace is a true gen from a range of aspects. The flagship property of the Tata Group, Taj Mahal Palace was a gift from Jamsedji Tata to his beloved city of Bombay. It is said that Jamsedji was requested by the editor of The Times of India to build a hotel that should be ‘worthy of Bombay’. Undoubtedly, the Taj Mahal Palace is one of its kind hotels in India. The hotel was inaugurated in 1903. Apart from the luxurious services it provides, the hotel is also an architectural wonder that makes Taj Mahal Palace a heritage site of the city.
The hotel consists of two separate buildings those were made in different times and in different designs. While the old building is called Taj Mahal Palace, the new wing is called Taj Mahal Tower. The main architects of the hotel were D. N. Mirza and Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya. On an interesting note, the hotel was converted to a hospital during World War I.
The hotel has been witnessing several significant incidents happened over Mumbai. On 26th November, 2008 Taj Mahal Palace became a miserable victim of a gory terrorist attack when at least 31 died at the hotel during a three-day battle among the terrorists and the Indian commandos. The badly damaged heritage section of the hotel was reopened in 2010 after a massive restoration work. Taj Mahal Palace has truly become the symbol of resilience and the valor of the citizens.
Another pride of Maharashtra and another UNESCO World Heritage Site of India is the famous Elephanta Caves, a series of caves from the fifth to eighth century located merely 10 km to the east of Mumbai. There are two types of caves in the island, a group of five Hindu Shaivite caves dedicated to the Lord Shiva and a small group of two Buddhist caves.
The solid basalt rock cut designs date back to as far as the fifth century though the accurate date or time period could not be measured till date. The cave paintings were done all in colour though there remains only some remnants. The caves were been worshiped by Hindus till 1534 before the Portuguese rule started in this region. Eventually the caves faced dilapidation and only in 1970 the caves were renovated. Elephanta Caves were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and since then these are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Bombay Castle/ Casa da Orta
Bombay Castle is one of the oldest buildings of Mumbai. It would not be surprising to say that the city and the fort grown up almost together and witnessed numerable incidents taking place in the city. Naturally the Bombay Castle is Mumbai’s one of the most significant heritage structures. The present remaining Bombay Castle was built by the British on the site where the Manor House was once built by a Portuguese named Garcia de Orta. The Manor House became the Portuguese Governor’r House after Orta leased it to the Portuguese authorities between 1554 and 1570. Bombay Castle thus holds a tremendous historical value and is a worth visiting heritage site in Mumbai.
Sion Hillock Fort
Another heritage site in Mumbai set up and left by the British East India Company is the Sion Hillock Fort. Built in around 1669 to 1677, the Sion Fort is located atop a hillock and was at a boundary between the British authorized Parel Island and the Portuguese-held Salsette Island. Though currently is in a dilapidated state, the Sion Fort was once a pride of the English rulers in Mumbai. The Fort gives a beautiful panoramic view of the nearby areas. The fort was declared a Grade I Heritage Site in 1925.
Castella de Aguada/ Bandra Fort
Another constructional legacy of the Portuguese rulers of Mumbai is the Castella de Aguada or famously known as the Bandra Fort. A popular shooting place, the Bandra Fort is also a well known heritage site in Mumbai. The Fort was set up in 1640 at Land’s End in Bandra as a watchtower. The Portuguese were eventually ceded the territory to the British but the tower remained as valuable as ever.
The fort was invaded and damaged by the Marathas in 1739 and the British regained the possession of this area in 1774 defeating the Marathas in the First Anglo-Maratha War. In 2003, the Bandra Fort received a conservation programme started by the Bandra Band Stand Residents’ Trust. The fort is now a property of the Archaeological Survey of India.
In an attempt to avoid potential attacks from the Mughal-Siddi alliance, the British set up a fortification at the Sewri area of Mumbai (then, Bombay) in 1780. It is located on a hilltop at the island of Parel and was well equipped with a garrison of 50 sepoys and eight to ten mighty cannons.
The architecture of the fort represents a pentagonal room along with a long corridor and some linear structures. As the fort was established for the security and defense purposes the Sewri Fort lacks any significant embellishment. The fort is considered a Grade I heritage Structure in Mumbai and now is owned by the Department of Archaeology and Museums of the Maharashtra State Government.
Madh Fort/ Versova Fort
One more heritage site that the city of Mumbai has been dwelling with for centuries is called the Madh Fort, small fort situated at the Madh Island of North Mumbai. The fort was built by the Portuguese but lost it to the Marathas during a war against them in 1739. The fort which is also known as the Versova Fort was actually built as a watchtower guarding the Marve Creek from the Aksa Beach. The fort is now own by the Indian Air Force.
Madh Fortis a popular shooting place for several film and television serials and especially loads of episodes of CID, one of the most popular and the longest running serials of Indian Television have been shot here.