The 1887 built Victoria Terminus, now CSTM – Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a historic terminal station in Bombay, now Mumbai – the Maharashtra State of India. British born architectural engineer Frederick William Stevens designed the terminus from an initial drawing by Axel Haig. The prolific Italian Gothic style structure is truly an architectural masterpiece, which has stood the test of time for more than 135 years.
In the year 1878, the construction of Victoria Terminus started and was completed 9 years later in 1887. The year coincided with the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s rule in India. The terminus is famous as VT, even after it was renamed as CSTM in 1996. It is the Headquarters of India’s Central Railway. The terminal is one of the busiest railway stations in India. It serves both the long-distance and local suburban trains.
VT – Victoria Terminus was built to replace the Bori Bunder Railway Station. Bori Bunder was a prominent port and warehouse area of Bombay. It was known for its imports and exports during the British Rule. Interestingly, the structure became a symbol of the Bombay City. The terminus was built to establish the Headquarters of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway.
Frederick William Stevens worked as an architect engineer and was attached to the Bombay office of the Indian Colonial Public Works Department. The initial drawing was the masterpiece watercolour works by draughtsman Axel Haig, which was transformed into the structural and functional beauty by Frederick William Stevens. Interestingly, Victoria Terminus was compared to 1873 St. Pancras Railway Station in London built by renowned British architect George Gilbert Scott.
Incidentally, it cannot be ruled out that Frederick William Stevens was greatly influenced by George Gilbert Scott’s works. Victoria Terminus design is very closer to Scott’s second prize winning entry for Berlin’s Parliament building, which was exhibited in the year 1875 in London. The design featured numerous towers, turrets and a large central ribbed dome – all incorporated in Victoria Terminus.
George Gilbert Scott was renowned as the English Gothic Revival architect in his time. During the 1870s, Scott had also designed the Elphinstone College and the Bombay University in Gothic style. Victoria Terminus took the longest time of 10 longs years to complete during the 1870-80s’ era in Bombay.
Victoria Terminus exhibits a fusion of influences from the Victorian Italianate Gothic Revival architecture and classical Indian Palaces’ architecture – with the skyline, turrets, pointed arches and eccentric ground plan. VT is truly a masterpiece designed in the High Victorian Gothic style of architecture.
It is interesting to note that Victoria Terminus was constructed using high level of engineering in terms of civil and railway engineering. Merging with the Gothic Revival style in India, the structure is one of the finest buildings of the use of industrial technology during the late 19th Century.
The central dome of Victoria Terminus built without centering was one of the significant highlights and a novel achievement of the 19th Century architecture. The centrally domed office structure has a 330-foot-long platform, which is connected to a 1,200-foot-long train shed and its outline provides the skeleton plan for the building.
A series of large rooms with high ceilings was conceived to integrate the interior of the building. The utilitarian building has had various changes as time progressed from the 19th to the 21st Century. Symmetrical on an East – West axis, the building has a C-shaped plan with all the sides of the building given equal prominence as per design and function.
The high central dome acts as the focal point of the structural masterpiece and is crowned. An octagonal ribbed structured dome is crowned with a colossal female figure holding a torch pointing upwards in her right hand and a spoke-wheel in her left hand symbolizing ‘Progress’. The side wings of Victoria Terminus enclose the courtyard and opens on to the street. Anchored by monumental turrets at each of their four corners, the wings balance and frame the central dome.
Appearance of well-proportioned rows of windows and arches provide an attractive façades to the structural beauty. The columns of the entrance gates are crowned by figures of a lion and a tiger – representing Great Britain and India respectively. The ornamentation in the form of friezes, statuary, bas-reliefs is well-controlled to give an exuberant look.
To give a timeless rugged look to the building, the main structure was built blending Indian sandstone and limestone. For key decorative elements, high-quality Italian marble was used to enhance the beauty. The ground floor of the North Wing, known as the Start Chamber, is embellished with Italian marble and polished Indian blue stone. The stone arches are covered with carved foliage and grotesques.
The ceiling of the booking hall was originally painted blue, gold and strong red on a ground of rich blue with gold stars internally. The walls were lined with glazed tiles made by Maw & Co of Britain. Outside, statues representing Commerce, Agriculture, Engineering and Science are installed.
Photographer: Johnny D
Feature Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons / Shailesh Sonare