Monuments in Chennai

Chennai has some intriguing monuments, churches and buildings belonging to the Portuguese, French and British invasion.

Fort St. George

Fort St. GeorgeThe British East India Company under the direct supervision of Francis Day and Andrew Cogon built a western type building was built to serve as the control centre and it was completed on 23 Apr' 1640 which happened to be the St George's Day, the patron saint of England and was named as St George's Fort.

The Saint Mary's Church and fort museum lies within the campus of the Fort. Saint Mary's Church is the oldest Anglican Church built in 1680 and the tombstones within its courtyard are the oldest British tombstones in India. Presently the Fort is official headquarters of the Legislative Assembly. The 46 m high flagpole at the front is a post rescued from the 17th century shipwreck. The Fort Museum has a enthralling collection of personal souvenirs from the British and French East India companies as well as the Raja and Muslim period.

San Thome Basilica

San Thome BasilicaSan Thome Basilica at the south end of Marina Beach was named after Saint Thomas. History encrypts that he had come to India in 52 AD and after preaching on the West Coast, he came to Chennai, and suffered martyrdom on a hill at the outskirts of the city, today known as "St. Thomas Mount in 78 A.D. His body was buried on the spot over which the present Basilica stands. Built in 16th Century by the Portuguese, in 1896 it was made a basilica. The beautiful stained glass window at the basilica portrays the story of St Thomas and the central hall has 14 wooden plaques depicting scenes from the last days of Christ. In the cathedral is a 3ft. high statue of Virgin Mary believed to have been brought from Portugal in 1543.

The greatest importance of San Thome Basilica is that in the whole world, there are only three churches built over the tomb of an Apostle of Jesus Christ - the Basilica of Saint Peter built over the tomb of St.Peter in Rome, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela built over the tomb of St.James in Spain and Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas built over the tomb of St.Thomas which happens to be in Chennai. Most of the Catholics seem to be unaware of the importance of this extraordinary shrine.

Theosophical Society

Theosophical SocietyThe Theosophical Society formed to facilitate and encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy and science situated in magnificent wooded settings in Adyar was founded in 1875 by Madame Blavatsky and Col. Olott in USA. It is a worldwide body whose primary object is Universal Brotherhood based on the realization that life, and all its diverse forms, human and non-human, is indivisibly one, the theory encrypted in the Vedas and per the philosophy of the early sages. The Society imposes no belief on its members, who are united by a common search for Truth and desire to learn the meaning and purpose of existence by engaging themselves in study, reflection, purity of life and loving service.

Theosophy is the wisdom underlying all religions when they are uncovered of accretions and superstitions. It offers a philosophy which renders life intelligible and demonstrates that justice and love guide the cosmos. Its teachings aid the enfoldment of the latent spiritual nature in the human being, without dependence, or fear. Apart from shrines of all faiths and the peaceful Garden of Remembrance, there is a 95-year old library which has a very good collection of rare Oriental manuscripts written on palm leaves and parchment.

High Court Building

High Court BuildingThe High Court of Judicature at Madras, one of the three High Courts in India established at the Presidency Towns by Letters Patent granted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, bearing date 26th June 1862, is the highest Court in the State of Tamil Nadu, exercising Original Jurisdiction over the City of Madras and Appellate Jurisdiction over the entire State as well as extra-ordinary Original Jurisdiction, Civil and Criminal, under the Letters Patent and Special Original Jurisdiction for the issue of writs under the Constitution of India. 

Built in 1892, this red Indo-Saracen structure at Parry's corner is Chennai's main landmark. It is believed to be one the largest judicial buildings in the world.

Senate House

Senate HouseThe Senate house is one of Chennai's most impressive architectural marvels. Senate House, at the Chennai University campus on the Marina, was constructed in 1873 under the supervision of Robert Fellowes Chisholm, one of the greatest architects of the 19th century. The entire structure has a harmonious mélange of Indo-Saracen style, with intricate architectural features. The Senate House has a central hall on the ground floor which is 130 feet long, 58 feet broad and 54 feet high, with the corridors supported by six massive stone pillars on either side. The stone arches between the pillars, with the four towers rising high at the corners of the building, surmounted by exquisitely shaped domes, painted in different colors, gives the building a grandeur that is unmatched. The main entrance at the north, leads to the convocation hall, while another entrance, in the South, leads to the rooms on the southern wing. Besides these, there are two more entrances on the eastern wing of the convocation hall and two corresponding entrances on the west. Elegantly constructed porticos decorate the frontage of all these entrances. A parapet surrounds each of these porticos, at the corner of which appears a decorated dome of a miniature size.

Ripon Building

Ripon BuildingRipon Building is the seat of the Chennai Corporation in Chennai, and is situated opposite to Emarald Hotel. This is a fine example of Indo-Saracen style of architecture, a combination of three types of architectural styles - Gothic, Ionic and Corinthian. To support the gargantuan structure, the walls have been constructed with stock bricks, set in lime mortar and plastered with lime mortar. The roofs are supported with Teak wood Joists.

The Ripon Building is white in colour and is located at the west of Central station in Chennai. Commissioned in 1913, it was built by a builder named Loganatha Mudaliar. The Building took four years to be built at a cost of 750,000 Rupees at that time. Ripon building was named after Lord Ripon, Governor-General of British India and the Father of local self-government. Earl of Minto, the then Viceroy and Governor General of India laid the foundation on December 12, 1909.

The Municipal Corporation of Madras, after functioning from several other places, settled at Ripon building in 1913, with P.L. Moore as the President of the Municipal Corporation at the time of the inauguration.

The West Minister Quarter Chiming Clock, installed by Oakes and Co. in 1913, about 20.58 metres from terrace level, is one of the main attractions in the building. The clock is provided with a mechanical key system, which is wound every day. There are four bells, casted by Gillet and Johnston in 1913.


MamallapuramThe virtuous city of Mahabalipuram (also Mamallapuram) is situated just 60 km off Chennai, an hour and a half taxi ride towards the south, Mamallapuram is a world apart from that city's hustle and bustle. Located on the Bay of Bengal coast in the, Mamallapuram is well connected through a network of roads from Chennai and other important cities of South India. The town of temples, sand and sea - Mamallapuram, formerly known as Mahabalipuram is a scenic world renowned for its beautiful Shore Temple. It was once the main port and naval base of the great Pallava kingdom and was later made the capital of this Dynasty. This unspoiled seaside village on the Bay of Bengal has miles of beaches, fine Indian seafood, exceptional art, and intricately carved stone temples.

'Mamalla ', meaning the great wrestler was the name given to King Narasimha Varman I of the Pallava Dynasty. Most of the temples here is dedicated to the Lord Siva and Vishnu and were completed between 630 A.D and 728 A.D during the reign of Narasimha Varman II. The artistic heritage of the Pallava kings remains an imperative one.

The main attractions at Mamallapuram include;

1.  Arjuna's Penance: This skillfully carved rock is the largest bas - relief sculpture in the world. It gets its name from the figure of an austere who is believed to be Arjuna, the hero of Mahabharata, doing atonement to obtain a boon from Lord Siva. Surrounding Arjuna is a multitude of images, including snakes coiled in battle, jesters with drums, and elephants in procession. However, there are others who think that the figure is actually Bhagiratha who entreated Siva to let the river Ganges flow to the earth from the head of Lord Shiva.

2.  Five Rathas: There are five monumental temples, each created in different style. They are also known as Pancha Pandava Rathas, and four of the Rathas are supposed to have been carved out of a single rock and contains images from Hindu mythology, along with clowns and dancers. They are unfinished and not used for worship.

3.  Tiger's Cave: It is 4 kms north of the main monument complex. It was an open air theatre, where cultural programmes are held. Though it is very near the sea, the place is unruffled and tranquil.

4.  The Shore Temple: This is one of the oldest temples in South India. It belongs to the 8th Century AD and is a good example of the first phase of structural temples constructed in Dravidian style. The monuments are lit well at night and hence it is possible to enjoy their beauty even after sunset. The splendid though ravaged Shore Temple has two spires. Its beach site has proved to be a lucky one, for the stone temple has survived the sea's wrath for 12 centuries, outlasting other contemporaneous temples along the shore.

Sadras Fort

Sadras, located 17 km from Mahabalipuram and 2 km from Kalpakam, was a Dutch settlement on the Coromandel coast. A weavers settlement, Sadras was ruled by the Sambuvarayars (Chola feudatories) during the latter half of 14th century and later by Vijayanagara rulers. It had a well-maintained port even before the arrival of foreigners. The British overthrew the Dutch after a series of battles in 1854 and occupied Sadras.

The 400-year-old Dutch fort is the prime attraction. Archeological Survey of India has done extensive excavations lately and has restored the fort. Dutch settlements of Pulicat and Nagapatnam find references in the inscriptions found in the fort.

Sadras is well linked by road to Mahabalipuram and Kalpakam.

Freemasons Hall

Freemasons HallFreemasons Hall is situated in the Egmore area of Chennai. It is the living example of the cultural and traditional heritage of the people who inhabited the ancient city of Madras. The construction of this building was completed in the year 1923. Freemasons Hall was constructed by the East India Company, during the colonial rule. The purpose behind constructing such a building was to create military lodges, secured by the foreign powers. Freemasons Hall is one of the finest buildings of Tamil Nadu.

The location of the structure is such that it can be easily reached from any corner of the city. Freemasons Hall is a double storey mansion and can accommodate around 200 people at a time. It has been designed with the help of Greek style of engineering. This is clearly visible from the mammoth pillars and the use of Italian tiles and marbles, which adorn the interiors of the Hall. The small Lodge room on the first floor is capable of accommodating 60 people at a time and is meant for holding Masonic meetings.


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