Gnanapuram is supposed to be the ancient neighbourhood of the city. Founded sometime in 1880 by the spiritual order of Roman Catholic Mission called Francis De Sales, whose first Bishop was Right Reverend Tissot.
What is today the Convent junction and the port dump yard area was owned by the Roman Catholic Mission. The Mission parted with 3,000 acres of its prime land for the development of port infrastructure. Bishop Tissot founded a closely knit spiritual community, whose life revolved around the Roman Catholic Mission, the church, educational institutions, and the economy that prevailed in the 1880 and beyond.
The habitations surrounding the St. Peter’s Cathedral, spread roughly in more than 50 acres of land, were owned by the Mission, which in course of time gifted it to the poor and homeless individuals, particularly to those who embraced the spiritual order, for building houses of their own. The Roman Catholic Mission did a pioneering work on the education front and gave free education to the poor and the illiterate.
Today, Gnanapuram is a hub of educational institutions, with separate high schools — Sacred Heart School for girls and St. Peter’s School for boys — St. Joseph’s College for Women, offering Intermediate and degree courses, apart from a separate B.Ed. college for girls. The Gnanapuram Mission compound also accommodates a destitute home of Missionaries of Charity.
Ludhia, an old time resident, says that they were once a very joyful community with people of the same faith living together and celebrating festivals together.
“Those days we did not have too many desires and we were content with what god gave us, and life was peaceful and the world around us was too small,” she added.
With the passage of time, original residents left the area and settled in distant places, cities, and countries. The Anglo Indian community too lived at one time in the area in considerable numbers.
The original character of the neighbourhood witnessed transformation and people from other communities too made Gnanapuram their home and got integrated with the local climate. Kona Shouri Babu, a reputed figure in karate and godfather to many practising martial arts, hails from Gnanapuram. The fame of the place spread to several Middle East countries with Mr. Babu training GCC security forces and elite commandos. He is also a goodwill ambassador to Israel representing the Christian community. Yandrapu Mariya Das of the community has been representing the local municipal ward since 1968. He also served as VUDA chairman. Prior to 1965, Catholic Fathers also served as ward councillors to avoid political confrontations and divisions among the residents.
D. Rayappa was the first local councillor in 1965. Even today, Gnanapuram is known for its lively celebration of Christmas and Good Friday with hundreds actively participating in cultural shows.
Rakshanagiri, known as Ross Hill, a noted tourist attraction, has life size statues and images depicting the journey of crucifixion, right from the arrest of Jesus Christ to the death and resurrection.