Monday, January 21, 2013

Mumbai's Oval Maidan

Mumbai, January 21, 2013

If you look at a map of Mumbai, you can quickly identify a long string of open spaces running north-south trough the middle of the peninsula.  Its central part is a large recreational park known as Oval Maidan, an elongated rectangle with rounded ends, about 450 ft wide and 2,200 feet long.  Besides offering enormous numbers of Mumbaikars the opportunity to play cricket and other sports (but yes, mostly cricket,) Oval Maidan is a rather remarkable urban armature.  On its eastern edge, the space has several imposing English Victorian Gothic (actually a mishmash of the most eclectic styles) buildings from the 19th century, including the High Court and the University with its clock tower. On its western edge, it has a consistent line of Art Deco buildings from the first half of the 20th century, culminating with the distinctive corner cylinder of the Cinema Eros to the north.

Oval Maidan was originally part of the Esplanade (colonial Bombay's parade grounds) connected with the colonial fort.  Even if one understands that most of the Mumbai peninsula is landfill, still seems quite surprising that well into the 20th century, the western border of the Esplanade was at the edge of the water, with only the Churchgate railyards separating it from the Arabian Sea.  Further landfill in the 1930s extended the edge as much as half a mile to a new road, Ocean Drive, turning Oval Maidan into the central spine of the whole area.

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