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6 Places to See Colonial Era Heritage Buildings in Chennai

Updated on August 23, 2019
Babu Mohan profile image

I am a marketing professional holding a postgraduate degree in management. I have traveled extensively in Tamil Nadu.

Madras High Court, Parry's Corner
Madras High Court, Parry's Corner | Source

The cosmopolitan city of Chennai used to be just a group of villages in the 16th century when Portuguese explorers first entered this region. The city moved to the hands of Britishers by the 17th century. Britishers preferred calling it Madras that later became Chennai in the year 1996. Madras name originated from Madre de Dios, meaning the Mother of God in Portuguese.

The Britishers had a firm grip on this city till India attained freedom in 1947. Most colonial era buildings follow a distinct architectural style known as the Indo-Saracenic style. It is a blend of Indian, Islamic and Gothic revival styles. The art deco style also found its way into the city by early twentieth century.

Top 6 Places With Heritage Buildings in Chennai :

  1. The road from Fort St. George to Marina Beach
  2. College of Engineering, Guindy
  3. Central Railway Station and its surroundings
  4. Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica
  5. Parry's Corner
  6. Pantheon complex

The city also has old temples surviving for centuries built based on ancient South Indian architectural style adding to its rich diversity.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Fort St. GeorgeNapier BridgeVivekanandar Ilam or Ice HouseVictory War Memorial
Fort St. George
Fort St. George | Source
Napier Bridge
Napier Bridge | Source
Vivekanandar Ilam or Ice House
Vivekanandar Ilam or Ice House | Source
Victory War Memorial
Victory War Memorial | Source

1. The Road From Fort St. George to Marina Beach

Fort St. George

The very mention of its name connotes power. This was the seat of power when Britishers ruled India. The fort continues to be the seat of power for the state of Tamil Nadu as the legislative assembly is housed inside Fort St. George campus. So the phrase "capturing the fort" is used in Tamil Nadu political circles to mean "winning elections". The Victory War Memorial and St. Mary Church are other important heritage structures one should not miss while visiting St. Fort George.

Marina Beach Road

A drive from Fort St George towards Marina Beach will be a memorable one as one would get transported back in time. One cannot miss the Napier Bridge with its characteristic bowstrings on the way.

The Madras University building in the Marina Beach stretch is another notable landmark from the colonial era. The Southern end of Marina Beach Road has colonial structures such as the Icehouse known now as Swami Vivekananda Illam and the present IG Office.

Frederic Tudor, an American merchant, transported ice blocks by ship to Chennai and stored it in Icehouse to market the same in the 19th century. How is that for a business model?

College of Engineering, Guindy
College of Engineering, Guindy | Source

2. College of Engineering, Guindy

The main building in College of Engineering, Guindy is a great example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. The college was founded in the 18th century but the main building as shown in the picture above came up in the early twentieth century.

This building has a special place in my heart as an alumnus of this institution. The other colleges in the city with colonial era buildings are Loyola College and Dr. Ambedkar Law College.

Chennai Central Railway Station
Chennai Central Railway Station | Source

3. Central Railway Station and Its Surroundings

All the main railway stations in the city built during the British era had a colonial touch. The more famous ones are the Chennai Central railway station and the Egmore Railway Station. Among the suburban stations, Royapuram has a classic colonial touch.

There are many who consider Central Railway Station as a visual icon to represent Chennai. The brick red color of the building and the clock tower give the station its heritage charm. Ripon Building, Southern Railway Headquarters and Victoria Public Hall are other prominent colonial structures located close to Central Station.

St. Thomas Basilica Cathedral
St. Thomas Basilica Cathedral | Source

4. Santhome Church

Saint Thomas Cathedral Basilica is the most famous colonial era Church near Marina Beach. Though the Portuguese created the Church in the 16th century, the Britishers built the Cathedral as it exists today during the 19th century. Most locals call this the Santhome Church.

There is one more heritage shrine on top of St. Thomas Mount, a small hillock near the airport. Built by the Portuguese in the 16th century, this shrine is dedicated to Mother Mary. We get a panoramic view of the city from the top of this hill.


5. Parry's Corner

The colonial buildings created in the early 20th century followed a more modern style known as Art Deco. The EID Parry building of Murugappa Group, a prominent business house in South India, followed the Art Deco style. This locality is called Parry's Corner, a reflection of how iconic this building has been.

The Chennai High Court is another important building in Parry's Corner that is an example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. The southern headquarters of State Bank of India and the General Post Office building in First Line Beach are other notable heritage buildings in the vicinity.

Chennai Museum
Chennai Museum | Source

6. Pantheon Complex

The Government museum, the National Art Gallery and Connemara library are part of the Pantheon complex. All these 3 buildings are heritage structures from the colonial era. The Government museum in Egmore displays many objects of artistic, cultural and historic importance.

The art gallery features rare paintings from Moghul era, original works of the legendary Raja Ravi Verma and Tanjore paintings popular in Tamil Nadu. Connemara is one of the four National depository libraries in India and it serves as a depository library for the UN.

Talking of Connemara library, book lovers would instantly connect with Higginbothams in Anna Salai, the oldest bookstore in Chennai and another heritage structure.

City's New Skyline
City's New Skyline | Source

The Modern Chennai

Chennai, known earlier as Madras, has grown into a industrial hub known for its information technology and automobile industries. People call Chennai the Detroit of India since it is a major automobile manufacturing hub. It has the largest expatriate population in the country.

The new city is expanding rapidly in the southern side. The city's current skyline and the new development bears no resemblance to its colonial past. No matter how much Chennai has changed, we still love the old Madras feeling.

Please leave your valuable comments.

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    • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Babu 

      4 months ago from Chennai, India

      The main building of College of Engineering, Guindy is special to me since I graduated from there.

    • Emmy ali profile image

      Eman Abdallah Kamel 

      4 months ago from Egypt

      A very interesting article and a very nice place. It has drawn my attention that the Faculty of Engineering construction is very distinctive.

    • Babu Mohan profile imageAUTHOR

      Mohan Babu 

      6 months ago from Chennai, India

      The Madras in the curry refers most likely to the present day Chennai. There are still many who cannot forget the old name.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      6 months ago from UK

      This is an interesting and well-illustrated article. I hadn't linked Madras with Chennai before. In the UK we have a Madras curry. I wonder if there is a link or whether it is a UK manufactured curry.


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