Exploring Pune's Gothic Heritage: A Journey Through Architectural Splendour

Exploring Pune's Gothic Heritage: A Journey Through Architectural Splendour

The term 'Gothic' often carries connotations of gloom and grotesqueness. However, its origins trace back to the nomadic Germanic group known as the Goths

Gaurav KadamUpdated: Monday, November 27, 2023, 02:27 PM IST
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Exploring Pune's Gothic Heritage: A Journey Through Architectural Splendour | Gaurav Kadam

Ashwin Chitale, the recipient of the national award for best child actor for his performance in the film Shwaas (2004), embarked on a unique endeavour while pursuing Indology studies. He founded 'Aashwin Heritage,' a venture devoted to promoting awareness of history, heritage, and art among the masses. Through this enterprise, Chitale organises heritage walks to various historical sites across India. Recently, this author went on one such tour to explore the Gothic architecture in Pune.

What is Gothic architecture?

The term 'Gothic' often carries connotations of gloom and grotesqueness. However, its origins trace back to the nomadic Germanic group known as the Goths. This tribe, considered 'barbarians' by the Romans due to their distinctive language, existed on the fringes of mainstream European cultural civilisation. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the marginalised Goths began invading and establishing their own settlements. They dismantled existing Roman structures and constructed buildings in their unique architectural style. Unlike the grandeur of Roman architecture, Gothic structures appeared robust and less visually appealing at first glance. Eventually, this architectural style gained popularity in Europe, characterised by spacious interiors, walls adorned with intricate tracery, pointed arches, soaring spires, stained-glass windows, flying buttresses, and rib vaults, explained Chitale.

Gothic Pune Walk

After Chitale briefly elaborated on Gothic architecture, attendees, ranging from school children to the elderly, introduced themselves and got acquainted with each other. On a cloudy Sunday morning, everyone readied themselves for the walk starting at St. Paul’s Church and encompassing landmarks like the General Post Office and Pune Archives. The tour culminated at the Ohel David Synagogue. Let's delve briefly into the specifics of each remarkable Gothic structure.

St. Paul’s Church

St Paul’s Church

St Paul’s Church | Gaurav Kadam

"When British soldiers resided in Pune's Camp area, they expressed the need for an additional church despite the existence of St. Mary's Church. Consequently, in 1840, Reverend Thomas Scare penned a letter to the Crown requesting the construction of a new church. The approval was granted 23 years later to build St. Paul’s Church. In 1863, the cornerstone was laid, and construction was finalised by 1867. Henry Bartle Frere Bart served as the architect, and it required ₹90,000 for completion. Unfortunately, in 1990, a significant fire ravaged the church, resulting in the destruction of a grand piano and other items. However, due to the sturdy stone construction, the building remained intact," informed Chitale. "Unlike the conventional rectangular shape of most churches, this one takes the form of a horseshoe, evoking a distinctively imposing atmosphere," he further elaborated.

General Post Office

General Post Office

General Post Office | Facebook/PUNE GPO

"Postal services were established in the city long before the British Raj. However, during their administration, a necessity arose for a structured facility to manage these services. Consequently, the General Post Office (GPO) was established around 1873-1874. However, due to the overwhelming response to postal services, the structure was insufficient. As a result, it underwent expansion in 1928, resulting in the building we observe today," shared Chitale. "The architectural design drew inspiration from the works of Italian architect Andrea Palladio. Colonel Finch contributed ₹19,170 towards its construction. Besides the predominant Gothic architecture, the structure also reflects a touch of Saracenic architecture (Arabic)," he added.

Pune Archives

Pune Archives

Pune Archives | Gaurav Kadam

"There were three significant fire incidents at Shaniwar Wada, with the most infamous occurring in 1828. Consequently, the British authorities felt the necessity to relocate the Peshwa records to a safer location. Following this concern, a letter was dispatched to the Crown, leading to the construction of the Pune Archives in 1891, at a cost of ₹1.50 lakh. Today, this building houses a vast collection of documents inscribed in Persian and Modi script, some of which remain undeciphered," Chitale said. "Speaking of its architectural style, the structure primarily showcases Gothic elements with influences from Roman and Greek designs. Symbolism is abundant within the structure, with armours symbolising war and flowers representing prosperity, among others," he explained.

Ohel David Synagogue

Ohel David Synagogue

Ohel David Synagogue | Gaurav Kadam

"Ohel David Synagogue stands as one of the tallest synagogues in South Asia. Its construction commenced in 1863, initiated by Baghdadi Jew philanthropist David Sassoon, and was later completed by his successors in 1867. The design, crafted by Henry Saint Clair Wilkins, features red brick construction, earning it the local moniker 'Lal Deool' (Red Temple). The synagogue boasts a 90-foot tall obelisk that holds a clock specially brought from London," said Chitale. "The architectural style is quite bold and assertive, almost as if it were intended to make a powerful statement," he elaborated.

Participants Speak

The walk opened my eyes to a lot of new things even though I've been living in Pune for many years - Bhanu Shrivastav, a businessman

This was my second heritage walk. It was a nice experience. I noticed the Pune Archives for the first time even after passing by it several times. I think we can now look at the buildings and understand their details like arches, keystones, etc - Christine, a German lecturer at Pune University

While it was great listening to Ashwin (Chitale) speak and give us details, it is important for us also to do a bit of homework beforehand - Bhavana Dadabhoy, a yoga instructor

I enjoyed the walk, and the information given was quite new. This was my first heritage walk, and I wish to come on more such walks - Abhijit Dandekar, a teacher at Deccan College

Gaurav Kadam

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