The Connemara Hotel, Madras

1 - Connemara Hotel

The Connemara Hotel today.

The Connemara Hotel was the grande dame of the Madras hospitality scene. Its earliest incarnation was a private residence bought in 1815 by one of the foremost merchants of the city at the time, Mr John Binny. The road on which the hotel sits today – Binny Road – still bears his name.

It was sold and became, first in 1867, the Imperial Hotel and then in 1886, the Albany Hotel, before finally becoming the Connemara Hotel in 1891, when it was sold to yet another major merchant house in Madras – the M/S Spencer & Co.

2 - m057_large

The Connemara Hotel in its heyday in the ’40s and ’50s. Source: The Henslet Photo Library, hosted on The Digital South Asia Gallery, University of Chicago.  http://dsal.uchicago.edu/images/hensley/large.html?id=m057

The hotel was named after Lord Connemara, who was Governor of Madras from 1886 – 1890. The land it stands on had belonged to the Nawab of Arcot (also the Nawab of the Carnatic).  Lord Connemara and the Nawab had been fast friends, and indeed, a portrait of the two gentlemen still hangs today just off the lobby of the Hotel.

3 - Lobby

The Lobby of the Connemara Hotel today.

4 - Portrait

Portrait of the Nawab of Arcot and Lord Connemara.

5 - Vintage Photos

Photos of a bygone past dot the hotel today.

The Hotel as it stands today is an Art Deco building which was completed and re-opened in 1937. It used to stand on the edge of a large grassy plain though unfortunately, much of its front court today has been replaced by a huge thoroughfare and the hotel building abuts its own wall.

Post World War II and after the Indian Republic gained its independence from the British, the hotel management refurbished the premises once more, and invited, as its interior designer, a certain Geoffrey Bawa from Ceylon. The latter, of course, would become the most important architect from Sri Lanka, known for having originated the Tropical Modernism movement in contemporary architecture.

6 - Geoffrey Bawa Staircase

The grand stairway and the wooden panel it leads up to were designed by Geoffrey Bawa, who tried to infuse a kind of tropical/South Indian modernism onto a colonial, Art Deco aesthetic – to mixed results, I must say.

7 - Corridor

Corridor in the historic wing of the hotel.

8 - Garden

Tropical gardens in the courtyard of the historic wing.

The hotel today is managed by the Taj Group and has been renamed Vivanta by Taj – Connemara. It is positioned as a business hotel, and has lost much of its historic grandeur. Nonetheless, a stay within its walls is still a pleasant experience, due to its excellent dining establishments, the wonderfully atmospheric rooms in its historic wing, and the restful environment at its lovely swimming pool.

9 - Bed

The ground floor suites in the historic wing are well-appointed and boast these double-volume ceilings, that in the old days, would have functioned to promote air circulation.

10 - High ceilings

Each ground floor suite has a sitting area which opens out onto the swimming pool.

12 - Pool

The lovely, and extremely restful swimming pool.

13 - Poriyal and Rice

South Indian poriyal, accompanied by papadum. I loved the poriyal, which is a kind of stir-fried vegetable dish with shredded coconut flesh. The main vegetable changes everyday and could be okra, cabbage, mallow gourd, etc. Simple yet absolutely scrumptious!!!

14 - Dinner

The hotel’s other restaurant, The Raintree, serves exquisite South Indian food and looks like it could have also been designed by Geoffrey Bawa. A highlight its its chutney pushcart.

Reference:

  • The Great House on Choultry Plain, a commemorative volume published by Vivanta by Taj Connemara Chennai, and available for purchase at Reception.
15 - Connemara

We take a final glance back at the Vivanta by Taj Connemara Chennai.

Next stop on The Grand Tour III: Pondicherry (Puducherry) 

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Cities & Regions, Culture & Lifestyle, Heritage, India, Landmarks & History, Photography, Sociology & Urban Studies, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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