MANAMA: Mumbai’s Art Deco buildings, believed to be the world’s second-largest collection after Miami, were added on Saturday to UNESCO’s World Heritage List alongside the city’s better-known Victorian Gothic architecture. Moreso, a dozen Christian locations in parts of southern Japan where members of the faith were once brutally persecuted were also selected for inclusion on the list.
The decisions were approved at a UNESCO meeting Saturday in the Bahraini capital Manama.
A not-for-profit team of enthusiasts are in the process of documenting every single one of Mumbai’s Art Deco treasures but they estimate there may be more than 200 across India’s bustling financial capital.
The majority of them, built on reclaimed land between the early 1930s and early 1950s, are clustered together in the south of the coastal city where they stand in stark contrast to Victorian Gothic structures.
The two vastly different architectural traditions face off against each other across the popular Oval Maidan playing field, where enthusiastic young cricketers hone their skills.
On one side lie imposing and rather austere 19th-century buildings housing the Bombay High Court and Mumbai University, with their spires and lancet windows.
On the other side stand sleeker buildings boasting curved corners, balconies, vertical lines and exotic motifs.
They were built by wealthy Indians who sent their architects to Europe to come up with modern designs different from those of their colonial rulers.
“Mumbai’s Art Deco buildings have always lived in the shadow of the Victorian Gothic structures built by the British but this recognition by UNESCO today helps elevate Art Deco to its rightful place,” Atul Kumar, the founder of Art Deco Mumbai, told AFP.
“Across a 22-acre stretch of playing field, we have two distinct architectural styles. One symbolic of India’s colonisers, the other representing the aspirations of a new, wealthy Indian class.”
Mumbai’s Art Deco buildings house residential properties, commercial offices, hospitals and single-screen movie theatres, including the popular Regal and Eros cinemas.
Their characteristics include elegant Deco fonts, marble floors and spiral staircases.
Most of the Art Deco buildings, including along the three-kilometre long palm-fringed Marine Drive promenade, are five storeys high and painted in bright colours such as yellow, pink and blue.
Some of Mumbai’s most recognisable buildings are built in the Victorian Gothic style, including the city’s famous main train station, which used to be known as Victoria Terminus.
The Bombay High Court, Mumbai University and the headquarters of the city’s civic authority are other examples of that style.
They were built in the 19th century as Britain strengthened its hold over India. Many of the edifices boast tinted windows, flying buttresses and ornately carved figures.
Meanwhile, a dozen Christian locations in parts of southern Japan sites include Oura Cathedral, a Catholic church in Nagasaki, dedicated to 26 Christians who were executed for their beliefs over four centuries ago.
Christianity in Japan dates back to 1549 when European Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier arrived in the country with two companions and the religion began spreading in western Japan.
As more missionaries arrived and the faith spread, Japanese military leaders became increasingly suspicious of its growing influence and a crackdown against Christians began from 1589.
The Christians commemorated at Oura, 20 Japanese and six foreigners, were executed in Nagasaki in 1597 as the persecution intensified.
For Japanese converts, hiding their religion became a matter of life and death for the next 250 years, with Christianity banned and Japan closed to the outside world.
As they practised their faith but tried to blend in, the Christians created a blended religion that incorporated elements of Buddhism.
It wasn’t until 1865 that these “hidden Christians” or Kakure Kirishtan became known outside of their communities.
A group of nervous peasants approached a French priest at Oura Cathedral and one woman whispered “our hearts are the same as yours”, prompting the discovery of what turned out to be tens of thousands of Japanese Christians who had kept their faith a secret.
Gothic-style Oura, which was built in 1864 by French priests and was known by locals as the “French temple,” is the oldest Christian-related building in Japan.
It was designated a national treasure by the government in 1933 but was partly damaged by the atomic bomb dropped by the US on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima.
The other locations in the Japanese entry include Sakitsu village in Amakusa, in southwestern Kumamoto, where Christians practiced their faith in secret in the Edo period.
The martyrdom of hidden Catholics and Jesuit missionaries in Japan in the 17th century was the subject of the 2016 Hollywood film Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese.