Nomination of The Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai to UNESCO (in 2012)

Date of Submission: 22/05/2012

Criteria: (ii)(iv)

Category: Cultural 

Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO 

State, Province or Region:

Coordinates: N18 56 13 E72 49 29

Ref.: 5740



At the heart of the historic centre of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), lies the Fort Heritage Precinct. This marks the footprint of the 19th century fortified city of Bombay and though the fort walls were mostly torn down in the 1860s under the Governorship of Sir Bartle Frere, the name persists in public memory and is a protected heritage precinct under the Heritage Regulations for Greater Bombay 1995.


West of the fort walls, the expanse of land that was once called the Esplanade, is today the historic cricketing ground of Oval Maidan. This vast open space lies at the heart of the proposed Property. To the East of the Oval lies the historic Fort area with its monumental 19th century Victorian Neo Gothic public buildings and to its West, stand the 20th century Art Deco buildings of Back-bay Reclamation and Marine Drive. Together, these two architectural ensembles constitute the most remarkable collection of Victorian and Art Deco buildings, the largest such conglomeration of these two genres of architecture in the world. 

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The legendary cricketing ground, the Oval Maidan separates two radically different genres of Mumbai’s architectural evolution. It forms a spectacular and unique urban scenario, with an expanse of open space between the 19th century Victorian Gothic buildings of the Bombay High Court, University and Old Secretariat to its east and the 20th century development of the Art Deco of the Backbay Reclamation Scheme and Marine Drive to the west.

This conglomeration of Gothic Revival stone structures are among the finest group of Victorian Gothic buildings in the world. It perhaps is one of the most spectacular compositions of 19th century architecture, undoubtedly the finest Victorian ensemble In Asia. Designed by the likes of Sir Gilbert Scott, James Trubshaw and Lt. Col James Fuller, the Victorian structures were built in the period of 1871-1878 after the demolitions of the old walls of Bombay fort. The later Art Deco development was built to the plans of WR Davidge in the 1930s and represent among the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world. No other city in the world however, has both these large ensembles of emblematic 19th and 20th century styles facing each other in one grand gesture of urban design.


(ii) “Urbs Prima in Indis” as it was known in the 19th century, Bombay (renamed Mumbai), justifiably earned the status of the foremost city of India for reasons of its financial vitality as a bustling port, trading town and a metropolitan melting pot. The foundations of the cosmopolitan character of the city was laid as early as the 1670s, by Governor Gerald Aungier who encouraged mercantile communities to settle in the city with the assurance of religious freedom, liberty to trade and build homes. By 1850’s Bombay became a fusion of varied cultures and opened her lands to truly develop as the “Gateway of India” bringing together industrial growth, international architectural styles and nurturing different ideologies to develop in an analogous fashion. The Gothic Revival buildings of the 19th century were a conscious political statement by the British rulers of Bombay. Art Deco arrived in India, literally, on the shores of Bombay spurred by the great reclamations and frantic building activity that were taking place in the city in the 1930s. Art Deco percolated through to India from Europe and chiefly from Britain and manifested itself in Bombay, especially through its iconic cinema halls which signalled its place as the film capital of India. A unique combination of factors led to the popular adaptation of the style In Bombay. Tourism and travel had made rapid strides in the period between the two World Wars, resulting in a continuing stream of visitors to Bombay. The city has thus been the ‘Gateway of India’ for architectural ideas for over two centuries, exemplified by the import of the Victorian Gothic of the 19th century and the Art Deco of the 20th century, which then was indigenized to become its own.


(iv) The eastern flank of the Oval consists of an ensemble of monumental public buildings, representing the height of 19th Century Victorian architecture. Just across this open space, is the 20th century development of the Art Deco Marine Drive and Backbay Reclamation, that is among the largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, at the cutting edge of this global development and especially iconic for a country like India. The expanse of open space of the historic Oval Maidan (the site of the esplanade facing the 18th century Fort) bridges the yawning gap between the two centuries with the 19th century Victorian Neo Gothic buildings to its west and the 20th century Art Deco precinct to its east with the Arabian Sea surrounding this promontory. It defines the western edge of the old British Fort, and was for the early part of its existence, a portion of the sea facing green called the Esplanade. Constructed along the footprint of the medieval British fort, this development is representative of the greatest monumental colonial urban developments In British India. 

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The authenticity of the property, especially the core area of the buildings fronting the Oval Maidan has been remarkably well preserved, with the buildings having been preserved without any external transformations or major alterations to the historic fabric. The maintenance regime and its intervention have been largely minimal, thus allowing the buildings to retain their authenticity, both in terms of scale and material. The bulk of the Victorian buildings facing the eastern edge of Oval are owned and maintained by the Government. The Art Deco buildings too, maintain the authentic Art Deco features to a large extent.


The overall layout of the entire ensemble of the Victorian and Art Deco precincts retain a high degree of integrity. Apart from a single modern infill in the Victorian precinct, this precinct is largely intact, with its structures intact and maintained. The Backbay reclamation area has had perhaps greater changes because of the fact that these structures are privately owned, but most of the original features remain. Since this area comprises mainly of residential buildings, changes are largely of the kind of enclosing open balconies with glazing, change of window designs and such minor additions that are now being strictly monitored by the Heritage Committee. Some cases of infills have been seen, but largely retain the same scale and texture.


Delineation of the Nominated Property & Buffer Zone

Comparison with other similar properties

World Heritage List Comparisons: The growth of Mumbai started as a port. Many internal factors and also global phenomena such as American Civil War, opening of Suez Canal spurred economic growth in the city. The prosperity due to increase in trade and commerce resulted in the large construction activity in post 1860s. The city adapted to the changing global phenomena and thus continued to be the harbinger in country’s economic progress, the role which it continues to play even today. The city of Mumbai became a melting pot of cultures, influences from the West and this synthesis was well evident in its architecture. The Victorian Neo-Gothic style became popular and Mumbai today preserves the most magnificent neo-Gothic buildings in India and also in Asia. Globalization in the early 20th century brought another style of architecture, Art Deco, which was well adapted in the city and today, the Art Deco ensemble In Mumbai is one of the largest collections in the world. Together, they represent the greatest monumental colonial urban developments in British India.


  • Like Mumbai, the colonial city of Valparaiso presents an excellent example of late 19th century urban and architectural development in Latin America. The city is characterized by a vernacular urban fabric in contrast to the historic precincts of Mumbai which were characterized by the interchange of influences from the west combined with the local traditions, well reflected in the architecture.


  • Compared to Liverpool, what adds to the uniqueness of this historic core of Mumbai is that the original usage of the buildings remains unchanged as against that of Liverpool, maritime mercantile city and one of the world’s major trading centres in the 18th and 19th centuries that experienced economic crisis after the First World War.


  • The historic town of Coro, situated in the Caribbean is one of the first colonial towns dating back to early 16th century. The architecture of the town is characterized by earthen constructions. The architecture in the core of Mumbai on the other hand is characterized by stone construction, with stone of different kinds and colours, which contributed to the Image of the city as a vibrant, energetic city.


  • L’vivis an outstanding example of the fusion of architectural and artistic traditions of Eastern Europe and with those of Italy and Germany. Though damaged due to rivalry between various factions, the medieval urban topography of the city is still discernible. The buildings thus preserve high level of authenticity and continue to be in use even today with the urban landscape of this historic core of Mumbai still intact.


  • The port of Macao enjoyed strategic importance in the development of international trade. Macao witnessed a long period of Portuguese ascendancy, from 16th century until the end of the 20th century and thus received influences from the east and the west, evident in the architecture. The architecture of the historic core of Mumbai shows two distinct styles of architecture, Victorian Gothic and Art Deco, which illustrate city’s response to the global phenomena and is characterized by its grandeur, scale, conception, setting, which remains unparalleled in the world.


  • Salzburg developed over a period from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. It consists of a large number of outstanding ecclesiastical buildings from several centuries. Salzburg preserves many buildings of the Gothic period. Its flamboyant Gothic art attracted many craftsmen and artists.

Non-World Heritage List comparisons: International Comparisons [Victorian Architecture]


  • The Industrial Revolution spread to Glasgow In the beginning of the 191h century. This period coincided with great building activity. Many structures designed by the Glasgow School were regarded as masterpieces of Victorian architecture. The main constructional material was red sandstone. During the industrial era the buildings suffered due to pervasive black layer of soot and pollution. In the recent years, efforts are underway to restore the buildings to their original appearance. The use of locally quarried Basalt stone of different variety, along with sandstone, limestone, granite, marble, etc. gave a distinct character to the Victorian buildings of Mumbai. The result was the most splendid ensemble of Victorian Gothic Revival buildings, finest in India and also perhaps in Asia. The buildings today are well maintained and thus display great authenticity and integrity.


  • Melbourne has one of the finest collections of Victorian Gothic architecture. The land boom in the late 19th century resulted in the construction of buildings in the High Victorian architectural style prevalent during the period. Many Victorian era buildings were however demolished in the 1950s-1960s, by a wave of modernism and internationalism. Recently, the efforts towards restoration have started through architecture movement of the 1990s. In 1995, Mumbai became the first city to adopt heritage regulations, thus adopting a legal protective framework for its urban heritage. The buildings in Mumbai maintain high degree of authenticity and integrity, and thus the buildings preserve their original charm even though they have been under constant use.



  • In the 19th century Bristol emerged a Bristol Byzantine, a style unique to the city, of which several examples have survived. The architecture was characterized by complicated polychrome brick and decorative arches. The Victorian architecture in Mumbai is characterized by its cohesiveness as an architectural ensemble, which reinforces the axial layout of the core of the city. The Gothic Revival style evolved into lndo-Saracenic style which combined Indo-Muslim architecture with the British architectural ideas. There are many examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture in the Victorian Precinct, which are unique to Mumbai and are not seen anywhere in the world.

Non-World Heritage List comparisons: International Comparisons [Art Deco Architechure]


  • Miami Beach has the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world. Today it comprises hundreds of hotels, apartments and other structures erected between 1920s and 1940s using Art Deco idioms. The Art Deco stretch located on Miami Beach was designated as a Miami Beach Architectural District in 1979. Though Miami outnumbers the collection of Art Deco buildings in Mumbai, Mumbai can claim to have the second largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the world, well protected under a heritage regulation. The uniqueness of Mumbai Art Deco lies in its excellent setting, with the Victorian Gothic buildings facing it, separated by an open space of Oval Maidan; a unique urban composition, not found anywhere else in the world.


  • The Shanghai Bund houses 52 buildings of various architectural styles such as Gothic, Renaissance, Art Deco, etc. The area has a number of historic buildings, which came up in the late 19th and beginning of 20th century, when the city became a major financial hub of East Asia. The area has one of the richest collections of Art Deco style of buildings in the world. Like Shanghai, the Art Deco buildings in Bombay stretch along the Backbay Reclamation on the Arabian Sea, popularly known as Marine Drive; which is one of the finest bays in the world. The Art-Deco precinct in Mumbai is more cohesive than the Shanghai Bund which is a mix of the buildings of different architectural styles. The Art Deco collection in Mumbai is one of the largest collections in the world.



  • The city of Bandung has many buildings built in the Art Deco style of architecture. There was progressive evolution of Art Deco, characterized by strict solidarity and was more accurately of planes and surfaces. Art Deco, a distinctly new style of architecture, was introduced in Mumbai in the 1930s. It was well adapted to the city along with the Victorian Gothic of the earlier century.


Non-World Heritage List comparisons: National Comparisons


  • The city of Kolkata served as the capital of the British Raj till 1911 and thus has preserved many buildings which provide a testimony to the British period. While classical style dominated in Kolkata, Mumbai was a beautiful synthesis of different architectural idioms in which Gothic and later on Art Deco predominated. Moreover the town planning In Mumbai compared to Kolkata was less imposing and did not lead to bombastic axial town planning schemes like those used in Kolkata. The city of Kolkata faced stagnation in the post-independence period, while the city of Mumbai continued to grow at the same pace and continued its role in the international trade and commercial relations thus retaining its status as the ‘Urbs Prima in Indis’.


  • The city of New Delhi, planned by the British architects, in 1911, is mainly known for its wide, tree-lined boulevards and numerous significant structures. The city was laid around two central promenades with lot of focus on the axial planning as against Mumbai. As against Delhi, the architectural evolution in Mumbai shows two radically different genes, i.e. Victorian Neo-Gothic and Art Deco, which form the core of this historic city.



  • The city of Chandigarh is known internationally for its architecture and urban planning. The credit of the layout of the city goes to French architect and urban planner Le Corbusier. The city of Mumbai however shows an early evidence of conscious urban planning in the 1860s as evident in the historic core of the city, much before seen in case of Chandigarh. Mumbai was however not forced to adopt axial planning as seen in case of Chandigarh. As against the exposed brick and boulder masonry it its rough form, geometric structures of Chandigarh, the city of Mumbai shows a blend of different styles, facing each other in one grand gesture of urban design, thus giving a unique character to the city core.


Source of Header Image: Above Bombay by Jehangir Sorabjee; Pg 49

Research / UNESCO