The Colonial Heritage of Madras

Site image
05 Jan 2021 by Admin

In Madras, Andrew Cogan and Francis Day of the East India Company purchased the Madraspatnam or Chennapatnam village from the ruler of the Vijayanagar Empire, Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka in 1639. Thus Madras was established and today its architectural heritage comprises of a multitude of colonial buildings which need to be preserved and treasured.

Inside St. Mary’s Church

In Madras lies the Westminster Abbey of the East, the legendary Fort St. George, a typical British fortress which houses St. Mary Church and Fort Museum. The fortress was built in 1653. The church was built in 1680 and it is this, which is known as the Westminster Abbey of the East. the museum is the oldest part of the fortress which houses iconic colonial era relics like rifles, guns, army uniforms, mortars, silverware, porcelain etc.

Inside Fort Museum


Santhome Basilica or St. Thomas Cathedral


Among the iconic heritage buildings of Madras, the first that comes to mind is the Santhome Cathedral, a huge cathedral with spires and chapels which owes its origin to the Portuguese rulers who came to the land in 15th century.

Armenian Church

As in Calcutta, Madras has an Armenian connection which is visible if you visit the George town area. Here you will find the Armenian church which was built in 1712 and is especially known for its iconic bell tower containing 6 heavy bells of 150 kg each weight. It is the most popular heritage site of Madras.

St. Andrews Kirk Church


The city is scattered with other neoclassical colonial era churches dedicated to specific communities like the circular St. Andrew Kirk’s church built for the Scottish community back in 1821, the scenic St. Thomas Mount Church built by the Portuguese back in 1523. The St. Thomas Church is particularly important in the maritime history and trade of the city as this church which stands on a hillock near the Chennai airport acted as lighthouse to beacon ships at sea.


St. Thomas Mount Church

Ripon Building


The 1913 built Greater Chennai Corporation Office building is a majestic neoclassical architectural gem popularly known as Ripon Building as it was named after Lord Ripon. It is an iconic British colonial administrative building. The building has a 8 ft tall central tower clock and 4 bells. The 3 storey building can house more than 1000 officials and has a 500 capacity auditorium and a 100 seat conference halls. It is an iconic example of colonial architecture in Madras.

Like Calcutta and Bombay, Madras too has an iconic high court building which was built on the orders of Queen Victoria in 1862. The building is a classic example of the unique colonial architecture of Chennai. The Chola influenced building still functions as the high court of the city.

Chennai has the 2nd largest museum in the country (after the Indian Museum of Calcutta), the Egmore Museum popularly known as the Government Museum which was built in 1851. This iconic heritage building houses various artefacts including those dating back to the chola dynasty.

The 1914-1918 war memorial with the graves

The city also harbours the memory of the second world war, with tombs of 855 soldiers who died at war and remains buried in the Madras War cemetery. It has an even bigger connection with the War than Delhi or Calcutta, as you can see memorial plaques of 1000 or more First World War martyrs. The cemetery was formally established in 1952 by the Imperial War graves Commission or the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGS) and is maintained by CWGS.

Connemara library


The Madras literature circuit has some of the oldest repositories of the country. The Connemara library is a sanctum - it houses each and every publication of India. The library is rich in its repertoire that it is given access to store a copy of every Indian publication - here you can find any book, magazines and newspapers published in India. Then there is the iconic Higginbottham’s store, an iconic bookstore founded by British stowaway Higginbottham back in 1905. Together these 2 institutions add to the already rich heritage of this ancient city.

The heritage bookstore - Higginbotham


Lastly, the Chennai Central Station, like the Bombay Central Station is an architectural gem from the colonial era. This 144 year old station was built and designed by George Harding in 1873.


Madras India