Calcutta, the capital of British India and also of the province of Bengal. It is situated in 22° 34′ N. and 88° 24′ E., on the left or east bank of the Hugli, about 80 m. from the sea. Including its suburbs it covers an area of 27,267 acres, and contains a population (1901) of 949,144. Calcutta and Bombay have long contested the position of the premier city of India in population and trade; but during the decade 1891-1901 the prevalence of plague in Bombay gave a considerable advantage to Calcutta, which was comparatively free from that disease. Calcutta lies only some 20 ft. above sea-level, and extends about 6 m. along the Hugli, and is bounded elsewhere by the Circular Canal and the Salt Lakes, and by suburbs which form separate municipalities. Fort William stands in its centre.
Though Calcutta was called by Macaulay "the city of palaces," its modern public buildings cannot compare with those of Bombay. Its chief glory is the Maidan or park, which is large enough to embrace the area of Fort William and a racecourse. Many monuments find a place on the Maidan, among them being modern equestrian statues of Lord Roberts and Lord Lansdowne, which face one another on each side of the Red Road, where the rank and fashion of Calcutta take their evening drive. In the north-eastern corner of the Maidan the Indian memorial to Queen Victoria, consisting of a marble hall, with a statue and historical relics, was opened by the prince of Wales in January 1906. The government acquired Metcalfe Hall, in order to convert it into a public library and reading-room worthy of the capital of India; and also the country-house of Warren Hastings at Alipur, for the entertainment of Indian princes. Lord Curzon restored, at his own cost, the monument which formerly commemorated the massacre of the Black Hole, and a tablet let into the wall of the general post office indicates the position of the Black Hole in the north-east bastion of Fort William, now occupied by the roadway.
Government House, which is situated near the Maidan and Eden Gardens, is the residence of the viceroy; it was built by Lord Wellesley in 1799, and is a fine pile situated in grounds covering six acres, and modelled upon Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, one of the Adam buildings. Belvedere House, the official residence of the lieutenant-governor of Bengal, is situated close to the botanical gardens in Alipur, the southern suburb of Calcutta. Facing the Maidan for a couple of miles is the Chowringhee, one of the famous streets of the world, once a row of palatial residences, but now given up almost entirely to hotels, clubs and shops.
Calcutta owes its commercial prosperity to the fact that it is situated near the mouth of the two great river systems of the Ganges and Brahmaputra. It thus receives the produce of these fertile river valleys, while the rivers afford a cheaper mode of conveyance than any railway. In addition Calcutta is situated midway between Europe and the Far East and thus forms a meeting-place for the commerce and peoples of the Eastern and Western worlds. The port of Calcutta is one of the busiest in the world, and the banks of the Hugli rival the port of London in their show of shipping. The total number of arrivals and departures during 1904-1905 was 3027 vessels with an average tonnage of 3734. But though the city is such a busy commercial centre, most of its industries are carried on outside municipal limits. Howrah, on the opposite side of the Hugli, is the terminus of three great railway systems, and also the headquarters of the jute industry and other large factories. It is connected with Calcutta by an immense floating bridge, 1530 ft. in length, which was constructed in 1874. Other railways have their terminus at Sealdah, an eastern suburb.
The docks lie outside Calcutta, at Kidderpur, on the south; and at Alipur are the zoological gardens, the residence of the lieutenant-governor of Bengal, cantonments for a native infantry regiment, the central gaol and a government reformatory. The port of Calcutta stretches about 10 m. along the river. It is under the control of a port trust, whose jurisdiction extends to the mouth of the Hugli and also over the floating bridge. New docks were opened in 1892, which cost upwards of two millions sterling. The figures for the sea-borne trade of Calcutta are included in those of Bengal. Its inland trade is carried on by country boat, inland steamer, rail and road, and amounted in 1904-1905 to about four and three quarter millions sterling. More than half the total is carried by the East Indian railway, which serves the United Provinces. Country boats hold their own against inland steamers, especially in imports.