Long before Madras came into existence, Mylapore, south of the Marina, was a major settlement; the Greek geographer Ptolemy mentioned it in the second century AD as a thriving port. During the Pallava period (fifth to ninth centuries) it was second only to Mamallapuram.

An important stop on the St Thomas pilgrimage trail, San Thomé Cathedral marks the eastern boundary of Mylapore, lying close to the sea at the southern end of the Marina on San Thome High Road. Although the present neo-Gothic structure dates from 1896, it stands on the site of two earlier churches built over the tomb of St Thomas; his relics are kept inside, accessed by an underground passage from the museum at the rear of the courtyard.

The large Kapalishvara temple sits just under 1km west of the San Thomé cathedral off RK Mutt Road. Seventh-century Tamil poet-saints sang its praises, but the present structure, dedicated to Shiva, probably dates from the sixteenth century. The huge (40m) gopura towering above the main east entrance, plastered in stucco figures, was added in 1906. Surrounding an assortment of busy shrines, where priests offer blessings for devotees and non-Hindus alike, the courtyard features an old tree where a small shrine to Shiva’s consort, Parvati, shows her in the form of a peahen (mayil) worshipping a lingam.

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