The region around Chennai has greeted several cultures in its history – from Dutch and Portuguese merchants to British colonialists. And over the centuries, these cultures have left their signatures on the city, both culturally and architecturally. Most notable among these are the number of historical forts near Chennai, each representing a portion of the region’s intriguing history. Here are some of the must-visit forts near the city that offer a window into history.
The Dutch fort town of Sadras is without a doubt one of the most historically intriguing places to visit around Chennai, primarily because it serves as a window to the city’s lesser-known Dutch heritage. Built to be the centre of Dutch trade in the Coromandel, the fort features high encircling walls that surround a once well-functioning town replete with a granary, stables and various other important structures. While the fort fell into disrepair in the 19th century, recent efforts from the Archaeological Survey of India, along with the help of Dutch patronage, have helped the fort become an important historical attraction in the city. Of particular note is the cemetery within the fort compound, which features several beautifully engraved tombstones of Dutch colonialists and traders who died here between 1620 and 1769.
Located in the small town of Gingee in Tamil Nadu’s Villupuram district, nearly 150 kilometres from Chennai, the Gingee Fort is a true marvel of the region’s military architecture. Its foundations were first built as early as in the 8th century by the Konar Kings of Tamil Nadu and remained under the control of the Chola kings for a few centuries as a minor fort. It was the Vijayanagara Kingdom and their feudatories, the Gingee Nayaks, that set about improving the existing fort into the present grand structure. Featuring high walls and ramparts, the fort has often been dubbed nigh impregnable, earning it the name ‘Troy of the East’. A unique feature of this fort is that the construction makes use of three surrounding hills by building intermittent encircling walls, giving the fort a natural defence. Today, the fort serves as a shining reminder of the military might of South India’s Vijayanagara Dynasty.
This scenic seaside fort is located between Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry and is one of the only forts along Tamil Nadu’s northern coastline that doesn’t have a colonial origin. Originally constructed during the Mughal-era, the fort was under the control of Nawab of Arcot, before falling into the hands of the French as a result of the Carnatic Wars. The fort, although in ruins now, is a popular attraction in the region primarily for its scenic views of the Bay of Bengal. The backwaters surrounding the fort are also popular for activities such as boating and paddleboarding.