Mumbai’s Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Maharashtra now has the highest number of World Heritage Sites in India, with the Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai recognised as the fifth such site in the state.


After the Elephanta Caves and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, multiple Victorian and Art Deco styled architecture landmarks of Mumbai have been honoured with the prestigious World Heritage title by UNESCO. Spread across 66 acres, these are now collectively being called the “Victorian and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai”. The announcement was made on June 30 at the 42nd session of the World Heritage Committee at Manama, Bahrain. This makes Maharashtra the state with the highest number of World Heritage Sites in India, including the Ajanta and Ellora caves.

Some of the Victorian Neo-Gothic structures from the 19th century that have been inscribed on the list are the High Court, Mumbai University, Old Secretariat, NGMA, Elphinstone College, David Sassoon Library, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Western Railways Headquarters and the Maharashtra Police Headquarters. Victorian Neo-Gothic style evolved in the 18th century as a way for admirers of Gothic architecture to revive the Medieval style. Gothic architecture was known for its pointed arches and sense of verticality, and was most often associated with cathedrals and palaces.

The Art Deco neighbourhoods of Mumbai that have been recognised by the World Heritage title are mainly based in the Fort area of Mumbai, and include the first row of the Backbay Reclamation scheme, Eros and Regal theatres and Marine Drive’s first row of buildings. Art Deco architecture evolved in the 20th century as a kind of collage between many different styles which, together, tried to achieve a ‘modern’ look. The style is usually identifiable by rounded corners, sleek lines and decorative geometric motifs on elements like metal railings.

The status is expected to help Mumbai promote its name as an international tourist destination, which it already is. In an interview by Condé Nast Traveler magazine, Atul Kumar, founder of Art Deco Mumbai, an organisation that works for the outreach, advocacy and documentation of Art Deco neighbourhoods, stated that citizens will now not only want to appreciate these buildings but also protect them.

Conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah, who suggested 14 years ago to inscribe these ensembles onto the World Heritage List, was quoted by Condé Nast Traveler as saying, “This is the first case in India’s 37 world heritage sites where the nomination process was a citizen-driven initiative.” An article on The Wire mentions that ‘one of the driving forces advocating for the heritage status has been the group of homeowners of the Oval buildings’.

It’s a proud moment for India, especially for Mumbaikars. Big responsibilities now lie ahead for the Bombay Municipal Corporation. The authorities will now have to keep the integrity of these beautiful works of architecture intact, in the midst of the rapidly booming sky-high development of Mumbai.

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