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The capital city of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Chennai (also known as Madras), is located on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal and is known as the ‘Detroit of India’. The city of Chennai is the biggest industrial and commercial centre in South India including the flourishing automobile industry, which makes it the second financial hub in India, after Mumbai. The city has been an important administrative, military, and economic centre for many centuries and is rich in cultural, economic and educational resources.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) discovered Stone Age tools, utensils and other pieces of equipments near Pallavaram in Chennai, which was a megalithic cultural establishment where pre-historic communities resided. The areas of Mahabalipuram and Pallavaram were built by Pallavas of Kanchi during the reign of Mahendravarman I, who defeated several kingdoms including the Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. The Cholas ruled the region of present Tamil Nadu and parts of South India from the 1st-12th century. The ancient coins dating around 500 BC and findings belonging to Vijayanagara Empire, which ruled the region during the medieval period, have also been unearthed from the city its surrounding areas.

The city houses São Tomé (San Thome Basilica), a Roman Catholic Church. It was built in the 16th Century by Portuguese explorers over the tomb of St. Thomas, Christian apostle of Jesus. It was rebuilt in the 1893 as a church with the status of a Cathedral by the British, which stands even today.

Eventually, the Dutch established themselves near Pulicat, north of Chennai in 1612 and thereafter, a small piece of land, stretching 3 miles, on the Coromandel Coast was bought by the British East India Company on 22nd August 1639, which is referred to as Madras Day. The region was known as “Madraspatnam”, which was then a fishing village. The British got the Licence to build a fort and a castle in the contracted region and a year later, Fort St. George was built, which was the first major British settlement in India and the colonial city and urban Chennai, grew around this Fort. However, in 1764, the French captured Fort St. George and Madras, under General La Bourdonnais, Governor of Mauritius who robbed the town and its outlying villages.

Through the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, the British regained the control of Fort St. George and Madras and strengthened the fortress wall to survive attacks in future from the French, who again attempted the siege of the Fort in 1759, under the leadership of Wyre Coote, which was defended by the British. Thereafter, in 1769, the city was attacked by Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore. The war ended with the defeat of the British and signing of Treaty of Madras.

Gradually, the region around Tamil Nadu and the northern modern-day states of Andhra Pradesh was again conquered by the British by late 18th Century. Thereafter, the Madras Presidency was established with Madras as its capital. The city of Madras grew into a major naval base and became the central administrative centre for the British in South India.

The introduction of railways in India in the 19th Centrury augmented the connectivity of Madras with major cities such as Bombay and Calcutta. This helped in flourishing the trading activities in and around the city of Madras. The development of modern agriculture, industry, railways, education, the arts and more democratic government was witnessed during the tenure of Sir Arthur Lawley, who was Governor of Madras from 1906 to 1911 and who used to reside in the Fort St. George, which was being used as the residence of the Governor during this time.

Sir Arthur Lawley inaugurated the Santhome Church, originally built by the Portuguese in 1523 and is believed to house the remains of the apostle St. Thomas, was rebuilt in 1893 in neo-Gothic style. The other Gothis style buildings also included the Chennai Central and Chennai Egmore Railway Stations.

Sir Lawley also inaugurated the National Art Gallery in Madras on 23rd January 1909. This magnificent building with a stunning facade, built of pink sandstone from Sathyavedu formed part of the Madras Museum campus and is called the Victoria Memorial Hall after the Queen-Empress Victoria.

The city of Madras houses an assortment of phenomenal historical buildings built over the years dating back to as old as the 7th and 8th Century CE, including the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in Mylapore and the Parthasarathy Temple in Triplicane, built in the Dravidian architecture. This architecture includes various styles, such as those of the Pallavas, the Cholas, and the Vijayanagara empires. The associated Agraharam architecture, which consists of traditional row houses surrounding a temple, can still be seen in these areas. The heritage temples at Mamallapuram at the outskirts of the city are some of the examples of the Pallava architecture.

With the advent of the Mughals and the British, the city saw a rise in a blend of Hindu, Islamic and Gothic revival styles, resulting in the distinct Indo-Saracenic style.

The Chepauk Palace in the city is the first Indo-Saracenic building in India designed by Paul Benfield. Since then, many of the colonial-era buildings in the city were designed in this style of architecture, which is most apparent around the Fort St. George built in 1640. Most of these were designed by English architects Robert Fellowes Chisholm and Henry Irwin. The best examples of this style include the Madras High Court (built in 1892), Southern Railway headquarters, Ripon Building, Government Museum, Senate House of the University of Madras, Amir Mahal, Bharat Insurance Building, Victoria Public Hall and the College of Engineering.

The Triumph of Labour, also known as the Labour statue, is a statue at the Marina Beach, Chennai, India. Erected at the northern end of the beach at the Anna Square opposite University of Madras, it is an important landmark of Chennai. The statue, sculpted by Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhry, shows four men toiling to move a rock, depicting the hard work of the labouring class.

From 1930s onwards, many buildings in George Town were built in this style, including the United India building (presently housing LIC) and the Burma Shell building (presently the Chennai House), both built in the 1930s, and the Dare House, built in 1940. Other examples include the Bombay Mutual building (presently housing LIC) and the South Indian Chamber of Commerce building.

India gained Independence in 1947 and the city became the capital of Madras State, which was renamed as Tamil Nadu in 1969. Post independence the fort housed the Tamil Nadu Assembly until the new Secretariat building was opened in 2010. But shortly afterwards it was again moved back to Fort St. George, due to a change in the Government.

After Independence, the city witnessed a rise in the Modernism style of architecture.

The completion of the LIC Building in 1959, the tallest building in the country at that time, marked the transition from lime-and-brick construction to concrete columns in the region. The presence of the weather radar at the Chennai Port, however, prohibited the construction of buildings taller than 60 m around a radius of 10 km. In addition, the floor-area ratio (FAR) in the central business district is also 1.5, much less than that of smaller cities of the country. This resulted in the city expanding horizontally, unlike other metropolitan cities where vertical growth is prominent. On the contrary, the peripheral regions, especially on the southern and south-western sides, are experiencing vertical growth with the construction of buildings up to 50 floors.