Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the City of Dreams is its Cosmopolitan nature. What one might not fathom is that Bombay’s history reveals that it always was a melting pot of cultures- first home to the Kolis, the Portuguese ,and then the British. Here’s a little tale of its past.
Esplanade- the name rolls off the tongue – quite literally it means open, level area. Open and level are two words that would hardly be associated with the bustling city today.
The now derelict Esplanade Mansion might be its eponym, but one might ask, was Bombay once a vast desultory stretch of land? Seems unimaginable, but such was the case, eons past.
The city we know and love once comprised of seven islands, one of which was the island of Fort, named such because of the bastion it had once.
Until the mid-nineteenth century, Mumbai meant essentially the Fort and outside it were numerous villages. The Esplanade served the purpose of a vast lawn from which potential invaders could be spotted from the fort walls.
The Fort Wall, the dividing line, so to speak, between the people of Bombay. It was when a certain Henry Bartle Frere, when appointed as Governor of the city in 1862 decided that the Fort walls had served their purpose and were now redundant. And so he decided to tear them down and thus, open up the walls of the city to the general public. What’s now left of the Esplanade is the Oval Maidan, the Azad Maidan and the Cross Maidan.
For its time it was a brash decision. But there was a vision afoot- “Urbis Prima in Indis”, a term coined a hundred years ago or so, is what the city was destined to turn into; The First City of India, so to speak. The decision turned out to be a good one- by the 1890s Bombay was the most populous city in the Indian subcontinent; and what followed was the making of a new Bombay, resplendent with its Neo-Gothic buildings so far removed from its Portuguese ‘Bom Baiya’ era.
A parallel can be drawn between the breaking down of the city’s fort walls so many years ago and Mumbai’s ever-expanding nature.
As the city continues to grow and expand as it always has been throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, it is musing to realize that Bombay opened itself to the world way before that- eons ago, as century-old walls came down to make way for grander structures.
One might ask what remains of such incidence?
At the heart of Fort area today in the midst of its grand stone buildings, the goddess flora casts her stone eyes over the new esplanade- now not a vast desultory landscape but a city brimming with life. The Flora fountain was erected in memory of Henry Bartle Frere, his name now almost erased from the city’s history with time, but his memory immortalized in the marble rendition of an allegory of spring and growth.
Special thanks to Khaki tours for the inspiration and insight into the story of the Fort and it’s Lawn.
350 years ago, Bombay was given to the East India Company and ‘Urbs Prima in Indis’ was born- The Times Of India
Urbs Prima In Indis: The Rise and Rise of the Bombay Presidency- Sarmaya.in
General View Of The Esplanade, Bombay – bl.uk
Pics And History, Bombay Castle/Fort Area- team-bhp.com, Blog post by user ruzbehxyz