In the 1930s, authorities stumbled on a sixth-century, seven-headed Shiva statue, locally known as ‘Baradevi’ while constructing the Parel-Sewri Road. Recently, an escape tunnel estimated to be around 200-year-old was discovered underneath the General Post Office (GPO) in Fort. A similar underground tunnel was also found at St. George Hospital.
The recently discovered, century-old bunker at Raj Bhavan is another example of the city’s rich, ancient history. However, conservation architects and urban planners stress on the need for “systematic” restoration of these historical structures. They also feel the need to revitalise these spaces as tourist spots in the city.
Vikas Dilawari, a conservation architect, pointed at the century-old statues on the walls of Banganga Tank at Walkeshwar that are yet to be explored.
“These sculptures can tell us a lot about the glorious past of the city. There are several buildings in the Fort area which have ancient wells. These can be studied to understand water management. The state has to be more proactive and engage colleges to co-relate the city’s maps and study structures with rich archaeological value,” the architect said. He recently restored a well inside the 130-year-old Esplanade House.
The 150-meter-long bunker discovered this week at the governor’s residence is presumed to be built for safety reasons ahead of the visit of Prince of Wales in 1875. Abha Lambah, another conservation architect, said, “There are several such tunnels built during the colonial-era for protection from impending attacks. Even the Bombay Castle in the naval area could have tunnels that need to be explored.” The Bombay Castle is one of the oldest Portuguese defensive structures in Mumbai. The Portuguese gateways can be found within INS Angre. It also has a sundial from the same era.
While governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao has announced that the bunker maybe opened to tourists, the tunnels found below GPO and St. George earlier were never explored further, architects says. Pankaj Joshi, executive director at the Urban Design Research Institute, said, “There is an access way below the Horniman Circle. There are similar paths below Sion Fort and Sewri Fort too, but there have been no efforts to open them for tourists.”
An official from the Archaeological Survey of India said that the structures do not fall under their jurisdiction. The Mumbai heritage committee also has no plans for the restoration of these spaces at the moment. Ramanath Jha, chairman, Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee said, “The matters have come up before the committee earlier. However, there are no plans at the moment. We will look into it as the heritage list gets updated.”