A forgotten town: Georgetown holds many secrets behind their crumbling building’s facades

George Town is full of dilapidated but historically relevant buildings and architecture

Published: 08th October 2017 10:05 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th October 2017 05:07 PM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: The narrow, forgotten streets of Georgetown hold many secrets behind their crumbling building’s facades, which even the several layers of new paint can’t mask. Many of us know that Georgetown was previously known as Black Town, the settlement outside the fortifications of ‘White Town’, namely the Fort St George.

Black town was where our ancestors lived, traded, built, had cultural concerts. Today, all these valuable markers of heritage and culture are fading fast under the weight of politics, population and ignorance. This Sunday, led by a young group of final year architecture students from Davinci School of Design and Architecture, we unravel a few bits and pieces of forgotten history. Georgetown was the origin for a myriad of religions into Chennai, with churches, temples and was the site for the first synagogue as well, which no longer exists.

Armenian Church

First stop was the 18th century Armenian Church. Our entrance was marked by the ringing of the six heavy bells from the bell tower, the first structure we saw when we entered the gates. Each bell weighed over 150 kg, and was rung every morning and evening to signify opening and closing times, ever since the church was built in 1719.

Binny building

History does wait for those who wish to listen, except if you’re in a hurry to forget. The Binnys building, once a landmark for textile business, now lay in ruins, demolished and broken two weeks ago. It served as the administrative building of the Binny textiles business. The old plaque, ‘Armenian Street’ stays attached to its’ exterior wall.

Gokhale hall

Built by Annie Besant and named as the Young Men’s Indian Association (YMIA), this structure housed indoor sports to encourage more men in sports. It later became the location for many freedom struggle discussions. Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru were some of the speakers at this place

Krishna temple

One of the oldest Krishna temples in the city, the distinct feature of this is the 15 feet tall granite stone stambha. The stambha is usually in metal in most temples. In temple architecture, the stambha is the first point of construction, used as the point of measurements for the rest of the Temple’s proportions

South India house

A noticeable feature among all buildings was the chamfered or the corner, a characteristic meant to avoid sharp street edges. The South India house was initially a residence, and is now a centre for trade and commerce.

Kachaleswarar temple

Most of the temples in Georgetown are built by the Dubach, derived from the word ‘Dobash’, meaning people who know two languages, Tamil and English. The Dubach were considered prominent people, above the rest. The Kachaleswarar temple was built by Kalavai Chetty.

Sudharshan Building

Sudharshan Building, built as a hospital, and still is one, is run by the third generation of doctors. The ground floor is rented out for commercial shops, while the first floor is a clinic and the second, the residences.

Mallikeswarar temple

Located on Lingi Chetti Street, the temple has a mandapam in the front for cultural congregation, and was built by Berry Chettiar, another Dubach.

Kalikambal temple

Kamadeeswarar and Kalikambal the main deities. Built in 1678, the temple has been visited by dignitaries across time periods ­­—such as Mathura King Shivaji, who came in disguise during a period
of hiding, as shown in a portrait within the temple.  The fierce image of the idol have been torn down over the years.

St Mary’s co cathedral

A few blocks away from this church is the St Mary’s co cathedral, which greeted us with Sunday morning prayer. Built over 400 years ago, the church also houses the St Mary’s Anglo Indian school, the oldest school in India. The church was the site of cultural performances by eminent musicians like MS Subbulakshmi, KP Kaligambhal, making us realise how, most events today are held in the south of the city.

Rangoon madam

Coral Merchant Street was occupied by merchants of the Jewish community, who traded in gems and diamonds. This street housed several ‘sathirams’ or ‘madams’, three of which stand today. The Rangoon madam is being used for institutional purposes. The other two, ‘Chettiyar madam’ and ‘Chinna madam’ still function as places for stay by visitors.

Theru mandapam

Houses the famous Thiruvottiyur theru which is taken in a huge procession once every year, from here to Thiruvottiyur.

Stay up to date on all the latest Travel news with The New Indian Express App. Download now
(Get the news that matters from New Indian Express on WhatsApp. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow the instructions after that.)


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the newindianexpress.com editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on newindianexpress.com are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of newindianexpress.com or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. newindianexpress.com reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

facebook twitter whatsapp