With World Heritage Week being celebrated across the world till November 25, the guide invited familiar faces in Mumbai to pick their favourite heritage landmarks in the city. Their choices made for a fascinating mix of spaces, sights and sounds that shape this melting pot of architecture, culture and character.
Evelyn Sharma, Film actor
My favourite heritage site in Mumbai is Flora Fountain. Flora Fountain is a beautiful fusion of architecture and sculpture and it depicts the Roman goddess, Flora.
Flora Fountain. Pic/Suresh KK.
It was one of the first few attractions that I spotted when I arrived in Mumbai for the first time. Even today, whenever I pass by it, I feel some kind of curious magic.
The carved seashells, dolphins and mythical beasts on the fountain are amazing. It looks majestic especially in the night. It is truly the heart of the city.
Abodh Aras. Founder, Welfare of Stray Dogs
It’s difficult to choose one or two of my favorite heritage structures/places in the city when the list is so exhaustive. The various precincts of Banganga, Fort, Girgaum, the old Mumbai gaothans, Mani Bhavan, the innumerable old churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and agiaries, the Kanheri and Mahakali caves, the many Forts — the list is endless.
This statue of a dog in the compound of Esplanade House is a memorial to the family pet dog. Pic/Bipin Kokate.
The one thing that I would love to do is travel back in time to see how the Fort looked after it was built, and its various stages till date. Even in 1716 and 1816, the population of the Fort’s residents numbered 16,000 and 161,550, respectively. It is amazing that today, lakhs of people reside, have varied businesses and shops or work daily in an area that was once a fort whose walls were pulled down in 1864.
I am lucky that my office isn’t too far from where the Fort walls stood, at Rampart Row and Rope Walk Row. I can wander in these by-lanes on Sundays while treating street dogs through WSD’s on-site first aid programme. I imagine the location of the long Fort walls and where the three gates — Bazaar, Church, and Apollo stood. The Fort area has many beautiful heritage sites, some restored and others in need of restoration.
These include Horniman Circle garden, the Mint, the Great Western Building, ENT hospital, GPO, High Court, University buildings and Rajabai Tower, CST, buildings on DN Road, Kala Ghoda and the crowded Bazaar Gate. For obvious reasons, one of my favourite structures is a dog statue, a memorial to the family pet dog in the compound of Esplanade House beside the Alexandra Girls School.
Vikas Dilawari, Conservation architect
Gothic architecture of CST: It is as historians have described “a sensation in perspective and in detailing”. Its design and setting makes it like a commercial palace. It is one of the finest pieces of railway architecture in the world (amongst the six best stations, architecturally) and one of the most-used World Heritage Sites, globally. The Railways meant progress, and it’s evident as the Lady of Progress is seen from the city’s docks, from Fort and from the native town area in Girgaum.
The statue of Prince Albert riding a horse, which was formerly kept at Kala Ghoda, now lies near the entrance of Rani Baug. Pic/Suresh KK.
Banganga: A tranquil, ‘mini Kashi’ in the heart of the city, it’s possibly India’s only pedestrianised precinct near the sea, with a fresh water spring. Its setting and rituals makes it unique, both from tangible and intangible aspects. It has recorded antiquity dating back to the 11th century as seen in the sculptures at this site.
Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum and Rani Baug, Byculla: This oasis of 66 acres of botanical gardens and the zoo lies in the dense B, C and D wards of the city. Rani Baug, as it’s known, can be spotted with its clock tower, which is in axis with the triumphal arch entrance to the complex. The conservatory and the cupola sit well in the renaissance setting. Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum is one of the most opulent public buildings of 19th century Bombay (then) with its Palladian exteriors and high Victorian interiors that remind us of the grandeur of 19th century public buildings. Its restoration and maintenance highlights this aspect.
Murzban Colony, Gilder Lane: This is a charming late 19th century ensemble flanking the Western Railway side of residential quarters (Parsee Colony). The colony is located between Grant Road and Mumbai Central amidst handsome wooden chawls and residential buildings, which ideally, could be repaired, but is awaiting redevelopment.
BSCPA & Veterinary College: Another oasis, this complex in Parel, is a green site with low-rise structures. It’s is home to the outstanding Patho-Bacteriological Lab that has an ornate shell that serves as a landmark of the compound. Adjoining it is Grade + 1 one-storied veterinary college with its hostel.
Gilbert Hill: Though not an architectural marvel, this site is a stunning geological feature of columnar basalt; it remains one of the most ancient geological formations with few of its type in the world. This hillock is perhaps the highest vantage point in Mumbai’s suburbs. It offers a panoramic view of the metropolis — with Versova beach (West), the airport (South East) where one can see flights take off or land, Powai hills (North East) and downtown Mumbai (South).
Kanheri Caves: This group of 104 rock-cut caves dates back to AD 8-9, and was built in a natural setting. This remains a creation to marvel at for its splendid architecture.
Jerry Pinto. Author, poet and translator
Forgive me if I enter a local heritage landmark but she is often overlooked, perhaps because she is the most democratic of Mumbai’s devis.
As a schoolboy at Victoria High School, Mahim, we would often wander past Sheetaladevi Mata Mandir, passing from school and Mother Mary to the world of comic books at Victoria Circulating Library. From here, we would move to the pre-Vedic world of the goddess who was the goddess of fevers and poxes.
We did not even have to enter the courtyard; you looked over the wall and there she was, her eyes cool in a fiery face, reminding you that long before any of us were here, she had ruled these islands where the swamps must have made malaria a common thing. Sheetala Mata also had a well, a deep well and there were turtles there. You felt blessed if of an afternoon of hanging over the stone edge, you suddenly saw a shell break the surface for a moment and vanish again. Darshan comes in many kinds and in many guises in this city where the patron saint of the Mumbai Police is not far down the road at the Mahim dargah.
Manish Malhotra, Fashion designer
Being an ardent fan of cinema, a heritage building in Mumbai that first comes to my mind is one of the finest Art Deco structures in the city, and I suppose, certainly the most well maintained — Liberty Cinema. Liberty’s Art Deco architecture, with a giant piano created on the façade, has never failed to impress me.
Each time I walk into this theatre, its atmosphere transports me to a different era. What catches my attention, always, is the well-laid red carpet that covers the lobby. Then, as you slowly start to notice the glossy wooden detailing on the walls, the lights on the ceiling and the huge mirrors on the staircase, you realise that you are in a special place.
A lot of thought has been put behind every little aspect to give the theatre a signature Art Deco aesthetic. The golden lights, the red carpet and the red seats together give the theatre a majestic vibe.