Fort St. George in Chennai

Chennai, situated on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal is one of the most happening cities in the country. The capital city of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Chennai is all about - colonial past and multicultural present! A typical representative of a metropolitan city, Chennai is booming in multiple terms and is one of the most popular and fastest growing cities of South India. A distinctive hub for regional and international associations and a celebrated cultural, educational, health care and commercial centre - Chennai is undoubtedly the face of Tamil Nadu.
Fort St. George in Chennai

It may sound odd, but every time I visit Chennai, it looks new to me! It would be suitable to say that Chennai is growing on a daily basis. Though, I have visited Chennai on several occasions, professionally and personally, I never had a chance to witness where it all started! Yes, I am talking about the historic face of Chennai. The city has come a really long way, from a humble origin to one of the leading cities in Asia. While, Chennai is the home of several historic monuments, Fort St. George is always special in its own way. The city we see today has actually evolved around the fort!

Must Read: History of Chennai

Plan of Fort St. George

Regrettably, I have no fair enough reason to attach with the fact that I have skipped this monumental structure, every time I visit Chennai. This time around, I was determined to give top priority to the Fort St. George, immerse myself in the history of this glorious city and take back memories to cherish for a life time! It was around 7.00 a.m., in the morning, I landed in front of the Fort St. George. Goodness me, the building looked much bigger than the ones I usually come across in news channels and news papers. Apart from shinning, the sun was kind of testing my patience and gave me a feeling of dehydration already (Chennai's average daily temperature during warm season range from 28°C to 38°C).
Flag Post at Fort St. George

On the other hand, the beautiful birdsong in the area kept me active. As I moved close to the entrance of the fort, it was amazing to see the fluttering Indian flag on top of one of the most grandiloquent flag posts I have ever seen. It was time to face the well uniformed policemen at the security barricade. As I explain the purpose of my visit, the police dog gave me a mini heart attack by sniffing my bag! After metal detectors and security check, I was cleared to get inside the historic building. It was a little moment of accomplishment for me as I got an inch closer to the history of Chennai.

The Fort House (Secretariat Main Building)

Tamil Nadu Secretariat
The historic Fort St. George, formerly known as 'White Town' was founded during the year 1644, as a trading post by the East India Company (EIC). The 370-year-old fine-looking edifice is yesteryear's 'Fort House', today’s 'Tamil Nadu Secretariat Main Building' around which the fortress extended. The fort building looks terrific, colored in pleasant lily-white, supported by several massive pitch-dark pillars.

The three-storied building now houses the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly, the secretariat, offices of the chief minister of the state and other ministers, home ministry, treasury, the chief secretary and so on. Of course, the secretariat building is open only to officialdom and the police. As of now, there are more than 6,000 officials working at the secretariat of Tamil Nadu.

Namakkal Kavingyar Maaligai

Namakkal Kavingyar Maaligai

Inside the Fort St. George complex, there are several other monuments which are not to be missed. Just adjacent to the fort building is a eleven-storied edifice functioning as the power centre of Tamil Nadu state secretariat, called as the Namakkal Kavingyar Maaligai. Established in 1975, the tall building is the sole skyscraper in the fort complex. The maaligai was actually constructed by then ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government to accommodate government offices.

At present, the Namakkal Kavingyar Maaligai accommodates more than 30 government departments and meeting halls. In 2011, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government decided to renovate the Namakkal Kavingyar Maaligai. The building was renovated with installations like new electrical wiring system, modern gym, centralized air conditioner and so on.

St. Mary's Church

St. Mary's Church in Fort St. George in Chennai
Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons R Muthusamy

Since there was no business for me to enter the Secretariat and the Namakkal Kavingyar Maaligai, I was looking for something where I can actually get inside! It was 8 a.m., and looking right across the parade ground, the marvelous, pointy spire of St. Mary’s Church appear inviting. Consecrated on 28th October, 1680, St. Mary's Church in the Fort St. George is the oldest Anglican Church in the country. The church interiors are nothing short of architectural wonders. The church houses an array of souvenirs of men who have served to create Madras history; its not-so-wide yard is paved with gravestones of assorted ages and holding letterings in numerous languages.

The Church also had a register well-kept from the date of consecration. It was interesting to witness the very first entry which shows the wedding of Elihu Yale (Governor of the East India Company colony in Fort St. George) with Catherine Himmers on November 4th, 1680. The other notable entry is that of the famed Robert Clive also known as Clive of India with Margaret Maskelyne, on February 18th, 1753. Altogether, St. Mary's Church with its glistering windowpanes, awe-inspiring murals, teakwood plaques and enthralling structure gave me a glance of brilliance of British architectural styles.

Clive's House

Clive's House
Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons R Muthusamy

Just opposite to the church spire is the Clive's House, which is now the official home of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Clive's House is also known as 'Admiralty House', located in the southwest nook of the fortress that was tenanted by Robert Clive, believably in 1753, for nearly twelvemonths.

During the distinguished time of Edward Clive also known as Lord Clive, the building was primarily utilized for the festivities, till the present-day feasting facility was set up. To sum up, Clive's House is about massive cream pillars embracing magniloquent courses of bluing windows; with its graceful curves and wooden stairways.

Fort Museum

Fort Museum in Chennai

Proceeding further, the Grand Arsenal and the King's Barracks, popularly called as Army area is off-limits. It is 9.30 a.m., and I could see a lot of Tamil Nadu Secretariat officials get in for their routine.
Fort Museum Entrance

By the information I have collected from the World Wide Web, I am fully aware that I am in for a treat now! The most sought after attraction in the Fort St. George, the Fort Museum, which was constructed in 1790 as a 'Public Exchange' by people, who involved in trade (privately)that continued, apart from the trade activities followed through by the company. The edifice then became a dining room for officers in 1861. Subsequently, the building was converted as the Fort Museum in the year 1948.

Inside Fort Museum in Chennai

The objects are exhibited in ten galleries that occupies over three floors. Some of the interesting galleries include:
  • Uniform and Medals Gallery
  • Porcelain Gallery
  • Portrait Gallery
  • Miscellany Gallery
  • Prints and Document Gallery
  • Coin Gallery
  • Indo-French Gallery
  • Wodeyar’s Gallery
  • Madras Gallery
  • Reserve Collection
Weapons Display in Fort Museum

A majestic marble statue of General Charles Cornwallis portrays the two sons of Tippu ceding, welcomes the visitors. The Fort Museum is a depository displaying several items and objects belonging to English people and later British rule. Some of the interesting display objects in the Fort Museum include:
  • Swords
  • Pistols
  • Rifles
  • Bow and Arrow
  • Daggers
  • Mortars
  • Breast Plates
  • Baton
  • Helmets
  • Porcelains
  • Coins
  • Medals
  • Uniforms
  • Canons
  • Church Silverware
  • Manuscripts
  • Statues
  • Oil Paintings
  • Shields
  • Letters, etc.
Fort Museum Painting Galler

Letters penned by Robert Clive and British General Charles Cornwallis are nothing short of an intriguing read.

Quick Facts:

Museum Timings:
09.00 am to 5.00 pm (closed on Friday)

Entrance Fee:
For Indians: Rs. 5
For Others: Rs. 100
(Free entry for children up to 15 years)

Contact Details:
Ms. K Moortheeswari,
Deputy Superintending Archaeologist,
Fort Museum, Archaeological Survey of India,
Fort St. George, Chennai - 600 009,
Tamil Nadu
Phone Number: 044-25671127; 25670854

As I leave, a sense of satisfaction filled my heart. It was indeed a worthy few hours and a fascinating experience of visiting the Fort St. George which is truly a treasure chest of Madras history.

Tidbits:

Location:
Fort St. George
Rajaji Salai, Chennai - 600009

Nearest Airport:
Chennai International Airport (IATA: MAA, ICAO: VOMM) - 21.7 km

Nearest Railway Station:
Chennai Central Railway Station/MAS - 4.1 km

Nearby Places of Interest:
Marina Beach - 3.8 km
Vadapalani Murugan Temple - 11.9 km
Government Museum - 5.5 km
Kapaleeswarar Temple
- 6.6 km

Nearby Places to Stay:
The Raintree Hotel - 9.1 km
The Leela Palace - 8 km
Sheraton Park Hotel and Towers - 9 km
Green Park - 13.6 km

Also Read: Travel and Tourism in Chennai

(As narrated by our freelancer C.R.Santosh Kumar)

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