Chennai (formerly Madras, map), is the capital of the southern Indian state of *Tamil Nadu. It is the oldest city corporation of India, established in 1688—the second oldest in the world after London.
Though Chennai traces its history to *Fort St George (map) and adjoining village of Madrasapatnam founded by the British East India Company in 1640, some residential districts of the city are older.
In 1996, the Tamil Nadu government changed the name of the city from Madras – the name adopted during British rule – to Chennai, which it says is the original name of the city.
With the history of many neighbourhoods of the city such as *Mylapore (map), *Triplicane (map), and *Tiruvanmiyur (map) antedating that of the city itself, the architecture of Chennai ranges in a wide chronology. The oldest buildings in the city dates from the 7th and 8th centuries CE, which include the *Kapaleeshwarar Temple (map) and the *Parthasarathy Temple (map), built in the Dravidian architecture.
For centuries, Chennai has been the gateway to Southern India, with a vastly different culture from the other big cities of the country. Tamil culture and tradition at its core celebrates beauty.
Chennai has an extremely hot and humid climate—especially in the month of May, and has heavy rains during monsoons (July to November). The worst of the heat can be avoided by visiting from November to February.
The East Coast Road, also known as the New Mahabalipuram Road, leads south from Chennai to Pondicherry (map) and beyond. One of India’s most famous temple towns is 60 km (about 40 miles) along it and definitely worth a visit.
*Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram has many temples, mostly built during the Pallava Dynasty (275-897CE), including several on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The town is also famous for stone carving, and has schools that train most of India’s carvers. Carvings and other handicrafts are sold all over town.