In Pictures: An Exclusive Tour Inside the Victoria Terminus

Explore the inside of VT- a UNESCO World Heritage, and a visual symbol of what Bombay was and what Mumbai is. 

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A stone statue of a lion bearing the coat of arms against spiralling staircases in incandescent light is the first glimpse of the decadence of this building, upon entering it. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)

(This story was originally published on 20 June 2019, and has been republished on the occasion of the Victoria Terminus’ anniversary.)

For a place oozing history out of its nooks and crannies, a crash course in the history of Victoria Terminus is due.

In 1878, a consulting architect named FW Stevens was appointed to construct Bombay’s first public transit terminus that would be the hub of commerce and transport. Based on some surreal watercolour masterpieces by Swedish artist Axel Herman, Stevens worked with Indian architects and artisans to create what we know as Chhatrapati Shivaji Termius. On 20 June, 1887, the project was named Victoria Terminus (VT) after Queen Victoria on her golden jubilee. It was completed in May 1888.

That out of the way, let’s let words and pictures do justice to the magnificence of VT. Built with an elaborate alchemy of Victorian Gothic architecture and Indian style of embellishments and layout, the UNESCO rightfully declared the site as a World Heritage Site in 2004.

To have such a delectable piece of architecture in the middle of chaotic Mumbai and to not explore it would be sin. The Quint had exclusive access to parts of this structure closed off for conservation or for offices of the Central Railways.

Soft, ethereal light from classic chandeliers floods the hallways on the first floor with the offices of the Central Railways. The doors, windows and staircases use varieties of the Burma Teak, known for its agelessness and quality. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
Soft, ethereal light from classic chandeliers floods the hallways on the first floor with the offices of the Central Railways. The doors, windows and staircases use varieties of the Burma Teak, known for its agelessness and quality. (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

The main staircase in the central hall is not hoisted on any pillar — they are built into the sandstone facade of the building! This feature gives the impression of long-winding, floating staircases that spiral up three storeys along the perimeter, adorned in red.

(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

Winding stairways frame the octagonal central dome if you look up. Painfully intricate carvings of patterns, and animal and plant motifs on marble and sandstone fill the view. It is best seen as an example of the identity the British wanted to lend to a colonial city it planned on developing as a commercial hub: a cathedral of progress, almost.

(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

Apart from the station to which public access is restricted, a part of the heritage structure is used as the headquarters of the Central Railways. As you step into the main hall of VT, the main hall unfolds intimidatingly: a larger-than-life stone statue of lion bearing the coat of arms against spiralling staircases in incandescent light.

(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)&nbsp;
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad) 

Earlier, VT was the headquarters of The Great Indian Peninsula Railway, now known as the Central Railways. The existing stations, in addition to an expansion station, is used to accommodate the traffic of long-distance and intercity trains in this city that never sleeps.

Chandeliers are hung from arches to illuminate the staircase. Massive windows on the sides of the hall, with marble <i>jaali </i>work, juxtapose the Victorian vibe of the place. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
Chandeliers are hung from arches to illuminate the staircase. Massive windows on the sides of the hall, with marble jaali work, juxtapose the Victorian vibe of the place. (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

The top corners of the main hall house hypnotic arches with consecutive rose of marble flowers filling up the space where the ceiling meets the walls. Some contest the station is actually a mingling of three styles: British, Indian and Italian.

Stained glass painted windows set in perfect symmetry and framed by laborious carvings is a feature that can be seen across Europe in cathedrals. These windows are placed in an octagon, as well; they lie just below the main ceiling of this hall. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
Stained glass painted windows set in perfect symmetry and framed by laborious carvings is a feature that can be seen across Europe in cathedrals. These windows are placed in an octagon, as well; they lie just below the main ceiling of this hall. (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

The Star Gallery (upper floor closed to the public) is where the original ticket counters were placed. With a sudden shift in architecture, this gallery has high-ceilings with narrow arches and several tall pillars that come together to portray a constellation of eight-sided stars in the sky.

(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

If everything around you was beautiful, would you notice it at all if you crossed it every day? More than 3 million people pass through this terminus daily; the chaos would suggest the perfectly lined and lighted row of arches in this seemingly mundane hub is being missed.

Passengers queue up to purchase a “VT return” below stained glass painted windows, red sandstone pillars and Victorian clocks. In 2008, 58 people were killed in an attack at VT and Taj Hotel (among other places). (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
Passengers queue up to purchase a “VT return” below stained glass painted windows, red sandstone pillars and Victorian clocks. In 2008, 58 people were killed in an attack at VT and Taj Hotel (among other places). (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
Owls, florets, symmetrical patterns and the coat of arms made of wrought iron sit in plain sight above the pillars on the heavily crowded platforms at VT. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
Owls, florets, symmetrical patterns and the coat of arms made of wrought iron sit in plain sight above the pillars on the heavily crowded platforms at VT. (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
Staircases out of a Gothic novel: Several hundreds of people use them daily to simply reach their desks at work! (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
Staircases out of a Gothic novel: Several hundreds of people use them daily to simply reach their desks at work! (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
Your guess is as good as mine as to what this animal carving could be from among the dozens of motifs carved into each pillar of this 2.85 hectare palatial structure. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
Your guess is as good as mine as to what this animal carving could be from among the dozens of motifs carved into each pillar of this 2.85 hectare palatial structure. (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
What better way to explore Bombay’s first truly public space, now the nerve center of Mumbai’s suburban and long-distance trains than in torrid rainfall heralding the Monsoons? (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
What better way to explore Bombay’s first truly public space, now the nerve center of Mumbai’s suburban and long-distance trains than in torrid rainfall heralding the Monsoons? (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
Mumbai’s Hogwarts: Gargoyles, lions, tigers and peacocks watch over VT’s Neo-Gothic pointed arches, turrets, glazed windows and wrought iron work. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
Mumbai’s Hogwarts: Gargoyles, lions, tigers and peacocks watch over VT’s Neo-Gothic pointed arches, turrets, glazed windows and wrought iron work. (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

Axel Herman, after being commissioned to work on this project for a hefty 16.14 lakhs, toured Europe for ten months to study the stations there. On his return, he collaborated with Indian architects and artisans to incorporate traditional elements: busts of people representing castes and communities of India and Indian palatial placement of elements.

(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

Step inside VT and you’ll be shocked at the disruption of your sense of place. One look outside its balconies, you’ll see peaks and domes with peacocks, gargoyles, lions, grotoesques carrying battle axes etched into the mustard sandstone of the building and traffic wading through rainy streets against the sleek towers of Worli — all at once.

(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

Cleaning and maintenance works continue through the year at VT. The station is visited by more than three million commuters daily; the threat of development and redevelopment in steadily expanding South Mumbai only adds to the vulnerability of VT.

A man cleans the marble details in one of the balconies. Majority of the structure remains the same as was in 1888, with a few expansions to create more wings. (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
A man cleans the marble details in one of the balconies. Majority of the structure remains the same as was in 1888, with a few expansions to create more wings. (Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>/Pallavi Prasad)
(Photo: The Quint/Pallavi Prasad)

Light from a chandelier casts a dramatic shadow on the red carpet that adorns the main stairway. Perhaps it’s most fitting, climbing down to exit the building that has become a visual icon of this crazy cinema-devouring city, on the red carpet.

(This article was originally published on 20 June 2016. It has been republished from The Quints archives on the occasion of Victoria Terminus’ opening day in 1887.)

(This admission season, The Quint got experts from CollegeDekho.com on board to answer all your college-related queries. Send us your questions at eduqueries@thequint.com)

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