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Birth of a metro

Early days: Fort St. George. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Chennai was known as Madraspatnam and was located in Tondaimandalam, sandwiched between Pennar river in Nellore and Cuddalore. This area had been ruled over by the Chola, Pallava, Pandiya and Vijaynagar empires. The rulers of the Vijaynagar Empire appointed chieftains called Nayaks to rule various regions of the province independently.

Early expansions

The year 1522 marked the arrival of the Portuguese, who built a port called Sao Tome after St. Thomas. The Dutch arrived in 1612 and established their base in Pulicat, north of Chennai.

In 1639, when the British East India Company sought to set up a factory, Damarla Venkatadri Nayaka, who was in charge of Madras, gave the British a piece of land. What was given to the British was essentially a piece of waste land, on which they built Fort St. George, a settlement of British factory workers, merchants and other British residents. They also built a factory and a warehouse required for their trading purposes.

Out of the fort, grew settlements and eventually the villages around it were brought together. Subsequently, the old and new towns linked up to form the city. The Portuguese and the Dutch too gradually joined the settlement.

According to a treaty signed with the Nayaks, the British and other Europeans were allowed to paint the outside of their buildings only white. Only Europeans were allowed to live in what became known as “White Town”. With trade being chiefly operated and controlled by the East India Company, non-British merchants signed an agreement with the British to settle on East India Company land near White Town.

But with more Indians arriving, an area known as “Black Town” was set up nearby for them. It’s this combination of White Town and Black town that gave rise to Madras. Even today, Fort St. George plays an important role. It is home to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly and the office of the Chief Minister.

Today, Chennai is the capital of Tamil Nadu and the cosmopolitan, commercial, cultural, economic and educational hub in south India.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 9:29:41 AM |

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