Mumbai's Victorian Gothic, Art Deco buildings get UNESCO World Heritage tag

This is the third such honour for the metropolis after the Elephanta Caves and the majestic Victoria Terminus.

Mumbai's Victorian Gothic, Art Deco buildings get UNESCO World Heritage tag
Photo courtesy: @IndiaatUNESCO

New Delhi/Mumbai: In a double cheer for India, two building clusters of Victorian Gothic and Art Deco architectural styles in Mumbai were on Saturday jointly inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, pushing the country's financial capital high on global cultural map.

This is the third such honour for the metropolis after the Elephanta Caves and the majestic Victoria Terminus -- rechristened Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station railway station -- which earned the coveted tag in 1987 and 2004 respectively.

"Just inscribed as @UNESCO #WorldHeritage site: Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai, #India Congratulations!," UNSECO tweeted.

The decision was taken during the 42nd session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC), currently underway in Manama, Bahrain.

Mumbai-based conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who prepared the voluminous nomination dossier 'Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai', said it is a great honour for the city and for India.

"These buildings are of iconic architectural styles. They represent a living heritage of the country, and the evolution of the landscape of the city over nearly two centuries. It puts Mumbai, perennially described the 'financial city', high up on global cultural map.

"All 21 countries in the WHC supported the nomination which is very rare. Azerbaijan called it the 'perfect' dossier and France as observer country termed it 'magnificent', " Lambah told PTI over phone from Manama.

India hailed the decision as a "remarkable achievement".

The Union Culture Ministry said that with this UNESCO tag, the count of World Heritage Sites in the country has now risen to 37, of which 29 are cultural, seven natural and one mixed site.

 

 

In a statement, it said the ensemble consists of 94 buildings primarily of 19th century Victorian Gothic revival and early 20th century Art Deco style of architecture.

"The Victorian buildings form part of the larger Fort precinct situated to the east of the Oval Maidan. These public buildings, include the Old Secretariat (1857-74), University Library and Convention Hall (1874-78), the Bombay High Court (1878), the Public Works Department Office (1872), Watson's Hotel (1869), David Sasoon Library (1870), the Elphinstone College (1888)," it said.

Union Minister of State for Culture Mahesh Sharma congratulated the residents of Mumbai and the entire country for this landmark achievement.

"The international recognition to the heritage precinct of the city of Mumbai is a matter of great pride to the nation and it will boost the local economy in a number of ways. 

"This achievement is expected to give a tremendous fillip to domestic and international tourism leading to increased employment generation, creation of world-class infrastructure and augmentation of sale of local handicrafts, handlooms and heritage memorabilia," he said.

Lambah said Prince of Wales Museum (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya) and NGMA (National Gallery of Modern Art) are also in the Victorian Gothic list that would now be celebrated even more.

"The buildings on the first row of Marine Drive, the Regal and Eros Cinemas count among the Art Deco structures that have earned the recognition.

"This is different from previous nominations as, earlier either very ancient or medieval buildings were recognised. But in this case, we have government buildings like the High Court, the Mumbai Police Headquarters, private houses and cultural spaces and sports facilities, which belong to the modern era," Lambah said.

The city now has equal number of UNESCO sites as Delhi, which has three -- Red Fort, Qutub Minar and Humayun's Tomb, she said, adding Maharashtra now has a total of five such sites, including the Ajanta and Ellora caves in Aurangabad.

Vice-President of International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Rohit Jigyasu also hailed the recognition as a big achievement for India, saying that an ICOMOS team had last year inspected the buildings part of the ensembles after the nominations were sent to UNESCO.

The nomination, in three volumes, ran into over 1,200 pages and contained old maps, photographs, drawings and notes about several buildings.
Mumbai-based conservation architect Vikas Dilawari, who had worked on the nomination dossier for Victoria Terminus, said, "Several of these buildings are already protected and I am sure this UNESCO tag will further help in creating a climate of historical preservation in Mumbai and other parts of the country. Of course, I am delighted as a countryman, but would have been happier if more buildings could have been included in the list, such as the famed Municipal Building."

"But, from VT to this, it's been 14 years and we have added more buildings, so hopefully in the future, the UNESCO tag footprint will expand and perhaps include whole Fort area," he said.

Last year, Ahmedabad was declared as a World Heritage City, the first city in India to have earned that tag.

The culture ministry said in the last five years alone, India got seven of its properties/sites inscribed in the World Heritage List of UNESCO, adding, while India stands second largest after China in terms of number of World Heritage properties in ASPAC (Asia and Pacific) region, it is overall sixth in the world. 

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