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What To See In Chennai Fort St George


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Bobbye Puryear



Welcome to Fort St George, a historically significant landmark located in the heart of Chennai, India. This iconic fort holds a special place in the rich tapestry of the city’s history and offers visitors a glimpse into the glorious past of Chennai.


Originally built by the British East India Company in 1644, Fort St George is considered one of the oldest surviving forts in India. It served as the first territorial acquisition of the East India Company on the Coromandel Coast, establishing their presence in the region. Over the centuries, it witnessed numerous historical events and played a pivotal role in shaping the destiny of Chennai and India as a whole.


With its well-preserved architecture and fascinating exhibits, Fort St George showcases the colonial-era charm that still lingers in Chennai. Stepping through the imposing gates, visitors are transported back in time, immersing themselves in the captivating stories and heritage of this legendary fort.


Today, Fort St George is not just a historical site but also a bustling hub of various administrative offices, including the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, the Secretariat, and the offices of the Governor and Chief Minister. It is a testimony to how the fort has seamlessly merged its rich past with the present, remaining an integral part of the city’s cultural and administrative landscape.


As you explore Fort St George, you will be mesmerized by its architectural grandeur, serene atmosphere, and the palpable sense of history that envelops the surroundings. Soak in the captivating beauty of the fort, marvel at its majestic structures, and delve into the fascinating tales that lie within its walls.


In the next sections, we will delve deeper into the history of Fort St George, explore its various buildings, and discover the remarkable experiences that await you in this remarkable historical site.


History of Fort St George

The history of Fort St George is intertwined with the colonial expansion of the British East India Company in India. The fort was originally built in 1644 as a trading post and was named after England’s patron saint, St George. It served as a strategic stronghold for the British as they established their presence and expanded their trading activities on the Coromandel Coast.


Fort St George played a significant role in the Anglo-French rivalry, with the British and French East India companies vying for supremacy in the region. It witnessed several skirmishes and battles, including the Battle of Madras in 1746, where the fort was ultimately conquered by the French. However, the British regained control of the fort in 1749 through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.


During British rule, Fort St George became the administrative headquarters of the Madras Presidency. It served as a base for political, commercial, and military operations. The fort witnessed several important events, including the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1755) and the Carnatic Wars, which shaped the political and territorial landscape of South India.


Fort St George also played a significant role in the Indian independence movement. It served as the center of various protests, meetings, and gatherings led by Indian nationalists against British rule. The Indian National Congress held its annual sessions in the fort in the early 20th century, with prominent leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru addressing the masses.


Over the years, the fort has undergone various expansions and renovations. It is now home to numerous historical buildings and monuments that reflect its colonial past. Today, Fort St George stands as a symbol of Chennai’s heritage and the enduring influence of British colonialism in the region.


Visiting Fort St George offers a unique opportunity to delve into the captivating history of Chennai and gain insights into the colonial era. The fort’s rich past, combined with its captivating architecture and historical significance, makes it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and curious travelers alike.


Fort Buildings

The Fort St George complex is home to several impressive buildings that showcase the architectural beauty of the colonial era. Each building carries its own historical significance, offering visitors a deeper understanding of the fort’s past. Let’s explore some of the notable buildings within the fort:


1. The Secretariat: This grand structure houses the administrative offices of the Tamil Nadu government. It stands on the original spot where the British East India Company’s council chamber once stood. The Secretariat building is a blend of neoclassical and Indo-Saracenic architectural styles, reflecting the influence of both British and Indian design elements.


2. Fort House: Located near the entrance of the fort, Fort House is the residence of the Governor of Tamil Nadu. Its elegant design features a combination of colonial and vernacular architecture, exuding a regal charm. The building offers a glimpse into the political and administrative affairs of the state.


3. Assembly Hall: Nestled within the fort complex, the Assembly Hall is where the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly meets. The building showcases a blend of classical and modern architectural styles, with its grand façade and ornate interiors. It serves as a space for lawmakers to discuss and debate matters of importance.


4. High Court: Within the confines of Fort St George lies the Madras High Court, one of the oldest functioning high courts in India. The beautiful red-brick building with its iconic dome is a visual treat. It represents the legacy of the British legal system and has witnessed numerous historic judgments.


5. Fort Museum: Housed in an 18th-century building within the fort, the Fort Museum offers a captivating glimpse into Chennai’s colonial past. It houses a collection of artifacts, including weaponry, uniforms, paintings, and documents dating back to the British era. The museum provides a comprehensive overview of the region’s history and the role of the fort in shaping it.


6. St. Mary’s Church: Situated within the fort complex, St. Mary’s Church is the oldest Anglican church in India. Built-in 1680, it exhibits a simple yet elegant design with beautiful stained glass windows and wooden pews. The church holds historical significance and houses several tombs, including that of Elihu Yale, the benefactor of Yale University.


Exploring these magnificent buildings within Fort St George takes you on a journey through time, allowing you to witness the architectural splendor and sense the historical importance of each structure. The juxtaposition of colonial and traditional elements creates a unique atmosphere that is both awe-inspiring and educational.


Flagstaff House

Flagstaff House, located within the premises of Fort St George, is a historically significant building that holds great architectural and historical value. Originally constructed in 1795, it served as the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in India.


The building derives its name from the flagstaff that stood atop it, displaying the British flag as a symbol of their military presence. The flagstaff was a crucial tool for communication and was used to relay messages to ships in the harbor and other parts of the city.


Flagstaff House showcases a unique blend of Palladian and Indo-Saracenic architectural styles. The design incorporates elements like colonnades, arches, and pillars, reflecting the influence of both British and Indian architectural traditions. The attention to detail and the intricate craftsmanship make it a remarkable structure to behold.


During its heyday, Flagstaff House was a hub of activity, hosting high-ranked British military officials and dignitaries. The expansive gardens surrounding the house added to its charm, providing a serene and tranquil atmosphere away from the bustling city. The building served as a setting for important ceremonies, formal receptions, and social gatherings.


Today, Flagstaff House has been repurposed into a museum, known as the Flagstaff House Museum of the Archaeological Survey of India. The museum displays a fascinating collection of artifacts and exhibits that depict the history and cultural heritage of Chennai and the surrounding region.


Visitors to Flagstaff House can explore the various galleries, filled with ancient sculptures, pottery, coins, and other archaeological finds. The exhibits provide insights into the rich cultural traditions and archaeological discoveries in Tamil Nadu.


One of the highlights of the museum is the pre-historic antiquities section, which showcases artifacts dating back thousands of years. Visitors can marvel at tools, weapons, pottery, and jewelry that offer a glimpse into the lives of the early inhabitants of the region.


The museum also houses a collection of colonial-era paintings, photographs, and documents, providing a historical perspective on the fort and its significance in Chennai’s history.


Whether you are a history enthusiast, a culture aficionado, or simply curious about the past, a visit to Flagstaff House and the accompanying museum offers a captivating experience. Immerse yourself in the rich history of Chennai and appreciate the architectural beauty of this remarkable building.


St. Mary’s Church

Located within the Fort St George complex, St. Mary’s Church is a historic and revered Anglican church that holds immense religious and historical significance. Built in 1680, it is considered one of the oldest functioning churches in India and stands as a testament to Chennai’s colonial past.


The architecture of St. Mary’s Church is a beautiful blend of Gothic and British colonial styles. The church features striking stained glass windows, intricate woodwork, and a classic nave and chancel arrangement. The simplicity of its design exudes a sense of tranquility and reverence.


Inside the church, visitors can marvel at the historical artifacts and religious relics on display. The church houses several memorial tablets and cenotaphs dedicated to British soldiers and notable personalities who served in India.


One of the most significant attractions of St. Mary’s Church is the tomb of Elihu Yale, the benefactor of Yale University. Yale served as the Governor of Madras (now Chennai) and his tomb is a reminder of the close links between Chennai and the prestigious American university.


The church also boasts an impressive pipe organ that adds to the solemnity of the worship services. The melodious notes resonate through the hall, further enhancing the spiritual experience for worshippers and visitors alike.


St. Mary’s Church played a pivotal role in the development of the Anglican faith in India. It served as a place of worship and spiritual solace for the British and European settlers during the colonial era.


Over the years, the church has witnessed numerous historical events and has been a witness to the changing times. It served as a backdrop for significant social and political gatherings, including meetings of the Indian National Congress during the freedom struggle.


Today, St. Mary’s Church continues to hold regular worship services and is frequented by both locals and tourists seeking solace and a connection with history. The serene ambiance, beautiful architecture, and rich historical associations make it a must-visit destination within the Fort St George complex.


Visiting St. Mary’s Church is not only an opportunity to admire the aesthetic beauty of the structure but also a chance to reflect on the intertwining of religion, history, and culture. The church stands as a symbol of Chennai’s colonial heritage and is a testament to the enduring presence of the Anglican faith in India.


Fort Museum

The Fort Museum, housed within the historic walls of Fort St George, is a treasure trove of artifacts and exhibits that offer a fascinating glimpse into the colonial past of Chennai. Established in 1851, the museum showcases a rich collection of items that highlight the cultural, social, and political history of the region.


As you step into the museum, you are greeted by a remarkable array of exhibits that depict the various aspects of Chennai’s colonial heritage. The galleries are meticulously curated, providing a chronological journey through time, starting from the early days of British colonization.


One of the standout exhibits is the weaponry section, which showcases a wide range of arms and ammunition used during the colonial era. From swords and muskets to cannons and rifles, the collection represents the military prowess of the time and offers insights into the strategies and technologies employed by the British forces.


The museum also houses a collection of uniforms worn by British officers and soldiers, showcasing the evolving fashion trends and styles of the period. These well-preserved garments provide a visual testament to the colonial era’s distinctive clothing and offer a glimpse into the lives of those who served in the British East India Company.


Another highlight of the museum is the numismatics section, which displays a fascinating collection of coins, including ancient Indian coins, British colonial coins, and rare currency notes. This section offers a unique opportunity to explore the economic history of the region and understand the intricacies of the monetary systems that prevailed during different periods.


The Fort Museum also houses a remarkable collection of paintings and portraits that provide a visual narrative of Chennai’s history. These artworks depict important figures, key events, and significant landmarks, giving visitors a deeper appreciation of the city’s past.


In addition to exhibits related to the colonial era, the museum also features sections dedicated to archaeology, geology, and anthropology. Visitors can explore a range of archaeological finds, including ancient pottery, sculptures, and artifacts that shed light on the prehistoric and early historic periods in the region.


The Fort Museum serves as a repository of historical documents, maps, and records that offer valuable insights into the political and administrative history of Chennai. Scholars and researchers often delve into these archives to study the socio-economic developments and governance structures of the time.


A visit to the Fort Museum is an enriching experience that allows you to immerse yourself in Chennai’s colonial heritage. The well-curated exhibits, informative displays, and interactive sections make it a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts, students, and curious travelers.


Exploring the Fort Museum within the confines of Fort St George offers a deeper understanding of Chennai’s past and its significance as a hub of colonial influence and historical transformations.


Wellesley House

Wellesley House, located within the fort complex of Fort St George, is a historic building that holds great significance in Chennai’s colonial history. Built-in the early 18th century, it was the residence of the British Governor of Madras during the British Raj.


The house is named after Richard Wellesley, the Governor-General of India from 1798 to 1805, who played a crucial role in expanding British territories in India. Wellesley House stands as a testament to the British colonial presence in India and the political influence they exerted.


The architecture of Wellesley House showcases a blend of British and Indian design elements. Its grand facade, adorned with colonnades, arches, and intricate detailing, reflects the neoclassical architectural style popular during the time. The building’s majestic presence imparts a sense of grandeur and prestige.


Wellesley House served as the residence of British Governors and high-ranking officials for many decades. Within its walls, policy decisions, administrative affairs, and social gatherings shaped the course of Chennai’s history. The house witnessed many pivotal moments, including the signing of important treaties, the meeting of royals and dignitaries, and the plotting of colonial strategies.


Today, Wellesley House continues to carry its historical legacy and significance. While entry to the house itself may be restricted, its remarkable exterior and prominent location within the fort complex make it a prominent sight to behold during a visit to Fort St George.


Surrounded by well-manicured gardens and ancient trees, Wellesley House creates a striking visual contrast against the backdrop of the fort’s historical structures. Its well-preserved architecture and historical associations contribute to the overall charm and allure of Fort St George.


Exploring the vicinity of Wellesley House allows visitors to immerse themselves in history and appreciate the architectural marvels of the colonial era. The house stands as a testament to the power dynamics and cultural exchange between the British and Indian communities during the time of British rule in India.


A visit to Wellesley House provides a glimpse into the lifestyle and influence of the British Governors who resided within its walls. It is a reminder of the legacy left behind by the British colonial presence in Chennai and the impact they had on shaping the city’s history and identity.


While Wellesley House may be a silent witness to numerous historical events, its prominence and historical significance make it an essential stopover for history enthusiasts and those interested in understanding Chennai’s colonial heritage.


Parade Square

Parade Square, located within the sprawling grounds of Fort St George, is a historical and captivating space that holds great significance in Chennai’s colonial past. This vast open square serves as a gathering place and a venue for military parades, ceremonies, and important events.


The Parade Square reflects the disciplined and regimented nature of the British military presence in India during the colonial era. It was a place where troops would assemble, march, and demonstrate their military prowess. The square was meticulously designed to accommodate large numbers of soldiers and provide ample space for drills and training.


The Parade Square witnessed numerous significant events and ceremonies that shaped the history of Chennai. Military parades and reviews, flag-raising ceremonies, and important announcements took place in this vast open space. It served as a symbol of British power and authority, showcasing the might of the East India Company’s forces.


Over time, the Parade Square evolved into a multifunctional space, serving both military and civilian purposes. It hosted public gatherings, political rallies, and cultural events, becoming a hub of social activity and civic engagement. The square witnessed historical figures, such as Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the Indian independence movement, addressing the masses and igniting the spirit of nationalism.


Today, the Parade Square retains its historical charm and continues to be a significant part of the Fort St George complex. The well-preserved architecture, including the tall flagstaff and the surrounding colonial buildings, adds to the square’s ambiance and its connection to Chennai’s colonial past.


Visitors to the Parade Square can experience the grandeur and significance of this historical space. The open expanse offers a tranquil setting amidst the bustling fort, allowing visitors to appreciate the scale of the square and imagine the military drills and ceremonies that once took place there.


Surrounded by iconic buildings like St. Mary’s Church, Flagstaff House, and the Secretariat, the Parade Square provides a picturesque backdrop for photographs and a sense of immersion into Chennai’s rich history.


Exploring the Parade Square offers a unique opportunity to connect with the legacy of the British colonial era, witness the transformation of historical events, and appreciate the architectural beauty of the surrounding colonial buildings. It serves as a reminder of Chennai’s colonial past and the role Fort St George played in shaping the city’s identity.


Whether it is to reflect on the historical significance, soak in the serenity of the surroundings, or simply take a leisurely stroll, the Parade Square is a must-visit destination within Fort St George for history enthusiasts, architecture lovers, and anyone seeking to experience the captivating allure of Chennai’s colonial heritage.


Shopping at Fort St George

Fort St George is not just a historical site but also offers a unique shopping experience that blends tradition and colonial charm. Within the fort complex, visitors can explore a range of shops and markets that showcase the rich cultural heritage of Chennai and offer a variety of local products and souvenirs.


One of the key shopping destinations is the Government Art Emporium, located within the fort’s premises. Here, you can find a wide selection of traditional handicrafts, including intricate woodwork, stone carvings, and brassware. These handmade pieces showcase the skilled craftsmanship and artistic traditions of Tamil Nadu, making them ideal for those seeking a unique piece of art to take home.


Another popular shopping spot is the Khadi Gramodyog Bhavan, which promotes the use of traditional khadi fabric made from natural fibers. This store offers a range of khadi garments such as sarees, shirts, and scarves, as well as handspun and handwoven textiles. By purchasing khadi products, you not only support the local artisans but also contribute to the preservation of India’s heritage.


For those interested in books and publications, the Higginbotham’s Bookstore is a must-visit. Established in 1844, it is one of Chennai’s oldest bookstores and offers a wide collection of books on various subjects. Whether you’re looking for classic novels, historical accounts, or academic publications, Higginbotham’s is a treasure trove for book lovers.


In addition to these specialized shops, Fort St George also hosts regular bazaars and markets where local vendors set up stalls to sell their merchandise. These markets offer a diverse range of products, including textiles, accessories, jewelry, spices, and handicrafts. It’s a great opportunity to interact with local artisans, bargain for unique items, and immerse yourself in the bustling atmosphere of a traditional Indian market.


Shopping at Fort St George enables visitors to support local artisans and businesses while also taking home a piece of Chennai’s cultural heritage. It provides an authentic shopping experience that goes beyond generic souvenirs and allows you to connect with the city’s rich traditions and craftsmanship.


As you stroll through the shops and markets, take the time to appreciate the stories behind the products and the passion of the artisans. Engage in conversations, learn about the techniques used to create the items, and gain a deeper understanding of the cultural significance of the products.


Whether you’re searching for a unique piece of art, traditional clothing, or a memento to commemorate your visit, shopping at Fort St George offers a delightful blend of history, culture, and retail therapy. It’s an experience that celebrates the vibrant and diverse heritage of Chennai while supporting local communities and artisans.



Fort St George stands as a testament to Chennai’s rich history and the enduring influence of British colonialism in India. This iconic landmark offers a captivating journey through time, allowing visitors to delve into the city’s colonial past and immerse themselves in its cultural heritage.


From the historical buildings and museums to the serene Parade Square and charming shops, Fort St George offers a diverse range of experiences. The architectural grandeur, well-preserved artifacts, and captivating stories that unfold within its walls provide a deep appreciation for Chennai’s vibrant past.


Exploring the fort allows visitors to understand the political, social, and economic transformations that took place during the colonial era. It offers valuable insights into the dynamics between the British East India Company and the local populace, as well as the contributions made by various historical figures.


Whether you are a history enthusiast, an art lover, or simply a curious traveler, Fort St George has something to offer. It provides an opportunity to witness the architectural splendor, discover fascinating artifacts, and gain a deeper understanding of Chennai’s cultural roots.


Moreover, the fort’s location in the heart of the city makes it easily accessible, allowing visitors to explore other nearby attractions and experience the vibrant blend of traditional and modern facets that characterize Chennai.


As you journey through Fort St George, let your imagination be transported to a time when the fort was a thriving center of trade, politics, and military might. Imagine the bustling streets, the colonial-era events, and the profound impact it had on the destiny of Chennai and India as a whole.


In conclusion, a visit to Fort St George offers not only a historical and cultural experience but also a chance to appreciate the resilience and enduring spirit of Chennai. It is a place where the past and present converge, creating a unique tapestry that defines the city’s identity. So, step inside the fort, embrace its rich heritage, and embark on a captivating journey into Chennai’s colonial past.