The Gateway Of India
The Gateway Of India. Photo: JAY COSTA

The Gateway of India: from one era to another

Picture this, you’re living in the first century AD, in the heart of Ancient Rome. The city is bustling with activity as labourers, artisans, and architects gather together, ready to embark on a monumental project that will influence the world of architecture for centuries to come.

Emperor Domitian, a paranoid ruler who was eventually stabbed in the groin and assassinated by members of his own court, ordered the construction of a grand triumphal arch to honour the victorious campaigns of his older brother, Titus.

As construction began, massive stone blocks were transported from quarries across the empire. Workers toiled ceaselessly under the Roman sun, their sweat and labour contributing to the arch’s ascent, which today still stands as a testament to the grandeur of an empire that once ruled the known world.

The Arch of Titus, as it became known, directly influenced the design of many arches throughout Europe, particularly during the early modern periods. Architects and artists of the time, with a renewed interest in classical antiquity, drew inspiration from the grandeur and elegance of the Roman arch, which inspired the construction of several monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

As time went on, European powers embarked on colonial expansion. Since they often replicated the architectural styles of their home countries in their colonies, triumphal arches, similar to those in Europe, were constructed in various colonial cities, thereby spreading the influence of Roman architectural design to different parts of the world.

Street Market in Mumbai Near the Gateway of India
Street Market in Mumbai Near the Gateway of India

One prominent example is the Gateway of India in Mumbai. The arch, or gateway, was built during the British colonial era to commemorate the visit of Queen Mary and King George V, for his coronation as the Emperor of India in December 1911.

Following its completion, the Gateway served as a symbolic ceremonial entrance to India, welcoming and hosting important government personnel. Whilst I may not work for the government, I was still treated like a celebrity when visiting the monument.

A quick search online will tell you that the Gateway is amongst the prime tourist attractions in Mumbai and a regular gathering place for locals and street vendors. However, most of the tourists must be from other Indian States, as I was constantly approached by people eager to take a picture with me.

The Gateway is situated on the coast overlooking the Arabian Sea, and there is plenty to do and see nearby. Boats departing from the harbour will take you to Elephanta Island, home to a collection of cave temples dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, which unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to visit due to rough waves during monsoon season.

Opposite the monument, you also have the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel which, unfortunately, is known due to the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

I also got to stop for a beer at the Leopold Cafe, another location marked by the terrorist attacks, where the staff were happy to show me around pointing out all of the bullet holes and grenade explosions still visible around the cafe. The terrorists fired shots from outside, killing 10 people and injuring many others, before walking over to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, their main target.

The cafe is located in the middle of a huge street market (a great place to buy close to “authentic” football shirts for under €10), with also lots of other great places to eat (entrees, main dishes, drinks, and lots of garlic naans, all for under €10 as well). Once you have spent enough time in India like I have, and you have trained your stomach to endure anything, it is one of my favourite countries to visit for the food alone.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Photo: JAY COSTA

In 1947, India gained independence and the departure of the last British troops unfolded against the backdrop of the Gateway of India. The gateway was chosen for the historic event due to the symbolic significance of the monument, as it had been built to commemorate the arrival of the rulers of the United Kingdom at the time.

As the sun set on August 14, 1947, and the last of the troops sailed away, thousands of people gathered at the gateway, to witness the departure ceremony. Even though the ceremony was the culmination of a prolonged and often violent struggle for independence, in the end, the British left India as a result of negotiations.

This contrasted heavily with the withdrawal of Portuguese troops from Goa, Daman, and Diu, 14 years later, in 1961. The Portuguese troops were forcibly removed from these territories after diplomatic negotiations failed and a military operation was conducted by the Indian armed forces.

The armed conflict marked the end of Portuguese colonialism in the region and the territories were integrated into the newly-independent India. However, Salazar refused to recognise the transfer of sovereignty and, for over a decade, still considered the territories as merely occupied.

I have been to several places now in India, but I have yet to visit Goa, Daman or Diu. However, the Gateway of India is a reminder that in the shifting tides of history, so much can change in so little time. And, with that in mind, it won’t be long before I find myself in India once again.

By Jay Costa Owen

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Jay works for a private charter airline, and is also a UX designer and aspiring author who enjoys learning about history and other cultures