Gateway Of India
Many people know that the Gateway of India was built to commemorate the first visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay in December 1911, However, few people realise that the magnificent structure that now stands at Apollo Bunder was not the one they saw when they left on January 10, 1912. It had nothing more than a make-shift iron shed with a curved roof that looked very much like a Mongol tent.
A plaster of Paris pavilion and hall were haphazardly constructed only in the months leading up to the royal visit and remained standing until the king departed. But plans for a more permanent structure were already on the agenda. On 31 March 1911, the Governor of Bombay George Sydenham Clarke had laid the foundation stone for a new Gateway and sanctioned Scottish architect George Wittet to design it.
Wittet, who also designed the nearby Prince of Wales Museum, along with his predecessor John Begg, incorporated Gothic European and Indian styles to create the Indo-Sarcenic style, designed to dramatise and legitimise British rule and display a sense of belonging to India. Wittet prepared several designs and took suggestions and criticisms from the public through exhibitions and a final design was sanctioned in August 1914.
Reclamation and construction work began the next year and continued until 1919, resulting in a grand archway made from yellow Kharodi basalt from Thane and reinforced concrete. It had perforated screens brought from Gwalior, four turrets, a central dome 48 feet wide and 85 feet above the ground at its tip. The Muslim-style central arch is flanked by two smaller arched entryways while a series of decorative Gujarati and Rajasthani wall brackets run across the top. By the time the surrounding foundations were filled in and the Gateway was opened on 4 December 1924, it had cost Rs 21 lakh to build.
Ironically, what Wittet built ended up being not an entryway, but at exit point. After Independence, it was the place from which the First Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry or the last British troops left India on 28 February 1948. Today the Gateway itself is cordoned off to the public, though the message “Erected to commemorate the landing in India of their Imperial Majesties King George V and Queen Mary on the Second of December MCMXI” is still visible on its facade. Statues of Indias heroes like Chatrapati Shivaji and Swami Vivekanand have been erected near the structure and behind it are steps leading down to the water. It’s where people catch ferries for a joyride in the harbour.