Chennai’s rich history has paved the way for its distinct architectural style. From stunning Dravidian structures to the stately colonial-era buildings, the city has its own unique Indo-Saracenic architectural style. Take a look at some of these grand structures steeped in history.
Madras High Court
Built in 1892 in the Indo-Saracenic style, the Madras High Court has remained to this day one of the most distinct structures in the country. Housing the most courts in all of Asia, it also has two dysfunctional lighthouses inside its complex. The Madras High Court also survived a World War II bombing by a German warship, SMS Emden.
Once known as Madras Central Railway Station, the Chennai Central Railway Station, built in the year 1873, takes inspiration from both Gothic and Romanesque styles of architecture. Situated on what used to be an open garden owned by John Pereira, a Portuguese merchant, this building, with its big clock tower and brick red façade, is often portrayed in movies, on postcards, etc. The clock tower reaches a height of 136 feet (41.5 meters) and also has Travancore-styled caps. Always bustling with activity, the railway station is a must-visit place when you’re in the city.
The Government Museum, or Egmore Museum, is the second oldest museum in the country, after Kolkata’s famed Indian Museum. It houses the National Art Gallery, Children’s Museum and Contemporary Art Gallery, in addition to a few others, and due to its location in the Pantheon complex, it boasts different architectural styles. As for its collections, this museum has one of the world’s richest collections of bronze artefacts, most of which are the remnants of the 10th-12th-century Cholas. The museum also has some fascinating displays, including a sensor-enabled dinosaur, manuscripts, and paintings by Raja Ravi Varma.
Also known as Town Hall, Victoria Public Hall is the work of Robert Chisholm, an architect who has designed some of the city’s finest structures. Built in the Romanesque style in 1887 to honour Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, this hall later hosted many unique events, even screening the first cinema show in the city. The Trevelyan Fountain, in front of the hall, is a beautiful structure built to honour the contribution of Charles Trevelyan, the then-Governor of Madras from 1859 to 1860.
This English fortress, finished in the year 1653, is now maintained and administered by the Archaeological Survey of India and currently functions as administrative headquarters for the legislative assembly of the state of Tamil Nadu. The Fort St George has two main complexes, St Mary’s Church and the Fort Museum. St Mary’s Church, finished in 1680, is the oldest Anglican church in India. Some of its tombstones are the oldest in the country, and the church is famously known as the ‘Westminster Abbey of the East’. The Fort Museum, one of the oldest structures inside the fort, houses a few pieces of memorabilia from its colonial past.
This fine neoclassical building, located close to Central Railway Station, now serves as the headquarters of the Chennai Corporation. Constructed by Loganatha Mudaliar, the building houses the most iconic Westminster Quarter chiming clock. Built in honour of Lord Ripon, this imposing white structure is a beauty in itself and a must-visit place for its colonial elegance.
Established in 1850 by surgeon Alexander Hunter, the Government College of Fine Arts and Crafts was once called Madras School of Art. It is one of the oldest art colleges in the country, preceding Kolkata Arts College. While the structure is simple, the art and sculptures inside the campus are anything but plain. Today, it still functions as an arts college, producing several successful artists like K. C. S. Paniker and Kanayi Kunjiraman.
Another one of Robert Chisholm’s creations, the Senate House, on the University of Madras campus, is still one of the finest examples of the Indo-Saracenic architectural style. The beautiful structure, with huge windows and massive pillars, is truly a sight to behold and serves as a venue for several meetings and events in the city.