Jane Jacobs Heritage Walk: North Chennai, India

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I happened to go to the Jane Jacobs Heritage walk today that involved us covering a few famous buildings & monuments in North Chennai, India. This walk was organized by Urban Design Collective. Actually, I was born and brought up here and lived in this part of the city, during the first five years of my life. Thereupon, since our grandmother’s house was close to Broadway (Metro station), we used to visit this place quite frequently. I still remember the cycle-rickshaws we hired, back then. I was surprised to see a couple of them even now!!

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As you can guess, I have some wonderful childhood memories associated with this place. But over the last decade and a half, I have (almost) not visited this part of the town at all! All our relatives moved to other parts of the city and each of us live far away from here.

Since I was too young when I used to visit North Chennai, I had no idea about the history and importance of the place, in the making of Chennai. I knew that the harbour and fort are situated here, but I did not know that some of the first residents of Chennai happened to be located here. I did not know that this part of the city was the epicenter of the economic activities in the city, until a few decades back. As I went for this walk, now I know better πŸ™‚

The two photos shown above were taken right opposite the beach (electric-train) station. I am visiting this station for the first time!

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The part of the city we went around today, was called the ‘black town’, because Indians who worked in the Fort-complex (during British period) lived here. It seems all the streets in the small lanes surrounded by the main roads were designed in a grid-pattern. Many old buildings have survived until today and the above two photos show two such buildings.

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The park shown above is called ‘Maadi poonga’ and it is an important site because the only remnant of the large boundary wall constructed surrounding the town (during the initial years of the British period) can be found here. It seems, once the British defeated Tippu Sultan, they no longer thought that the wall was necessary and it has been demolished over the years. Thanks to the efforts of Chennai Corporation, this small patch has been converted into a park and is being preserved!

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The building you see on the right is a very old building belonging to Binny group of industries, which was one of the two companies that supplied oil to the city. It seems they have since moved on to other businesses, but the house with pillars has survived.

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Have a look at the style of windows constructed in the buildings of those days! There are so many houses/buildings with such fancy windows and other aspects/styles that one can see and relish even today, in this part of the city.Β Don’t you think that when compared to the old architecture style (which had a lot of taste and style), our new style of architecture is rather bland? Look at the carvings, pillars, designs, colours, anything. They are very much unique and exquisite.

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The above picture was taken inside the Armenian Church, which is a rare sect among Christians. It seems, only two Armenian families are present in present-day Chennai. The Church is open for public viewing and I have taken some more pictures inside this Church, which I will share in a separate post. This Church was constructed in 1712 and the language on plaques inside, were undecipherable for us!

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The buildings shown above are a part of the majestic buildings that decorate the NSC Bose Road, today. The building on the right (Dare House) is now owned by EID Parry (Murugappa Group), but it once belonged to an Englishman who played a very important role in building the city.

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Doesn’t the above building remind you of the Madras High Court? This is the SBI regional office building, not the High Court! Despite getting so close to High Court, I was not able to take photos of the majestic monument.

Did you know that the Madras High Court once served as the Supreme Court of India (under British rule)? Did you know that the first operational (though experimental) rail-line in India was actually built in Chennai between St. Thomas Mount and Redhills? Did you know that there was an active Tram network (rail line that goes in the middle of the road) that went across the City?

You can learn all that and more, if you participate in one of the Jane Jacobs walk! πŸ™‚

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23 Replies to “Jane Jacobs Heritage Walk: North Chennai, India”

  1. The buildings in the photographs don’t seem to look like Chennai’s at all. in fact, it looks as if they belong to some other city! I’ve never been to this part of Chennai. Looks good. How did you manage the walk in the sun, though?

    Nice read.

    Joy always,
    Susan

    1. This part of Chennai has contrasting styles and ambiance, all next to one another. While most of the buildings pictured here are from the main roads, the interior roads have cramped small houses adjacent to each other.

      I managed the sun, but my legs are still paining!! πŸ™‚

      Destination Infinity

  2. I am not aware of this part of Chennai. Looks like foreign country. Especially because of deserted streets and park. Angles of photo are excellent. Santosh Sivan !!
    I am more familiar with T Nagar type of Chennai. Shops, eateries, bus stops and all.
    Most of my uncles have become old. I am not close with the next generation. So Chennai now is as good as any other city.

    1. Actually, these photographs show selective places only. The places beyond these main roads are similar to T.Nagar/other places in Chennai. North Chennai is a very dense area, but I did not take photos in the smaller streets that we walked in.

      Destination Infinity

    1. Heritage walks are organized in many cities, just join one of them in Delhi. I am sure you’ll like it, if you have an interest in our history and heritage.

      Destination Infinity

  3. Nice photos. With all these beautiful building/places to see in North Chennai, I don’t know why South Chennai gets all the publicity/popularity. My personal opinion. I could be wrong.

    1. Yes, the epicenter of the city has long moved to South Chennai and with the introduction of CMBT and Market, a bit towards West Chennai as well. I guess the popularity of Mount Road along with migration of elite Tamil population towards the other side had a big role to play in this.

      Destination Infinity

  4. I have never been to this part of the city. I have heard that it has got many heritage buildings. But the Binny buldg. road looks like a British town. We can’t see such a broad road with no people anywhere here!

    Adyar times also conducts heritage walks often. I feel like going but for us women, cooking an feeding others never stops. If other members of the family also join, we can all go together and have fun.

    Thanks for introducing North Chennai. I had a bad opinion about this part of Chennai. As SG says, everybody pampers South Chennai. North Chennai is famous for rowdyism too…may be it stops the development.

    1. Yes, North Chennai is quite cramped, unlike what is shown here. Only a few photos from the walk have been selectively shown in this article. But then, we can appreciate what is left over and try to preserve these buildings. Heritage walk in Adyar seems interesing, let me see if I get more details…

      Destination Infinity

    1. Yes, the main roads and the heritage buildings on the main roads are being maintained well. But there were many old buildings and other buildings that were not in good shape, but I did not click them all πŸ™‚

      Destination Infinity

  5. I have passed these buildings only rarely and haven’t got to look at their marvelous details. You really got good shots and detail on them. I never know madras HC has served as SC!

    1. I think we need to know our history, we all (including me) seem to know so less of it! There are many more wonderful buildings on this stretch…

      Destination Infinity

  6. I enjoyed reading this. Most of the pictures you uploaded have a British Architecture to them, as many Victorian buildings (including my house/home) have extremely similar features and designs. My house was constructed 1880 and I love the style, character and robustness of it.

    1. Your house is a heritage building, then. You are lucky to have been born and brought up there πŸ™‚ I am sure Victorian architecture had a huge influence on these buildings of the British-era.

      Destination Infinity

  7. Good God! Really, I never knew North Chennai as much either…The buildings are beautiful. I do know that there was a tram system in Madras years back…Good to see such nice initiatives are taken to keep the city up with lots of gardens..

    1. You should see the movie, ‘Madrasapattinam’. Its a wonderful portrayal of the Pre-Independence era Chennai. I liked the movie.

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  8. Interesting. I wonder if they have something like this in Bangalore too. Would love to learn more about all the old buildings. I have been to Chennai few times in the past but don’t remember seeing these buildings.

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