Chennai (Madras), offers pre-colonial highlights including the Kapaleeswarar Temple and the 9-12th century Chola bronzes displayed in the Government Museum as well as a number of churches, cathedrals and chapels. From Chennai one can also visit the huge bas reliefs and stunning shore temples of Mahabalipuram, some 60km away. Chennai was founded in 1639, when Francis Day and Andrew Cogan of the British East India Company built a small fort on the banks of the Cooum River and called it Fort St George. Today, a stroll along the great sweep of Marina Beach reveals a city dotted with churches and temples amid the trappings of a modern city. St Mary’s Church within the Fort is the oldest Anglican church in Asia and people of all faiths flock to the San Thome Cathedral. It is said to have been built on the site of a chapel built by St Thomas the Apostle, the first Christian missionary in India.
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Visit the Government Museum and Art Gallery, with its excellent collection of bronzes, and Fort St George, which was built by the East India Company in 1640 and is now used by the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly.The Kapalesswarar temple is the largest temple in Madras while the Museum of Southern Indian Building Design at Dakshinachitra is set on a 4-hectare site overlooking the Bay of Bengal. This centre comprises four sections, which represent the distinct cultures of the southern states of India. This is achieved through authentic reconstructions of traditional architecture, demonstrations by artisans at work, exhibitions and workshops, programmes by performing artists, an archive, a craft shop and a restaurant, which offers regional fare.
The Golden City of Temples
Kanchipuram, or 'the Golden City of Temples' is one of the most picturesque and important centres of Hindu worship in India. The town is considered to be one of India's Seven Sacred Cities and is second only in its holiness to the great city of Varanasi on the Ganges. Between the sixth and eighth centuries AD, Kanchipuram functioned as the capital of the southern Pallava Empire and it is from this period, and that of the Chola Empire, that many of the imposing temples date. Among the most important buildings are the Kalasanathar, Varadaraja, Permumal and Ekambareshwarar temples. Kanchipuram is also noted as a centre of silk manufacture and is reputed to make some of the finest sarees in India.
Unesco heritage site of Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram is a small seaside village that was once the main port of the Pallava dynasty from the fifth to ninth centuries. Its exquisite rock-cut temples, or rathas, are some of the finest in India and have been declared a world heritage site by Unesco. In the village centre is an immense frieze carved in the first century AD, which is 12 metres high and 28 metres long. It recounts the Mahabharata episode of Arjuna's penance. The hillside is scattered with eight temple porches with bold sculptures inside. There is also one surviving shore temple, built in the first century. A row of Nandi Bulls surround its walls. Mahabalipuram also has an excellent open-air museum where you can watch stonemasons at work.
Walking tour of Mylapore
Mylapore, a town that predates Chennai by at least 2,000 years, is widely considered the hub from which the rest of the city grew. It has kept alive many traditions and arts that Chennai is so well known for. The Peacock Trail is essentially a walk through Mylapore, garnished with a pinch of culture, a spot of history, and a few sights, and served up with a bundle of stories about local life and beliefs, some amusing, some baffling, and some that help you make sense of the sights around you. This walk will provide a greater understanding of the symbolism and history behind everyday life here.
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