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Bombay, the Urbs Prima in India, is not an indigenous Indian city, but instead a generic colonial port city. Built by the British mainly for trade purposes, it was not originally planned. For centuries Bombay Island formed a coastal outpost of the land-based Hindu powers in Western India, but remained outside the sphere of maritime commerce, which encompassed other seaports in the region, such as Sopara, Thana, Kalyan and Chaul. In the mid-fourteenth century the island came under Muslim domination and passed into Portuguese hands two centuries later.

In 1661, the significant event that contributed towards changing Bombay from an insignificant group of villages and islands to o­ne of the largest cities of India and its financial and commercial capital today, was the handing over of the island of Bombay to the British by the Portuguese, following a matrimonial and military alliance of Princess Catherine of Braganza with King Charles II of England. After a few unprofitable years as crown property, the commercially unproductive island was transferred in 1667 to the East India Company, to which it owes much of its early development. Merchants settled from elsewhere and the ship building industry prospered. The growth of the town necessitated protection and hence fortification (and thus the name Fort). The Fort had three gates, the Apollo gate, the Church gate, and the Bazaar gate. This fortification had o­n its western side, a semicircular stretch of open ground, the Esplanade (the present day maidans or open green spaces) to provide a clear range of fire from the Fort, which by then had become an important military outpost.

From the mid 19th cent Bombay’s most enlightened Governor, Lord Elphinstone, fostered expansion of trade, introduced markets, set up revenue and education systems. With the improvement of trade connections with the interior, the introduction of the railways and the opening of the Suez Canal, Bombay was transformed into the main commercial centre of the Arabian Sea. The latent forces of commercial and economic prosperity that had been accumulating in Bombay since the 1830’s reached a climax with the cotton boom of the 1860’s. This coincided with the arrival of the next Governor, Sir Bartle Frere. He planned a series of works – widening of roads, formation of a municipality, and expansion of the city by demolition of the fort ramparts, land reclamation – and commenced the building of a magnificent ensemble of High Victorian public buildings along the sea front. 

These grand buildings have been acclaimed as the finest surviving Colonial (Victorian Gothic) architectural ensembles in the world. They are monumental statements of civic pride, and they herald the genesis of a genuine British Indian imperial style. A new architectural image was defined for the sub-continent, an image of grandeur, supremacy and elegance as manifested by the High Victorian style. The attempts to control the surrounding context through urban design set the context for these buildings. Civic spaces such as Horniman circle, and Flora Fountain were restructured, augmented and interlinked with the help of landmarks to create a magnificent city comparable to Victorian London, not just in its civic architecture but also in its exuberance, panache and sheer dynamism.  

In the early twentieth century, there was much experimentation with the appropriateness of styles to be employed in India. o­ne school advocated that the British architecture in India had to be reflective of the native architecture and traditions and this resulted in the formation of a new style called Indo-Saracenic architecture. This style tried to fuse distinctive Islamic architectural features with the buildings that were being designed by British Architects in mid nineteenth century and early twentieth century in India. The revival of the form was predominately devoid of the original skills and traditions and dependent o­n modern constructional technology. The style adopted the form and plan of the grand Victorian architecture but dressed the building with features and embellishments that were of indigenous origins such as chajjas (overhangs), jalis (perforated screens), and verandahs. 

The early experiments resulted in the amalgamation of the Gothic revival and Saracenic style creating marvels like the Anjuman E Islam building (C. 1893), and B.M.C building (C. 1893). This style was further refined removing all Gothic influences in the early 20th century, represented in buildings like the General Post Office (C. 1911-13), Prince of Wales Museum of Western India (C. 1915), and the Gateway of India (C. 1922) at Apollo Bunder. These buildings display an extraordinary level of architectural and engineering skill and represent a very sophisticated form of eclecticism. Towards the middle of the 19th century there was a distinct change in the spirit of the city; the Imperial image was replaced by the cosmopolitan, international and modern, evident from the construction of Marine Drive, a sweeping promenade, which also happens to be o­ne of the longest Art Deco Stretches in the world. 




Source : Central Railway / Indian Railways Portal CMS Team Last Reviewed on: 25-08-2016  


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