Fort St George is quite unlike any other fort in India. Facing the sea amid state offices, it looks more like a complex of well-maintained colonial mansions than a fort. Many of its buildings are today used as offices and are a hive of activity during the week.
The fort was the first structure of Madras town and the first territorial possession of the British in India. Construction began in 1640 but most of the original buildings were damaged during French sieges replaced later that century. The most imposing structure is the slate-grey-and-white eighteenth-century colonnaded Fort House.
The modestly proportioned Exchange Building houses the excellent Fort Museum. The collection within faithfully records the central events of the British occupation of Madras with portraits, regimental flags, weapons, East India Company coins, medals, stamps and thick woollen uniforms that make you wonder how the Raj survived as long as it did. The first floor is now an art gallery, where portraits of prim officials and their wives sit side by side with fine sketches of the British embarking at Chennai in aristocratic finery, attended by Indians in loincloths. Also on display are etchings by the famous artist Thomas Daniell, whose work largely defined British perceptions of India at the end of the eighteenth century.