Architectural Note on the Building
of
Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, Mumbai

 

The Indo-Saracenic Style

It was in the last decade of the 19th century that Bombay witnessed a phase of experimentation in architecture.

Considering the eastern location of India, the British architects were attempting to incorporate Indian ideals with European architecture. This synthesis of forms such as the horseshoe shaped arches from Moorish Spain, Islamic domes and Victorian towers came to be known as the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture .

Initiated in Bombay by John Begg (1866-1937) who was the Consulting Architect to the Government of Bombay and first seen in Bombay in the architecture of the General Post Office Building, the Indo-Saracenic style became the paradigm for British Architecture in this country.

The Museum Building

The Museum building is one of the few specifically planned and built as a Museum. It is constructed of Basalt and Kurla stone, with elaborate brackets and carved features on its principal exterior. The main elevation is three storeys high capped by a dome set upon a base that adds another storey to the centre of the composition.

Being basically in the Western Indian style, the Museum Building is an amalgam of several features such as a Islamic dome with a finial similar to that of the Taj Mahal in Agra, protruding balconies and inlaid floors reminiscent of Mughal palaces. It is interesting to note that John Begg sent George Wittet on a two week tour of Bijapur. The architecture of the Museum echoes several architectural elements of that tour including the Museum dome which resembles that of Golconda Fort and the inner vaulting arches which supported it which are similar to those of the Gol Gumbaz.

George Wittet incorporated the columns, railings and balcony of a 18th century Wada (A Maratha Mansion) from near Nasik into the internal architecture of the building. Into this eclectic mixture also went Jain style interior columns that form the main body of the central pavilion above which rise the Maratha balcony, the intersecting vaults and finally the dome.

It is in this magnificent building that the Museum has been housed for the last 75 years. Completed in 1915, the Museum Building was first used as a Children's Welfare Centre and also as a Military Hospital during the years of the First World War after which it was handed back to the Trustees. The Museum opened its doors for the the public on January 10, 1922.

This Building has successfully withstood the ravages of time and in 1990 was awarded Urban Heritage Award of the Bombay Chapter of the Indian Heritage Society.
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