Memorial Hall was built in 1860 and designed in a Classical Greek style. It commemorates South India evading the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. Its facades were white Madras chunam – what was also used on the facades of many colonial-era buildings in Singapore.
This second part of our leisurely wander through Old Madras (today’s Chennai), takes us down three major thoroughfares in the city – Poonamallee High Road, Mount Road (and the suburb of Egmore), and South Beach Road along the Marina.
These roads play host to Old Madras’ largest colonial-era civic, cultural, educational and commercial buildings and institutions, most of these built later, in the 1800s and 1900s, when the city once again outgrew its boundaries and needed to expand westwards and southwards along the coast.
Many of the majestic colonial edifices on these thoroughfares still stand, though the roads themselves have become somewhat difficult to traverse on account of the traffic, save South Beach Road by the sea, which, then and now, makes for the most beautiful and restful promenade in the city.
Poonamallee High Road
Poonamallee High Road (today’s Periyar EVR Salai) – the city’s longest road – was built to link Fort St George to a British military installation some 23 kilometers west of the city.
Along the road, towards its Eastern end, sit the city’s most impressive civic institutions, including the Ripon Building (which was the seat of Government), the Victoria Public Hall (the city’s Town Hall), the Central Train Station and Moore Market (razed in the mid 1900s).
Our walk takes us from Memorial Hall westward to St Andrew’s Kirk.
The Southern Railway Headquarters were built in 1922 in an eclectic Neoclassical-Dravidian style.
Madras Central Railway Station opened in 1873. The main building was designed by George Harding in a Gothic Revival style, with the central tower designed by Robert Chisholm.
Siddique Sarai (1921), which sits opposite Madras Central Station, was built by a wealthy Muslim merchant to provide accommodation for Muslim travellers. The whole area around Poonamallee was and is still home to a sizeable Muslim community.
Victoria Public Hall was designed by Robert Chisholm in a Romanesque style. Opened in 1887, it is one of two buildings built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (the other being the National Art Gallery in the Government Museum complex, Egmore).
The Neoclassical Ripon Building houses the Corporation of Madras. It was built in 1913 and named after Lord Ripon, Viceroy of India 1880 – 1884.
Residences on Sydenham Road, by the Ripon Building. Unfortunately, many of these have either been torn down, or have lost their distinctive wooden balconies.
St Andrew’s Kirk was completed in 1821. Designed in a Palladian style, it recalls the Church of St Martin’s in the Field in London.
Mount Road and Egmore
After Poonamallee High Road, the second longest road in the city is Mount Road (today’s Anna Salai), which links Fort St George to St Thomas Mount, towards the south-eastern edges of the city of Madras.
This was the commercial heart of the city in its heyday – the Regent and Oxford Streets of Madras, with fashionable boutiques and departmental stores standing alongside headquarters of banking and insurance institutions.
Our walk takes us from Rajaji Hall in the east, southwest to St George’s Cathedral. We take a detour, crossing the Cooum River to the suburb of Egmore, to end off in the grounds of the Government Museum Complex, Egmore.
The former Banquet Hall, today known as Rajaji Hall, was built in 1802 to commemorate British victory over Tippu Sultan. It is designed in a Neoclassical style.
P. Orr & Sons Building, on Mount Road, was designed by Robert Chisholm and completed in 1873. Then and today, it is a showroom for P. Orr & Sons, manufacturer of clocks and watches.
This Art Deco building houses Curzon & Co., furniture makers since 1898. The building was completed in 1910.
The former Kardyl Building (today’s Bharat Insurance) opened in 1897 and is one of the most spectacular buildings on Mount Road.
Higginbothams is one of the oldest bookshops not only in Madras, but in India. This flagship store was opened in 1904. The interior is also delightfully period in ambience.
Next door to Higginbothams is Poompuhar, built in the late 1800s.
Gove Building opened in 1916 and was designed in a Victorian exposed brick style.
The Mail occupies a building which dates from 1921.
Nearby is India Silk House, built in the early 1900s.
Christ Church (1852), on Mount Road, is built in a Palladian style.
Lawrence & Mayo, early 1900s. Note the wooden balcony.
State Bank of India, early 1900s.
Agurchand Mansion, late 1800s.
The Thousand Lights Mosque Complex includes this unique circular Assembly Hall. It was built in the early 1800s by the Nawabs of the Carnatic.
St George’s Cathedral was built in 1816. Its surfaced are finished with Madras chunam.
The Tamil Nadu Archives, in Egmore, was built in 1909.
Egmore Railway Station was designed by Henry Irwin in the Indo-Saracenic style and built in 1908.
The Freemason’s Hall in Egmore was built in 1924 in a Neoclassical style.
The Madras Museum Complex (today known as Government Museum) houses many structures. This is the Museum Theatre, built in the late 1800s in an Italianate style.
The former Victoria Memorial Hall was designed by Henry Irwin in a Mughal-Rajput style and opened in 1909. It was built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Today it sits in the Government Museum complex and houses the National Art Gallery.
South Beach Road and the Marina
South Beach Road (today’s Kamarajar Salai) and the Marina stretches some 4 km in length from the Cenotaph to the All-India Radio Building in the South. Along this stretch of road sit various monumental, Indo-Saracenic structures that had been designed by the most important architect of colonial Madras: Robert Chisholm.
Here too sits the Chepauk Palace, once the residence of the Nawabs of the Carnatic. Their lands and titles were absorbed by the British in the 1800s and the palace itself was similarly absorbed and taken over by the University.
Our walk takes us south from the Cenotaph to Queen Mary’s College for women.
The Cenotaph, on South Beach Road.
Madras University, with its iconic clock-tower, was built in 1913.
The Senate House, which sits within the campus of Madras University, was designed by Robert Chisholm, and is probably his finest creation. It was completed in 1879 and designed in an Indo-Saracenic-Byzantine style.
Waterfront-facing apartments on South Beach Road.
The Chepauk Palace complex (1768), absorbed within the campus of Madras University, was once the residence of the Nawabs of the Carnatic. This particular tower, inspired by Gujarati architecture, was designed by Robert Chisholm and built in 1871.
The Public Works Department (1865) was designed by Robert Chisholm in an Indo-Saracenic style.
Presidency College (1870) was also designed by Robert Chisholm in an Italianate style.
Just off South Beach Road is the neighborhood of Triplicane, which plays host to the Muslim community that migrated here with the Nawabs of the Carnatic. The Wallajah Mosque was built in 1795 by the Nawab Wallajah (hence the name). It continues to serve the religious needs of the community here.
The former University Examination Hall was built in 1935 in an Art Deco style. Today it houses the Oriental Research Institute.
View of the Marina – this is a long stretch of beach and coastline. It is immensely popular with families.
The Ice House was built in 1842 and was used to store ice imported from America. Today it is used by the Vivekananda Institute.
Queen Mary’s College was founded in 1914 and was earlier known as the Madras College for Women.
- K. Kalpana and Frank Schiffer, 2003. Madras – The Architectural Heritage. An INTACH Guide. Chennai: INTACH. This is an EXCELLENT and INDISPENSABLE resource and I couldn’t have done the city without this.
- S. Muthiah, 2008. Madras Rediscovered. Chennai: Westland Limited.
We end our tour with a backward glance at the Museum Theatre, at the Madras Museum Complex, Egmore.