The seven islands that came to constitute Mumbai  ( Bombay ) were home to communities of fishing colonies. For centuries, the islands were under the control of successive indigenous empires before being ceded to the Portuguese and subsequently to the British East India Company.   Along with construction of major roads and railways, the reclamation project, completed in 1845, transformed Bombay into a major seaport on the Arabian Sea. Bombay in the 19th century was characterized by economic and educational development.

Mumbai is the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India.

Bombay in the 19th century was characterized by economic and educational development. During the early 20th century it became a strong base for the Indian independence movement. Upon India’s independence in 1947 the city was incorporated into Bombay State. In 1960, following the Samyukta Maharashtra movement, a new state of Maharashtra was created with Bombay as the capital. The city was renamed Mumbai in 1996.
It is also one of the world’s top ten centres of commerce in terms of global financial flow, generating 5% of India’s GDP and accounting for 25% of industrial output, 70% of maritime trade in India and 70% of capital transactions to India’s economy. The city houses important financial institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the National Stock Exchange of India, the SEBI and the corporate headquarters of numerous Indian companies and multinational corporations. It is also home to some of India’s premier scientific and nuclear institutes like BARC, NPCL, IREL, TIFR, AERB, AECI, and the Department of Atomic Energy. The city also houses India’s Hindi (Bollywood) and Marathi film and television industry.

Gateway of India Mumbai

Gateway of India Mumbai

Travel around Mumbai and get familiar with the iconic structures that retain the old-world charm of the magnificent 19th century Gothic architectural style for Bombay.

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In the 17th century, the islands of Bombay (present day Mumbai) transferred hands from the Portuguese to the East India Company of the British. The Company shifted its base in Western India from Surat to Bombay, strengthened the Bombay Castle and built fortification walls to protect the inhabitants and their warehouses. Over the next century, a combination of diplomacy and wars enabled the English to consolidate their power and they offered incentives to local communities of workers and traders to move into Bombay

Having defeated the Marathas in the early 1800s, the British were finally able to draw up plans for expansion of the port city without fear of attacks by any regional Indian powers. The Mint and the Town Hall were among the first prominent civic buildings within the walls of the British fort to Bombay, and were built in the sombre neoclassical style.

Victoria Station Mumbai

Victoria Station Mumbai in early days

Arrival of the Neo-Gothic in Bombay

In early 19th century England, an increased interest and awareness of the Middle Ages in Europe gave rise to a movement to revive the 12th and 13th century style of Gothic architecture. It was influenced as much by romantic notions of the past as by a desire to base architecture on regional vernacular styles rather than homogenous Greek or Roman influences. The Decorated Gothic style was also favoured by the influential Ecclesiological Society that promoted it as the only one suitable for church architecture. In keeping with the flavor of the times, this trend was exported far and wide to prominent cities of the English Empire, including Melbourne, Ottawa and Bombay.

Mumbai-VT-Statio_Gothic architecture.

In 1844, Henry Bartle Edward Frere, secretary to the governor of Bombay, had a clear vision in mind: that of making Bombay the Urbs Prima in Indis-the first city of India. He began by commissioning a church to commemorate the victims of the Afghan War. Though many proposals were sent to Bombay by the Architectural Society of Oxford, all the plans were deemed too expensive for the city. Finally, Henry Conybeare-a water–supply engineer in Bombay with extensive knowledge of medieval architecture-submitted a proposal and won the commission.

 Opened in 1858, St John’s has many firsts to its credit. Imported stained glass used for the aisles and the chancel was the first of its kind in the city. The building was also the first to use coarse Kurla Stone and buff-coloured basalt for the exterior walls. In place of lime plaster, these weathered well in Bombay’s monsoons and required minimum maintenance. The most prominent feature of the church is its 60-metre spire, which served as a bell tower as well as a landmark for ships entering Bombay’s harbour. With Frere focussed on the architectural style and Conybeare achieving it with local adaptation and at optimal costs, the Afghan Church became a prototype Gothic Revival building for Bombay.

The New Urban Vision for Bombay

Mumbai_The new Vision Areas

Mumbai_The new Vision Areas

In 1862, the year in which Frere was appointed Governor of Bombay, he ordered the demolition of the walls of the old Bombay fort. By now, significant developments had secured Bombay’s future: the city was connected to India’s hinterland with the setting up of the first railway line in the continent, cotton mills had been founded and mercantile institutions-including banks and commodity exchanges-had been established. In the same decade, with the American Civil War increasing demand for Indian cotton in Britain and the opening of the Suez Canal linking Bombay to European ports, the city witnessed an economic boom. This coincided perfectly with the freed-up urban space at the edge of Bombay’s Fort area and allowed Frere to further his vision of a High Gothic cityscape for Bombay.

 Frere’s aim was to create an indigenous school of architecture, based on the principles of Gothic Revival forms to , but adapted to Indian conditions and using Indian materials and craftsmen. Students and teachers from the Sir JJ School of Arts, established in 1855 by a donation from Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, created a number of embellishments that adorned these buildings – especially stone sculptures and wrought-iron works. The neo-Gothic style also found favour with local mercantile communities that often contributed large sums towards the construction of these projects. Since it offered colour, complexity and decorative options,  it was more appealing than the alternative neoclassical style that was more restrained and formal.

University Buildings at Bombay



Taken as a whole, the Bombay University’s Convocation Hall, Library and the Rajabai Clock Tower are the finest set of neo-Gothic buildings in Bombay. George Gilbert Scott’s designs were funded generously in 1863 by Sir Cowasji Jehangir Readmoney’s donation.  and followed by Premchand Roychand, a broker who also  contributed  for the Library and the Rajabai Tower.

 The Library building forms a sturdy horizontal mass providing a backdrop for the Tower to rise from. Built in the delicate Venetian Gothic style, the most prominent external features of the Library are the profusely decorated balustrades, capitals and stained-glass windows of the deep arcades that are terminated with a spiral staircase on each end. The Tower’s base forms the entry way into the Library, and as one climbs up the central staircase, one cannot miss the carved heads of Shakespeare and Homer sternly gazing down at all entrants. Its most notable features are the large tracery windows on the north and south sides and a ribbed wooden ceiling that roofs the dignified research space.

The Rajabai Tower  in Bombay

Mumbai_Rajbai Tower

Mumbai_Rajbai Tower

 The Rajabai Tower, named after Roychand’s mother, rises to 280 feet, and was the tallest structure in Bombay for a while. The façade is covered in buff-coloured rough Kurla stone and each storey is marked by arched lancet windows. Sculptures representing the castes of Western India adorn canopies within the tower. The Tower’s clock, operational since 1880, continues to chime away to the present day and its hymns wafting across the Oval Maidan lend a suitable mood to the skyline.

Just south of the Library is the University’s Convocation Hall. Completed in 1874, the building is also constructed in buff Kurla and Malad stone with highlights in white Porbandar limestone, red sandstone and green serpentine. It’s most distinguished feature is the large number of stained-glass windows on all four sides. The circular rose window above the entry way depicts the zodiac signs and the months of the year while the windows on the western side have the coat of arms of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales along with the coat of arms of Sir Cowsajee Jehangir.

The High Court in Bombay

Mumbai_High - Court

Mumbai_High – Court

To the north of the University are the buildings of the High Court-the most prominent ones along the Oval Maidan. The exaggerated heavy massing of the building designed by John Fuller follows the ‘muscular Gothic’ style, intended to assert the power of the government, law and the judicial process. Befitting the nature of the building are the sculptures adorning its roof-on one side is the statue of Justice holding a sword in one hand and the scales of Justice in another. Complimenting the other side is the Lady of Mercy, her hands clasped in supplication. Sculptures within the Court include those of gremlins, grotesques, lawyer-foxes and even a blindfolded monkey-judge tilting the scales of justice.

 David Sassoon Library and Reading Room

David Sassoon Library & Reading Room

David Sassoon Library & Reading Room

A quaint building along the Kala Ghoda square, this tow–storeyed library uses random rubble masonry of rough Kurla stone contrasted with pointed arches of coloured stones on its façade. Largely unaltered since its construction in 1873, the building incorporated imported Minton floor tiles and Taylor roofing tiles from Britain. Apart from its airy verandahs that are perfect for a leisurely afternoon read, one of the secrets of the building is a well-kept garden in its back court.

Crawford Market for Mumbai

crawford market2_Bombay

crawford market_Bombay

 William Emerson’s designs for a market that was to be located at the intersection of two prominent roads near the main train station, and right in the middle of the Indian and European areas of Bombay did complete justice to its prominent site-two wings joined in a V-shape were accentuated by a 128-foot clock tower at their intersection. This apex was provided with seven arched openings into the market, each adorned with elaborate wrought-iron gates. A decade later, in 1874, an ornamental fountain with representations of four Indian river goddesses along with native flora and fauna was added to the central courtyard of the market. The market today is a cacophony of traders and sheds, but quaint details-from cast-iron lamp brackets to stone gargoyles-reveal themselves to those who care to look.

Victoria Terminus

Victoria Terminus railroad station in Mumbai

Victoria Terminus railroad station in Mumbai

The zenith of neo-Gothic architecture in Bombay was achieved with one of the most iconic buildings built in British India-The Victoria Terminus that was to house the offices and a terminal of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. While the railways were a symbol of engineering prowess that linked distant parts of the subcontinent to Bombay and via the Suez Canal, further to Europe, the Victoria Terminus became a visual symbol synonymous with the city itself. FW Stevens’ proposal of a magnificent railway-palace incorporating a central dome, turrets, cupolas, arcades and elaborate embellishments won him the commission for the terminus in 1878.

 Constructed over a period of 10 years, the C-shaped building is symmetrical along an east-west axis and is crowned by an octagonal central dome. The dome is the focal point of the building and has been compared to being a capitol for the mercantile city. The cantilevered central staircase below the main dome is flushed with light filtering in from the stained –glass panels depicting the coat of arms of the railways. The wings on either side are fronted by arcaded windows with pointed and rounded arches, corner drums, gable fronts and turrets that come together harmoniously to frame and balance the central dome.

 The tall volume of the arched booking office was lavishly decorated with colored marbles, stained glass, ornamental wrought-iron railings and has a ceiling painted in shades of azure and red with gold stars. Topping the central dome is a statue of a lady symbolizing Progress, with a flaming torch in one hand and a spiked wheel in another. Crowning the pediments on the main façade are groups of sculpture depicting Commerce, Agriculture and Engineering. There are also decorative panels showing Science and Trade, bas-reliefs of directors of the railways, 16 relief-heads depicting the castes of India and a multitude of  sculpture with Indian flora and fauna. And finally, standing guard at the entry gates to the building are two feline figures-a lion representing Great Britain and a tiger representing India.

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