Mumbai : The famed ‘art district of south Mumbai’ comprising Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles has been named as the latest – and India’s 37th – entrant to the coveted World Heritage Sites list, a Unesco announcement said on Saturday.
The decision came on Saturday morning at the ongoing 42nd session of Unesco World Heritage Committee, from June 24-July 4, currently underway in Manama, Bahrain.
“Just inscribed as @UNESCO #World Heritage Site: Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai, India. Congratulations,” a UNESCO tweet said.
With this, India now has 37 World Heritage Inscriptions, ranking 6th in the world, and second only to China in the Asia-Pacific Region.
In a congratulatory message, Union Minister of State (In-charge) Mahesh Sharma said that this international recognition to the historical precinct of Mumbai is “a matter of great pride for the nation and will boost the local economy in a number of ways.”
Maharashtra government had first submitted its formal nomination proposal for the UNESCO honour in 2012 for the ‘Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai’, but it was edged out by other major Indian landmarks.
It was supported by the Centre, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority, several NGOs and art bodies, besides the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee.
The Ensemble comprises 94 buildings, of two architectural styles, the 19th century collection of Victorian structures and the 20th century Art Deco buildings along the Arabian Sea, conjoined by means of the historical open space of the Oval Maidan.
Together, this architectural ensemble represents the most remarkable collection of Victorian and Art Deco buildings in the world which forms the unique character of this urban setting, unparalleled in the world.
Among the Victorian styles are iconic buildings like the Bombay High Court, University of Mumbai campus, Maharashtra Police Headquarters building, the PWD Building, Watson’s Hotel, Elphinstone College, David Sassoon Library, and others ranked among the finest in the world.
Most of these buildings in stone were constructed during the late 19th century after demolishing the crumbling walls of the old Bombay Fort, and designed by masters like Sir Gilbert Scott, James Trubshaw and Lt. Col. James Fuller.
The later Art Deco development in the 20th century, comprising over 125 buildings identified by experts, was planned as per the designs of W. R. Davidge in the 1920s onwards, making it the second largest ensemble of such buildings in the world.
Significantly, it also symbolized the growing affluence and commercial importance of (then) Bombay, which was taking its baby steps to gigantic strides and emerge as the country’s financial capital after five decades.
Some of the prominent Art Deco structures that stand majestically include the Regal Cinema, Rajab Mahal, India Assurance Building, New Empire Cinema, Fairlawns building, Eros Cinema, several residential buildings on Marine Drive, and a few even in the northern parts of the island city.
However, no other city in the world has such a large ensemble emblematic of the 19th and 20th century architectural styles, literally facing each other over a small geographical area of urban design.
“Great News! Great day for Mumbai and Maharashtra! Mumbai has always been a world city and now structures and monuments are being listed in the UNESCO World Heritage site. Sincere thanks to all who have worked hard for this achievement! Congratulatoins Maharashtra!” Chief Minister said in a tweet.
With the latest addition, Mumbai region now has three World Heritage Sites, including two bang in the city with the other being the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, the Central Railway headquarters.
The other is on the outskirts of Mumbai is the picturesque Elephanta Caves in adjoining Raigad district, with beautiful rock cut images of Lord Shiva and a few Buddhist mounds, making it a global tourist attraction.
Dating back to the 5th-7th centuries, the group of caves were carved out in rocky terrain of the green and hilly Gharapuri Island, around 10 km off Mumbai in the Arabian Sea, and declared a World Heritage site in 1987.
With the latest honour, Maharashtra now boasts five – or the maximum number – world heritage sites than any other state in the country, includling the Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Aurangabad.