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Get A Glimpse Of Chennai's History At These Heritage Buildings

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From Dravidian structures to stunning colonial-era buildings, Chennai houses some of the own unique architectural marvels in the city. Come! Let's take a look at some of these heritage buildings in Chennai that add to the beauty of our city and make it what it is. 

Ripon Building

Named after the Governor-General of British India at the time, Lord Ripon, the building was constructed in 1917 and housed the Municipal Corporation of India. Like most of the buildings in the city, even the Ripon Building was built in the Neo-Classical style. And if you’re thinking that you’ve never seen the building before, think again! It’s a gorgeous white building near Chennai Central.

Armenian Church

Considered one of the oldest churches in the country, the Armenian Church in George Town was first constructed in 1712 and then reconstructed in 1722. If you’ve ever been to George Town, you will recognise the church by the tall bell tower! But what you didn’t know is that the church no longer conducts mass and is completely a heritage site now, allowing visitors to walk in between 9 am and 2:30 pm every day. Also, the bell tower is famous because it houses six large bells weighing around 150 kg each! Next time you’re in the area, you know what to do.

Vivekananda House

Originally built as the Ice House where the ice was stored by the British for almost 30 years, it was sold when the business failed and was renovated to become Castle Kernan. But when Swami Vivekananda visited for nine days in 1897, it was renamed and restyled to become a center and a permanent exhibition on Indian Culture as well as Swami Vivekananda’s life. It is absolutely worth a visit whenever you have the time!

Madras High Court Annex

Established in 1862, the Madras High Court was one of the three high courts in the country that was set up by Letters patent (a document issued by a monarch or government granting permission to start a corporation under their name) granted by Queen Victoria. And while the name of the city has changed from Madras to Chennai, the high court still retains the original name of ‘Madras High Court’. You can’t visit the high court and walk through like you’d hope you could but it is still quite a beautiful building to look at. 

Chennai Central

Most of us have travelled through Chennai Central at some point in our lives. It is still one of the best-connected railway stations in the country, with trains leaving every day for different parts of the state as well as to other cities. The 144-year-old building was designed and built by George Harding and came into existence in 1873 after the congestion at the Royapuram Harbor Station.

San Thome Basillica

In the 16th century, the Catholic church built a place of worship over St. Thomas’ tomb, but then in 1893, it was built as a church in a Neo-Gothic style. The church still stands in the same place, over St. Thomas’ tomb and is one of the three known churches in the world to be built over the tomb of one of Jesus’ apostles. It is one of the most iconic churches in Chennai and is a landmark for the Catholic church as well as a popular pilgrimage center in the country.

St. Andrew’s Kirk

St. Andrew’s Kirk was consecrated in 1821 and built for the Scottish community residing in the city during the British rule. Built in the Neo-Classical style, the body of the church is built in a circle with a shallow dome that is painted a deep blue on the inside, with golden stars. What really makes St. Andrews stand out is the beautiful stained-glass windows and of course the large pipe organ that takes up a lot of space at the altar. While the church has mass every day and on the weekends, people are still allowed to walk through and take a look at this beautiful historic church. 

Government Museum

Also known as the Egmore Museum, the Government Museum is the second oldest museum in the country after Kolkata’s Indian Museum. Started in 1851, this place houses one of the world’s most expensive collections of bronze artefacts, most of them originating from the 10th century Chola era. It is also a famous art and culture hub with several theatre performances taking place at its Museum Theatre. It also houses the National Art Gallery and Contemporary Art Gallery.

Fort St George

An English fortress, constructed in the year 1653, Fort St George houses two main historical complexes - St Mary’s Church and the Fort Museum. St Mary’s Church, which was finished in 1680, famously known as the ‘Westminster Abbey of the East’, is the oldest Anglican church in India. The Fort Museum, one of the oldest structures inside the fort, houses some memorabilia from its colonial past like rifles and pistols, mortars, army uniforms and also silverware and porcelains. 

Sri Ramakrishna Math

Constructed in the year 1917, this Math is dedicated to Swami Ramakrishnananda, one of the direct disciples of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Also called the Universal Temple, the architectural style of this structure is a blend of traditional Dravidian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Mughal styles.There is a white marble statue of Sri Ramakrishna seated over a lotus, in the Garbha Mandira, with shrines of Sri Sarda Devi and Swami Vivekananda on either side of this temple. There is also an auditorium dedicated to Swami Ramakrishnananda where satsang are conducted. The central stairway that leads to the temple is also quite magnificent and adds to the beauty of the temple.

St. Thomas Mount Church

Constructed in the year 1523, the St. Thomas Mount Church is located on a hillock near the Chennai airport and commands scenic views of the city.  Dedicated to Mother Mary, this ancient church has served as a lighthouse for the Portuguese and Armenian ships in the 16th and 17th centuries. Built by the Portuguese, this shrine chapel has a beautiful ornamental facade with Italian marble laying and Portuguese styled ancient altar which add to the serenity of the place. The scenic location and antique detailing make the whole experience a breathtaking one. 

Connemara Public Library

Established in 1890, this library is an oasis of centuries old publications. Named after Lord Connemara, the former Governor of Madras, this library was only used for a small deposits of books for its members. Now the library is the home for 600,000 books! The wooden interiors are well detailed with decorative leaves and flowers designs. At present, this library is one of the largest in Asia and one of the four National Depository Libraries in India.

Bharat Insurance Building

If you're looking to witness one of the best examples of Indo-Saracenic architecture, then the Bharat Insurance Building at Mount Road is the place! Constructed at 1897, this is one of the oldest standing structures in Chennai. What was once a busy commercial spot in Madras, this has been deteriorating due to poor maintenance. However, the vintage appearance, with the stained glass panels, domes, spires, arches, verandhas and minarets have led the Madras High Court to be included in the list of heritage buildings that cannot be demolished. 

Rajaji Hall

The RajajI Publich Hall was constructed around 1800 and 1802, by John Goldingham, the first official astronomer of the Madras Observatory. This was built to commemorate the British victory over Tipu Sultan in the 4th Anglo-Mysore war. This public hall hosted various social events and was built in a budget of just two and a half lakh rupees. The design for the hall was inspired from Parthenon, a Greek temple in Athens. The building is enclosed with original, vintage portraits of Anglo-Indian leaders.

Victoria Public Hall

Built around 1880/1890, this public hall next to the Rippon Building, commemorates the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria. The total cost of construction was close to just seventeen thousand rupees! This is one of the finest examples of British architecture in India and one of the oldest, operational structures. The Victoria Public Hall was used for theatrical performances and social events. At present, this hall is home to the South Indian Athletic Association Club.

Royapuram Railway Station

This hidden gem in Chennai, is the first-ever railway station built in South India. The first train of South India started operating from here on June 1856! The train connected Bombay and Thane from Royapuram and this station has been dubbed to be the oldest railway station in subcontinent. Located close to George Town and Chennai Port, this place is a must visit, if you're a history buff in the city!