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Chennai

Stretching along India’s south eastern Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal, Chennai (formerly Madras) is the fourth largest city in India and the state capital of Tamil Nadu.

It is said that the city was founded as a trading post by Francis Day, administrator of the East India Company, in 1639, which means it is the oldest of three coastal cities of British India (Calcutta, Bombay and Madras). Madras quickly became the most important of the British settlements in India, and South Asia’s leading sea port. As the first British settlement in India, Chennai has a fine legacy of colonial architecture, displaying influences from the classicism of the 18th century to the eclectic Anglo-Indian School of the late 19th century. Classic sights include Fort St. George, the Indo-Saracenic High Court building, the Theosophical Society building and gardens, the 16th century Kapaleeswarar Temple to Shiva, and on the outskirts of the city, the Cholamandal Artists' Village.

Francis Day was responsible for building the British settlement at Fort St. George in 1640, a walled settlement built to protect the blossoming British colony which included the European residential area, known at the time as White Town, and important trading activity. The city began to grow and evolve around the fortress. Today much of the fort is in use by the government, security forces and other official buildings, however it is worth visiting St. Mary’s Church and the Fort Museum, which houses a fine collection of porcelain formerly belonging to the East India Company and an enormous statue of Lord Cornwallis among the exhibits. St. Mary’s Church is the oldest building in the fort, and thought to be the oldest protestant church in Asia. The plain façade and simple interior design are typical of the era, however the unusually thick walls were built to withstand shelling and cyclones – all of which adds to the history of the building.

The city was officially known as Madras until 1996 when it adapted the of Tamil literary name of the city, Chennai, although the name Madras is still in widely used. Today Chennai is one of the biggest cultural, economic and educational centres in South India, and cars, buses and auto-rickshaws jostle noisily for space and the population is booming as it embraces the 21st century. There are direct international flights from London, and other major cities in India, meaning that it is the perfect spot to start or end an itinerary, or indeed to add southern India to other India itineraries. Chennai is also the gateway to the Andaman Islands, with direct flights to Port Blair. There are a number of luxury hotels in Chennai, but our top recommendations would be Chennai’s Grande Dame, the ITC Grand Chola, and the ultra-exclusive Leela Palace.

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