Mumbai – a tour of Victorian architecture in Fort

Moving up the peninsula north from Colaba and Apollo Bandar, the next downtown district you come to is Fort.

My map here.

It’s my favourite area of Mumbai for architecture and just generally walking around. There are some nice examples of Art Deco here (see later post) but the stand out architectural style is known as Victorian Gothic aka neo-Gothic aka Gothic Revival, a legacy of the late British colonial era.

Art Deco is more prominent in Churchgate, the neighbourhood to the west (see later post). Together the two areas contain buildings of such architechtural importance that they have been granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

I’ve ordered the buildings in the same order that I saw them on my walk, so this post can be used as a route for an urban architecture hike.

In the UK my favourite Victorian Gothic building is St Pancras train station (post here). So it should be no surprise that my favourite building in Mumbai is one that took inspiration from it. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is like St Panc on steroids with all kinds of additional adornments sprouting out of it.

It was opened in 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and was originally known as Victoria Terminus before being renamed in 1996 in honour of Emperor Chhatrapati Shivaji, the founder of the Maratha Empire. Locals joke that it was the fastest and cheapest sex change operation ever!

Click on the galleries to expand the pics.

Buying a train ticket is like visiting a cathedral. Videos here and here.

And despite the scale, beauty is often in the details.

It’s still called Victoria Terminus, or more simply VT, by many people. Interestingly some locals quite like the old names and many still say Bombay instead of Mumbai although that’s controversial amongst a small minority of people. Here’s some more discussion on the matter.

The station is one of the busiest in the world. It’s reckoned that three million people pass through it every day. Only Shinjuku in Tokyo handles more with 3.6 million.

Over the road, at the junction of Dadabhai Naoroji Road and Mahapalika Marg, is the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation Building (BMC) where the city government resides. The Gothic design features cusped window arches and domed towers.

The neighbour in the other direction is the General Post Office (GPO). The building’s architectural style is known as Indo-Saracenic (or Indo-Gothic) which draws on Indo-Islamic architecture, especially Islamic Mughal architecture, and to a lesser degree, Hindu temple architecture. The Terminus can also be described as Indo-Saracenic with its basic Gothic structure and added Indian decoration.

I got chased away for taking photographs of a sensitive building but I didn’t mind as it’s not one of my favourites anyway. I quite like Blackie House over the road though.

From here I’d walk down Shahid Bhagat Singh Road (taking in Cafe Universal, Mulji Jetha Fountain and the Parsi Fire Temple), turn right briefly onto Sir Phirozshah Mehta Road for a bit of Art Deco and then down to Horniman Circle and St. Thomas’ Cathedral. All of these feature in later posts.

At Horniman Circle it’s worth popping in to St. Thomas’ Cathedral. There are some beautifully carved memorials on the walls.

From here you head to the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Palace which is the most famous historical hotel in Mumbai (my post here). Nearby on the corner of Nathalal Parikh Marg and Shahid Bhagat Singh Rd is a former competitor to the Palace, the Majestic Hotel (now a guest house, but being renovated in 2023).

Just over the way, at the bottom of Mahatma Gandhi Road, you’ll find the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Museum in a beautiful Indo-Saracenic building.

I’ve not been in the museum (I must go next time) but it does have a very nice shop for interesting arty presents to take home.

The Gothic Revival continues over the road with Elphinstone College.

The facades of the college buildings are ornately decorated with long lines of windows which are features of Venetian Gothic.

Next door is the Sassoon Library, also Venetian Gothic, which opened in 1871.

I’d love to have a peek at the reading room but you have to be a member unfortunately.

On the next block is the front entrance of the Fort Campus of the University of Mumbai but you’ll get a better view of its buildings around the back on Karmaveer Bhaurao Patil Marg.

The university’s Venetian Gothic tower, the Rajabai Clock, looks over the Oval Maidan recreation ground where many a run and a goal have been scored.

There are a lot of private schools in the side streets around here. Private education in India is largely based on the British public school model.

And the sadly decrepit Municipal Ear, Nose & Throat Hospital.

Continuing up Mahatma Gandhi Road to where it meets Dr Dadabhai Naoroji Road is the eye-catching Oriental Building.

Just opposite is the beautiful Flora Fountain but I’ve mislaid my pics for that, sorry. Here are some shots of it on Google.

From here I headed back to my hotel, the Windsor in Churchgate, taking in the Western Railways Headquarters on Maharshi Karve Marg along the way.

Well, hope you learned something about the different but overlapping architectural styles from the late colonial period, I certainly did by writing this. Please bear in mind I’m not an expert, just someone trying to teach themselves! For more Victoriana, check out my post on Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Victoria Gardens in Byculla.

Next we check out Churchgate for some beautiful Art Deco, my favourite!

One thought on “Mumbai – a tour of Victorian architecture in Fort”

  1. As always, fabulous photos and beautifully written, highly informative commentary. Thanks Raif!

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