Friday, December 7, 2012

Bellin's Bombay (1752)

Cambridge, December 7, 2012

Hard to imagine that present-day Mumbai--with its more than 20 million people... and growing!--was this little fortified outpost depicted by the great French cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin in 1752.  At the time, Bombay had just became the base of operations of the East India Company, the British mega-corporation that dominated trade with India for more than two centuries.  Bellin describes with great care a geography of islands, rivers and creeks.  Then, in the middle of the map he shows a small settlement on the peninsula at the southern tip of the "Isle de Bombay".  Highlighted in red, the settlement has a large fortification with its four characteristic bastions at the corners--Fort St. George--and something like 16 small blocks surrounding an open space.  There is a smaller settlement to the north, "Salcet", also in red.  In the 1750's, Salcette was still controlled by Portugal, that preceded the British in what they called Bombaim.  Yes, Mumbai since 1995, Bombay when the Brithish got it as part of Catarina de Braganรงa's dowry in 1661 and Bombaim when the Portuguese established it in 1535, the name of the city has had a subtle but rather contentious history.

(Just got a grant to travel to Mumbai, one of the ten cities of "Reading the City" and the last one I have yet to visit.)

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