Chennai formerly known as Madras is the capital city of Tamil Nadu state and is the fourth largest metro city in India. Retaining much of its traditional charm, this 350 year old city is the gateway to the south, providing many a fascinating vignette of southern heritage. Founded at Fort St: George in 1640 AD by Francis Day, an employee of the Company, Chennai today is one of the great metropolitan cities of the World, and the fourth largest city in India. Chennai was the first British major in India. The city grew up around the English settlement of Fort Saint George and gradually absorbed the surrounding towns and villages. However, despite the strong British influence, Chennai has retained its traditional Tamil culture and effectively blended it with the foreign influence.
Geography of Chennai
Chennai is located near the 13th north parallel and 80 degree longitude. The city stretches its 19 km length along the Coromandel coast and extends inland about 9 km at its widest. Its irregular shape covers about 172 sq km. It is a fairly low-lying strip of land, its highest point being only 60 m above sea level. Chennai is trisected by two east-flowing rivers that traverse its width. The Coovum river almost divides the city into half and the Adyar river divides the southern half of the city into two. The historic Buckingham canal runs nearly parallel to the coast almost through the entire length of the city. The city has somewhat ungenerously described as having three seasons - hot, hotter and hottest. (Interactive map of Chennai)
History of Chennai
The region of Chennai was called Tondaimandalm and had its military headquarters at Puzhal, which is now a small and rather insignificant village on the outskirts of the city. Modern Chennai grew out of a small village when in 1639 a fishing hamlet called Madraspatnam was selected by early English merchants of the East India Company as a site for the settlement. Founded in 1639 on land given by the Raja of Chandragiri, the last representative of the Vijayanagar rulers of Hampi. A small fort was built at a fishing settlement in 1644 and a town, which subsequently became to known as George Town, which grew in the area of fort St. George. The settlement was granted its first municipal charter in 1688 by James II. It thus has the oldest municipal corporation in India. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, when the British and French competed for supremacy in India, the city's fortunes waxed and waned. It was briefly occupied by the French on one occasion. It was used by Clive of India as a base for his military expeditions during the Wars of the Carnatic and, during the 19th century, it was the seat of the Chennai Presidency, one of the four divisions of British Imperial India. After independence the city continued to be known by the name Madras until it was officially converted it to Chennai in 1997.
Places of Interest
Fort St. George
It is at Kamarajar Road. It is the first British fort build around 1653 by the British East India Company. It has a 20 feet thick wall. The present structure, a fine example of 17th century British military architecture, was mostly built in 1966. The country's tallest flagstaff is here, thought to be over 300 years old. The 24 black Charnockite pillars are those reclaimed by the British in 1762 of the original 32 which once formed the colonade of the present Secretariat building. Now it houses the Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly.
Lining the east of the city is the famous Marina beach, at Kamarajar Road, 3 Km away from Madras. This is supposed to be the second longest beach in the World and runs to a length of 12 Km. On the beach there is the Anna Park, named after the founder of D.M.K (Dravida Munnetta Kazhakam) Anna Durai and the tomb of M.G. Ramachandran who was a and the charismatic Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. The beach can be ideally visited in the early mornings or in the late evenings when the area becomes a virtual ground; with food stalls and other entertainments.
Government Museum Complex
It is situated in Pantheon road. This is not for its exquisite collection of more than 2000 Indian bronzes and Amaravathi marbles. Three great buildings of architectural value - the Museum Theatre, the extension hall and the Connemara Public Library are in this complex. The present Museum has several sections, four galleries- Hindu gallery, the Amaravathi gallery, the Bronze gallery and the National art gallery constitute the main attractions.
It is at Fort St. George. Museum has 10 rooms displaying the documents of Indian History. The old , coins, padlocks, old prints and palanquins are displayed here. The banquet hall upstairs has a collection of paintings of the governors and officials of the British regime.
St. Mary's Church
The church is at Fort St. George. The oldest masonry church was consecrated in 1680. It has a building with its three arched aisles and bomb-proof roof. The marriage of Governor Elihu Yale (of Yale University fame) was the first to be performed at this church.
St. George's Cathedral
It is at 222 Cathedral road. It is a white colonial church, with a beautiful garden. It is the headquarters of the church of South India. It has a 130 feet spire with its interior very light and airy with stucco walls. The decorated roof and many fascinating tablets and tombs add to beauty of the spire.
Basilica of San thome
This Cathedral is at the end of Kutchery Road, Mylapore. It is believed that the Apostle Saint Thomas lived his last years in South India. This Cathedral was originally built in 1504. It was rebuilt in 1890 with a 180 ft basilica. It is believed that St. Thoma's body was entombed inside this neo-Gothic structure.
It is at Peter's Road, Triplicane. It is one of the oldest temple in Madras, built by Pallavas in the 8th century and rebuilt by the Vijayanagar Kings in 11th century. The temple is dedicated to Krishna, one of the incarnations of Vishnu. It has a coloured gopuram and several shrines with beautiful carvings. There are many stalls selling flowers, puja articles, small idols, musical instruments and jewellery around the temple.
Sri Kapaleswarar Temple
This temple is situated near Kutchery Road, Mylapore. This ancient Siva temple is a delightful introduction to Dravidian temple sculpture and architecture. The magnificent 37 meter tall gopuram is one of the main attraction of this temple. Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the inner courtyard. The outer courtyard has several bronze statues.
Guindy National Park
Anna Zoological Park
The sprawling 1,265 acre Anna Zoological Park is the biggest in South Asia. It contains a superb collection of tropical mammals, birds and reptiles amongst others.
It is at Sardar Vallabbai Patel Road. Visit : Wednesday to Monday from 0830 to 1730.Tuesday holiday. There are more than 40 species of common snakes of India here. The crocodiles, chameleons, monitor lizards and tortoises can also be seen in their natural setting.
Not far from Mamallapuram, 42 km from Madras, this crocodile breeding and research centre is run by Romulus Whittaker. It was set up in 1976. This bank was started to protect India's dwindling crocodile population and to preserve the Irula (Snake catching), tribe's way of life. This bank has already produced more than 6,000 crocodiles. There is also a snake farm where anti - venom is produced. Several species of Indian and African Crocodiles and Alligators bred in captivity are kept here in open pools. The snake venom extractions are a great attraction to the visitors and it help the Irulas (tribe) to maintain their way of life.
The first theme amusement park is Kishkintha near Chennai. Situated 28 Km South of Chennai near Tambaram spread over 110 acres, Kishkintha park offers exciting rides and attractions.
This amusement park is situated at Muttukkadu enroute to Mamallapuram.
DakshinaChitra (Picture of the South)
It is a unique Heritage village situated at Muttukadu on the new Mamallapuram Coastal Road, 20 Km from Chennai. It offers the visitor an unforgettable and authentic insight into the lifestyles of the diverse people of South India. The Arts and Crafts village, Dakshinachitra narrate the story of the South Indian Culture. The Tamil history, language and way of life can be experienced with a guided tour. Architecture of the past 200 years is represented in the real rural setting. Every house is typical of its own professional group. Traders, potters, weavers, and others working in the traditional way make exquisite pottery, baskets, and carved stone items, some of which are for sale. The center is now developed to include the cultural replicas from all four states of South India. The folk and classical dance performances can be seen here.
Built in memory of B.M. Birla, the well known industrialist and visionary, the Planetarium is considered to be the most modern in the country. It is located at Kottur near Anna University.
In Thiruvanmiyur, beyond Elliot's beach, is Kalakshetra or 'Temple of Art'. It was founded in 1936 by Rukmini Devi Arundale to revive interest in Bharatanatyam which is the classical dance form of the state. This institution is run on the ancient gurukulam system. Throughout the year Kalakshetra conducts music recital and dance performances in different parts of Chennai.
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