Indo-Saracenic Architecture

Saracenic was a term used by the ancient Romans to refer to a people who lived in desert areas in and around the Roman province of Arabia, and who were distinguished from Arab. Some use this term to refer to Indo-Islamic Architecture. However, it basically refers to the style that diffused from the 1870’s to the early 20th century for colonial buildings in India, adding the elements of Mughal architecture, to the base of Victorian Gothic style.

Initially the British constructed governmental and public buildings in European classical styles regardless of Indian local climate and traditions. Only after the 1858, the local architectural traditions, especially the Mughal tradition were introduced to the colonial erections. This was also the time of Gothic Revival, so Gothic features were used as the base and the domes and Chhatris were used to produce the external appearances to the buildings. This is the reason that it is also known as Indo-British style.

  • Early examples of Indo-British Style are the New Palace of Kolhapur (1881) designed by Charles Mant and Muir College (1886) in Allahabad designed by William.

The Palladian Style

When the British became a power, there were three styles prevalent in England viz. the Palladian, Baroque and the Victorian. The Palladian style of architecture is based on the works of Andrea Palladio (17th century) of Italy. It could be identified with a few features such as the ceilings as an ornamental focus, mouldings often featuring masks, terms and shells or other depictions of nature, fireplaces and wall painting. A great central tower rising from a succession of traced roofs is one important characteristic of this style. The another important feature is Palladian window, which consists of a central section with semicircular arch over and two sections on either sides, all supported by pillars, as shown in the adjacent image. This was a feature inculcated in India in some buildings (in Lucknow for example) though as such we don’t find any monument made purely on Palladian style.

La Martiniere Lucknow

The early Britons sought to introduce the Palladian style in the form of the La Martiniere in Lucknow. It was built by Claude Martin, a wealthy eighteenth-century Frenchman, who was an officer in the French and later the British East India Company. Martin acquired his fortune while serving Asaf-ud-Daula, the nawab wazir of Awadh, and was reputedly the richest Frenchman in India. The building, called Constantia at that time is now serves as a college.

The Victorian Gothic Style

When, India saw the emergence of presidencies of Madras, Bombay and Bengal, the fashion in England was of Gothic revival and neoclassical architecture. At the same time, the Victorian style was also in vogue. So, in the years to come, the buildings and monuments saw a mix of Indian (Mughal) style, Victorian, Gothic, Palladian, Baroque and other styles. However, none of the styles prevalent in Europe in those times were original. All of them were either imitated features from earlier Romanesque or Georgian architecture. The Victorian Gothic Architecture thus, was basically a hotch-potch of early European styles mixed with the introduction of Middle East and Asian influences.

The Victoria terminus station (Now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Station), in Mumbai, is one of the examples of Victorian gothic revival architecture in India. This monument represents the themes deriving from Indian traditional architecture. This building designed by F.W. Stevens, became the symbol of Bombay as the gothic city. The other such important buildings were as follows:

  • Mumbai: Rajabai Tower
  • Bangalore: The Glass House, Lal Bagh Botanical Gardens
  • Kolkata: The Victoria Memorial Hall, GPO, Raj Bhawan and High Court of Calcutta
  • Delhi: The Darbar Memorial, Mutiny Memorial, St. Stephen’s College, Secretariat Complex, North Block
  • Kottayam: Holy Trinity Cathedral
  • Mysore: St Philomena’s Church
  • Shimla: St Michael’s Cathedral, Christ Church, Gaiety Theatre , Gorton Castle , Viceregal Lodge

The Victorian Gothic buildings in India represented the British imperial wishes to perpetuate the memory of Queen Victoria. In some cases, they also wished to satisfy the Indian aspirations by inculcating the oriental substance and elements in the buildings. This was the beginning of the Indo-gothic or Indo-Saracenic revival.  The monuments now created drew the elements from the indigenous and indo-Islamic architecture and combined it with the gothic revival and neo-classical styles favoured in Victorian England. One the best example is the Victoria Memorial Hall of Kolkata, which inculcates numerous Mughal elements in its design.

Such monuments were built on advanced engineering standards. The material such as steel, Iron and poured concrete started getting used. The most important features of the buildings of this revival were as follows:

  • Bulbous domes along with many miniature domes
  • Overhanging eaves
  • Pointed arches, cusped arches, or scalloped arches
  • Vaulted roofs
  • Domed chhatris, pinnacles, towers and minarets
  • Open pavilions
  • Pierced arcades.

Architecture in Delhi

In 1911, the capital of British India was shifted to Delhi. From 1912 to 1931 British architects Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker designed the new imperial capital of India. The objective was to successfully combine the local traditions with a statement of colonial power. These architects studied the Buddhist, Hindu and Islamic features while drawing and redrawing their plans. The Lutyens Delhi finally emerged with a huge dome with most if the building representing elements of the Hindu or Islamic architecture. The structures such created like the Mughal Gardens brought the majesty of Mughal periods, though the utility of the structures were comprised to a great extent.

The Viceroy’s House (Now Rashtrapati Bhawan) was inspired by the neoclassicism but to a great extent was able to bring back the Mughal architecture in its use of red and yellow sandstone, its dome, and in other details.

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