It’s 7 a.m., early for a Sunday morning, and a serpentine queue has formed outside the security booth in Fort St. George.
Sacrificing their Sunday lie-in and brunch and braving the sun, more than 80 persons turned up for the heritage walk through Fort St. George for Madras Week.
“It's from here that the city of Madras was born,” said Vincent D’ Souza, guiding the enthusiastic group through the Fort, which now houses the State’s seat of power and the legislative council.
The walk, which lasted two hours, provided the participants with interesting and informative glimpses into the history of the fort, which was completed in 1664. Built by the British East India Company to start a trading centre in the country, the Fort soon saw weavers and traders (predominantly of Telugu origin) settling in George Town, later renamed as Black Town.
The group was then led to the present military parade ground, which was once the centre of the town within the Fort. Surrounding the parade ground are buildings which housed administrative departments of the East India Company that are now under the Indian Army. “You have to be a little romantic in order to imagine the Fort in all its glory,” Mr. D’ Souza says, but it’s a tall order when confronted with the sight of a now defunct moat in to which sewer water gushes.
Although the Archaeological Survey of India is in charge of the upkeep and protection of this historical fort, one cannot help but notice the numerous buildings which are gradually falling into ruin.
While Clive’s House is well maintained and the group was allowed to walk through the sprawling erstwhile residence, Wellesley’s residence, dilapidated with creepers sprouting out of every available cranny, paints a picture of sheer neglect. Leading the group into St. Mary’s Church, Mr. D’ Souza pointed out that, thanks to the unique architecture, the church was bomb-proof. Built in 1680, it is speculated this may have been the first Anglican church in the country. Among all the participants, one group, comprising alumni of the College of Engineering, Guindy, was particularly enthusiastic.
“Our college started from this Fort and shifted to Chepauk before moving into the present address at Guindy,” said K.S. Babai, an alumnus. “It is sad that we can’t pinpoint its location,” she said.
As the walk nears its end at the doorstep of the Fort Museum, the group was weary but uncomplaining. “I didn’t mind waking up so early for the walk. It was worth it,” said Akshaya Menon, one of the participants, perhaps speaking for everyone.
Chennai Central at The Hindu celebrates Madras Week
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