Town Hall – Asiatic Library
The Town Hall was colloquially called Tondal in the 19th century. It houses the Asiatic Society of Bombay, but was not built in 1804, which was the year in which Sir James Mackintosh formed the Literary Society of Bombay. Although Mackintosh proposed the construction of the grand structure, it was only completed in 1830. One of the reasons it took so long to build was a shortfall in funds. Finally, the Bombay Government agreed to finance to construction in exchange for office space in its premises.
Largely influenced by Greek and Roman architecture, the heritage structure is 61 metres (200 feet) long and 30 metres (100 feet) deep. Located in the Fort area of South Bombay, it has a portico with eight Doric columns. A flight of 30 steps leads up to the town hall and a wrought iron divided Regency staircase leads to the vestibule.
The original plans called for a double row of columns that were to be built out of material brought from England. Even though these plans were curtailed, the final cost of the building came to about 500,000 pounds — far in excess of the initial estimates.
With its old parquet floors, spiral staircases, wrought iron loggias and exquisite marble statues of forgotten city fathers, the colonnaded Town Hail is perhaps the most regal and elegant of the city’s heritage buildings.
In 1930, Sir John Malcom, governor of Bombay, stated: “It is the most magnificent structure that taste and munificence combined have as yet erected in lndia.”
The library of the Society has over a hundred thousand books out of which 15,000 are classified as rare and valuable. It also has priceless artefacts and over 3,000 ancient manuscripts in Persian, Sanskrit and Prakrit, mostly on paper but some on palm leaf. The numismatic collection of 11,829 coins includes a gold coin of Kumaragupta I, a rare gold mohur of Akbar and coins issued by Shivaji. Its map collection comprises 1,300 maps. One of only two known original copies of Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’ lies here, and is said to be better maintained than its counterpart in Milan.