Mumbai the buzzing city of dreams has a rich colonial history. Mumbai was formerly known as Bombay (Bom Bahia meaning ‘Good Bay’ named by the Portuguese) which was renamed to Mumbai an eponym of local Goddess Mumbadevi.
Mumbai originally an archipelago of densely wooded islands was part of the Ashoka Kingdom and then the Gujarat Kingdom until it was conquered and ruled by the Portuguese until 1661. Portuguese gifted the islands to Catherine de Braganza when she married Charles II of England. East India Company then colonized the islands and named it Bombay. The seven islands were eventually merged into one single island by 1845.
Over these centuries of the evolvement of Mumbai from the mere swamp into a bustling city, several wonderful historical monuments were built which today speak of its amazing history makes for a great Mumbai sightseeing tour if you are planning to visit Mumbai. We joined a Mumbai heritage walk with Raconteur Walks over the weekend to explore the heritage and history of Mumbai city area.
We decided to meet at Green Gate in Ballard Estate of South Mumbai. We took a local to CST and decided to walk our way up to the Ballard Estate where the tour was supposed to begin. But the Mumbai tour of heritage actually begins at the CST railway station itself.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Railway Station (CST)
The historic railway station and a UNESCO World Heritage Site of CST was previously known as Victoria Terminus Mumbai and was built to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of then reigning Queen Victoria. The magnificent building built in 1887 features domes, turrets, arches and stained glass windows and is a remarkable example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture and is one of the popular places of interest in Mumbai.
General Post Office (GPO)
On the way to the Ballard Estate, we came across this impressive building which houses the central post office of the city of Mumbai. The building built in black basalt is an outstanding example of Indo-Saracenic architecture style.
After sauntering through the maze of alleys of Ballard Estate we finally reached the Green Gate where our guide was waiting for us.
The prominent business district of Ballard Estate is a quiet neighborhood in the Fort area of old Mumbai which one may not find on the Mumbai tourist map. The well-planned locality with neoclassical buildings is more than often referred to as ‘London-like’ by the locals and is the location for several Bollywood movies portraying European locations. The area of Ballard Estate was originally part of the sea and was reclaimed by the soil excavated from the Alexandra Docks or the Indira Dock. The area has several offices of shipping companies and the headquarters of the Mumbai Port Trust.
Port Trust World War I Memorial
The sandstone War Memorial was erected by the Bombay Port Trust to commemorate the fallen employees during WWI and the contribution of the Port Trust for the same. The memorial has beautifully carved sculptures of winged lions and brass plaques with information on the contribution of the Bombay Port Trust in the warfare.
Ballard Bunder Gatehouse
Ballard Bunder Gatehouse is a maritime museum displaying the artifacts relative to the maritime history of Mumbai. It was built to commemorate Ballard Pier being developed into Ballard Estate. The museum is currently closed to the public.
The street is lined with several buildings exuding an old world charm and are sure to walk you back in time. The Port House is one such great edifices, on a closer look, one can see two ships jutting out of the facade over the windows in second floor such is the beauty of these buildings in the Ballard Estate.
The street ahead on the left houses the Reserve Bank of India, the Mint House (where currency coins, medals, and badges are produced) and the administrative building of the Naval base. Photography is strictly prohibited in and around this locality for security reasons, there are cams all along the street.
Town Hall or Asiatic Library
The neo-classical Town Hall is one of the Mumbai famous places. The Town Hall built in 1833 is a heritage building housing the ‘Asiatic Society of Bombay’ (Mumbai), which is a public state library in the city. A portico with eight colossal Doric styled pillars adorns the entrance of the building reached through a flight of stairs. The interior is decorated with spiral staircases and exquisite marble statues and portraits of the contributors to the Asiatic Society. The Hall houses several interesting and ancient artifacts, manuscripts and numismatic collection.
The Town Hall overlooks the huge Horniman Circle Gardens which is surrounded by grand buildings dating back to 19th century. These well-preserved heritage buildings today house some of the luxury brand showrooms and offices. The typical of this buildings are carved sculptures adorning the arches of the sheltered passage which very much reminds us of our walk through the old city of Bern and much of Europe.
Bombay Samachar or Mumbai Samachar
Established in 1822 Bombay Samachar is Asia’s oldest newspaper published in Gujarati and English languages. The iconic building with red facade is located on the Samachar street previously known as the Flea Street.
Elphinstone building is yet another gorgeous building from the colonial era and stands adjacent to the Bombay Samachar building.
The 300-year-old cathedral of St. Thomas is an iconic landmark of the city of Mumbai. The church built in Gothic style is the first Anglican Church in the city. The grandiose interior has some of the remarkable stained-glass windows and exquisite epitaphs of soldiers who lost their lives in war. The church is dedicated to St. Thomas who can be seen in one of the stained glass holding Bible in hand.
The church gives its name to the famous Churchgate area in Mumbai. One of the gates built during the colonial era was a gateway to the St. Thomas Cathedral hence the name. Though the walls and gates have been torn down the name still remains.
At the entrance of the Horniman Circle Gardens is the famed Banyan tree where stockbrokers would gather and conduct meetings in 1850. Two decades later they formed an official organization known as ‘The Native Share & Stock Brokers Association’ and finally the BSE (Bombay Stock Exchange) in 1956 which became the first stock exchange to be recognized by the Government of India.
The Bombay Dockyard or the Naval Dockyard was established by the
East India Company in 1735 for building vessels. Today the shipbuilding yard undertakes maintenance and remodelling of ships for Indian Navy. Also worth admiring are the beautiful murals on the wall of the Naval Dockyard.
The Vikrant Memorial opposite the Lion Gate stands to commemorate the majestic INS Vikrant ship and its glorious years serving our nation. The ship was deemed unfit for use in 2014 and scrapped. The metal recovered from the ship is used to make the memorial and in 2016 Bajaj introduced a new motorbike into the market made with metal from Vikrant’s scrap and named it Bajaj V after INS Vikrant.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya
The museum built in an Indo-Saracenic style of architecture was formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum and houses an outstanding collection of exhibits representing the Art, Archaeology and Natural History of ancient India.
Opposite to the museum is the Wellington Fountain built in 1865 in memory of the Duke of Wellington. In the background is the 150-year-old Majestic hotel. Though the building no more serves as a hotel, the Majestic along with the adjacent Waterloo Mansion and several other buildings in the vicinity stand testimony to the history of Bombay and the wonderful architectural taste of the bygone era.
Mumbai Police Headquarters
The present day Mumbai police headquarters was built as a Royal Alfred Sailors Home in 1876 in Victorian neo-gothic style and is amongst the popular Mumbai buildings. The Maharashtra Police Headquarters was housed in the present day heritage building in 1982.
We walked past several other interesting buildings like Dhanraj Mahal which is an Art Deco building built in 1930 as a palace for Raja Dhanrajgir of Hyderabad and Royal Bombay Yacht Club founded in 1846 which houses restaurants and cafes.
We finally reached the iconic landmark of famous historical places in Mumbai city where stands the pride of Mumbai the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Gateway of India.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
The resplendent structure located next to the Gateway of India needs no introduction and tops the list of Mumbai famous places. The 5-star hotel opened in 1903 is the flagship property of the Tata group of hotels and has more than 500 rooms. The Taj Mahal Tower standing adjacent to the Taj Mahal Palace was opened in 1973 built on the location of the Green’s Hotel built in 1890.
Gateway of India
The magnificent 20th-century historic monument was built to commemorate the India visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. The structure built in Indo-Saracenic style overlooks the Arabian sea and is a popular point of interest for Mumbai city tour. The gate has served as the ceremonial entrance for various dignitaries visiting India.
Mumbai is a treasure trove of historic monuments and this definitely is not an exhaustive list. We would love to explore more of this wonderful side on Mumbai walking tours in days to come.
What other Mumbai heritage buildings and monuments have you explored in Mumbai? Do share with us in comments.
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