Resurrecting the Roman Goddess

Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers represents the season of spring according to the myths and religious beliefs. She was a beautiful maiden garlanded with flowers.

Flora Fountain is a heritage monument, which is a fusion of water, architecture and sculpture located at D.N Road, South Mumbai. The fountain was built in the year 1864, depicting the mythical goddess in glory.

It’s built-in three tiers of Portland stone expressing the city’s restructuring, a modern movement in the late 19th century under the direction of Governor Bartle Frere. He envisioned Bombay as ‘Urbis Prima’ or India’s first city.

Flora Statue before Restoration

This prime icon was designed by Norman Shaw, sculpted by James Forsyth and executed by the Esplanade Fee Fund. Initially, it was commissioned for the Agro Horticultural Society of Western India and meant to be located at Byculla, the Botanical Gardens.

However, it was placed to its present location to highlight the city’s attempts in envisioning a new public architecture. With the passage of 150 years and alterations in the setting the fountain’s significance declined.

This resurrected the restoration of the lost glory and charm of Flora, enhancing its surroundings and reviving the water system of the fountain. Major parts of concern during the work were the soiled facades, defaced and painted statues, missing parts and proper fencing.

Flora Statue after Restoration

The fountain comprises of the main statue of Flora atop, water trays at different levels with celestial fishes below her pouring water – initially onto the top tray in the shape of a conch, then middle and eventually the ground trough.

In the lower level, four figurines depict allegorical images of various crops. The water engineering was revived by trial and error method since there was no archival information or drawings of such fountain systems.

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The restoration work was started in early 2017 in two phases. During the excavation, old tram tracks were discovered, which were retained as part of the history of the area. The initial setup was to restore its landmark quality which was carried out by professional INTACH conservators.

They used the steam system to remove paints and improve the surrounding areas enabling public access. Basalt paving was reinstalled to evoke the local distinct and traditional feel of Bombay’s footpaths.

The scaffold and cordoning were done with full-size image of each elevation. Professional steel cup lock scaffolding with teakwood platforms was erected for the conservators.

Celestial Dolphins and troughs before restoration.

The cleaning work went in the order from top to bottom, initially cleaning the Flora statue using steam and micro chisel, then working towards the four celestial fishes, then the four medallions followed by the lower tray with four allegorical ladies.

After cleaning and restoring the lost details, they applied local matching limestone as a protective treatment to prevent the advent of moss and algae.

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Missing ornamentations were conjectured based on the symmetry of other identical objects such as SS pins, pipes, clay and plaster moulds that restored the broken arms, hand and palm fingers.

The complex water system was tackled without any original drawings, by reverse pouring water from the celestial fishes and locating the separate feeders and main lines.

The team added new sluice valves and manhole with waterproofing cover to control the water flow and maintenance. Even the masonry works were also attended in order to fix the leaking joints and spouts to make it functional.

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Finally, the whole system worked with water flowing according to gravity. The periphery of the circular landscape was defined with stainless steel seating making the space delightful. An outer wall was constructed in RCC with the same Italian marble-clad used in the inner trough.

Celestial Dolphins and troughs after restoration

Along with it, they fenced the trough in MS, CI and brass to protect against theft and vandalism. The existing utilities and services were taken underground in proper trenches and chambers. The whole monument was lit using waterproof LED lights on-site replacing the cast-iron lamps with new lamp posts.

Over the course of 150 years, this ornate and exclusively sculpted fountain does invoke a transcending timeless quality. Flora has delved deep into the hearts of people in Mumbai revealing secrets to a long-gone era in a euphoric elegance.

Fact File

  • Project Title: Restoration of Flora Fountain
  • Location: D.N. Road, Fort, Mumbai
  • Practice: Vikas Dilawari Architects
  • Typology: Public
  • Total Height: 32ft

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