On your next trip to Tamil Nadu, visit these iconic colonial marvels from yesteryears and be dumbfounded to discover the slice of history behind their long existence
Tamil Nadu is adorned with many architectural wonders of great importance, built in a range of architectural designs from Gothic, Neo-Classical, Victorian, Neo-Gothic, to Swiss-styled chalets. Make sure you add them to your bucket-list, as you head out to explore the architecturally rich state of Tamil Nadu this season.
Fernhills Royale Palace, Ooty
Located in over 50 acres of lush green estate sits the Fernhills Royale Palace, the erstwhile summer residence of the Mysore Maharaja built in 1844 by Capt. F Cotton. The palace resembles a Swiss Chalet, with carved wooden bargeboards and ornamental cast iron giving it that peculiar look. The palace grounds appear characteristic to Swiss Alps region, with large manicured gardens, dense woods and terraced tea gardens. Situated in the Nilgiri Hills of Ooty, the palace is undeniably charming and popular among holidaymakers, honeymooners, and film units.
The palace nowadays serves as a heritage hotel offering 19 suites that bask in sky lit corridor, overlooking stylised lawns fringed by large, sprawling plantations of cardamom and tea, and eucalyptus forests, from the glass-encased verandas. The palace is decked with Victorian era furniture and colonial furnishings that still exude the same charm that it once did, like those big chandeliers radiating golden light, teakwood panelling, bay windows, dressing rooms, a magnificent ballroom with a highly valued ornamental paper mache ceiling and other attractive interiors with a blend of gothic, regency and neo-classical renaissance architecture.
Santhome Basilica, Chennai
Constructed in the Neo-Gothic style, the Santhome Basilica, in Chennai, traces its history back to the days when church architecture was primarily inspired from old Victorian cathedrals. Both exteriors and interiors bear elaborate details, like pointed windows with decorative tracery, geometrical design and pinnacles, ornate stained glass windows to let in ample light within the dark interiors of the church, and the ornamental confession box.
The colossal nave of the church is covered in coffee brown ceiling with elegant chandeliers, which is an iconic feature of Gothic architecture. The stained glass windows depict the lives of St Thomas and other apostles of Jesus Christ. The tall and slender towers impart a sense of height to the entire structure. Clearly, the white, spotless structure is indeed imposing and brings a sense of reverence to the eyes of the beholder.
Higginbothams Bookshop, Chennai
Established in 1844, the Higginbothams Bookshop is the face of Mount Road in Chennai. It is the oldest surviving bookstore in India and has seen a long list of who’s who from around the world visiting its premises during its long and chequered history. It seems like a lot of thinking was done before the bookshop was built, like a high ceiling with sloping roof was built for proper air circulation to protect the books from dampness and mustiness, while the windows were kept to minimum to prevent dust from the then unmetalled Mount Road.
The Italian marble chequered flooring, in black and white, lends the bookshop a proper feel and warmth. The majestic wooden staircase leading to the second floor adds the old world charm. There’s also an antique grandfather clock at the foot of the staircase, possibly kept for visitors to remind them of the times gone by. The bookstore still features old style high ceiling fans and lamps, all remnants from its glorious past. The 175-year-old bookstore ably embodies the passion for books as its founder, Abel Joshua Higginbotham.
A perfect example of Neo Classical architecture, Ripon Building was built in 1913 and houses the Chennai Municipal Corporation. The beautiful, three-storey building, with Westminster Quarter chiming clock as its main attraction, is built in a smooth blend of Gothic, Corinthian and Ionic architecture. The chiming clock used to ring in every quarter of an hour, just like the Big Ben in London. The insides of building feature a wealth of woodwork, stained glass, and parquet ceiling.
Designed by Government Architect GST Harris and completed by JR Coats, the building is built around two courtyards spanning three floors separated by a grand staircase. The rectangular facade of the building is a series of composite columns and pilasters that support the arches on the ground and first floors and rectangular openings on the top-most floor. The capitals in the columns are elaborately decorated with bunches of grapes, vines, and other forms of prosperity.