Walking from Churchgate station towards Dadabhai Naroji road, it is impossible for one to miss the grandeur of the Flora Fountain. The neoclassical structure stands tall, amidst the bustling business activities that define the Fort area of Mumbai, catching the eye of passersby and tourists alike. However, the city has been missing the sight of the marble fountain, with the structure being covered for renovation purposes.
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Designed by famous British architect Richard Norman Shaw, whose other designs include the Scotland Yard building, Bradford City Hall, and New Zealand Chambers, the structure was erected in 1864 and was initially to be named after then Governor of Bombay Sir Bartle Frere.
Frere was also the Governor responsible for the demolition of the Old Mumbai Fort, owing to growing population and sanitation issues of the province. The Fort, built by the East India Company had three gates – the Apollo Gate, the Church Gate, and the Bazaar Gate — prior to demolition. Today, Flora Fountain stands at the exact spot where Church Gate was located.
“It is one of the most iconic structures of the city, located in the most beautiful of squares. It was originally planned that the structure will be named after Frere, the then governor. But before it was unveiled, it was decided to be named the Flora Fountain after the Roman Goddess, who happens to adorn the top of the structure,” said Rajiv Mishra, Principal, Sir JJ College of Architecture. He added that the placement of Goddess Flora, facing the northern direction signifies that development is northbound.
Sculpted on portland stone by James Forsythe, at a total cost of Rs 47,000, the four corners of the Fountain are adorned by different mythological figures. While the area surrounding the structure is popularly referred to as the Flora Fountain square, it is also called the Picadilly Circus of Mumbai, for five different roads converge at the point where the Fountain is placed. In the year 1960, however, the Maharashtra State Government decided to christen the square as Hutatma Chowk, in memory of the 105 lives martyred for the creation of a separate state of Maharashtra.
The heritage site has been preparing for renovation activity, and currently stands in the middle of a cloth enclosure around the fountain. “The renovation process will be carried out in two phases. Firstly, the aim is to restore the fountain and make it fully functional, after which we will shift focus on beautification of the surroundings,” said a senior official of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). While sources suggest that the white coat of oil paint may have affected the antiquity of the structure, the reason for the moss gathering has been attributed to the weather condition and the dust that gathers on the structure.
The Mumbai chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) has been hired and specialists from the organisation will be performing this crucial function. “Water engineering is another aspect which will be looked into and corrected. We will ensure that water spouts from the provisions provided in the structure,” said Vikas Dilawari, the conservation architect in charge of the renovation and restoration process. A marble-clad trough, similar to ones seen in fountain structures abroad is also proposed to be constructed.
While people have been in awe of the structure, in the middle of the busy chowk, there was never the provision for people to gather around the structure, or a place to sit, or meet a few friends around the structure. This will now be corrected as the BMC has issued a tender inviting proposals for the beautification of the path surrounding the grade-I heritage site. But the fundamental aim of the entire restoration process, the BMC says, is to keep the historic character and the identity intact.