As the location of the first British settlement in India and the capital of Tamil Nadu, Chennai (formerly known as Madras) is peppered with religious monuments. Hindu temples and Christian churches showcase the unique heritage, architecture, and religious traditions of South India. Here are our top picks of temples and churches in Chennai.
Forty-five miles (72 kilometers) southwest of Chennai, Kanchipuram is known as the City of 1,000 Temples, though only about 120 remain standing today. Kanchipuram’s complex of ancient temples spans a wide range of dates and dynasties, making it an interesting place to see how South Indian architecture evolved over time.
One of Chennai’s most emblematic sacred structures, this Dravidian-style temple in the district of Mylapore is said to have stood here since the 7th century, though the current complex is a 16th-century reconstruction built after the Portuguese demolished the original. Its gopuram (gateway tower) is typical of the Dravidian style, with every available inch magnificently decorated with painted sculptures and carvings.
Thirty-one miles (50 kilometers) south of Chennai, Mahabalipuram was an important port for the Pallava kingdom, and its collection of 7th- and 8th-century temples is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the city’s standout sacred structures are the intricately carved 8th-century Shore Temple and the monolithic Five Rathas, each of which was carved from a single rock.
San Thome Basilica
Built by the British in 1893 to replace an older Portuguese church on the site, this all-white neo-Gothic basilica is—according to Catholic lore—built atop the spot where St. Thomas, one of Jesus Christ’s apostles, is buried.
St. Mary’s Church
Located on the grounds of Fort St. George, St. Mary’s Church is Asia’s oldest remaining Anglican church and the oldest masonry building within the 17th-century fortress. While the building itself isn’t as impressive as San Thome Basilica, the small cemetery with its collection of 18th-century tombstones makes for a relaxing stroll. Keep an eye out for the gravestone of Elizabeth Baker, thought to be the oldest British tombstone in India.