The Government Egmore Museum, located in the centre of Chennai, is an architectural marvel of the city. It is one of India’s oldest museums, built about 173 years ago. Its breathtaking view which one can see while on the Egmore Bridge, showcases its grandeur and marvel of its design. The museum stands as a testimony to the city’s rich architectural history with distinguishing features of the museum at display such as the ornately decorated domes, intricately carved columns and voluminous high ceiling galleries symbolise the fusion of Indian, Islamic and European influences making it a witness of the diverse cultural heritage of Chennai city and its urban character.

The Egmore Museum, Chennai-Sheet1
Top view of the museum_©

Origin Of The Museum

Tamil Nadu is the cradle of the civilisation of the world. Significant architectural marvels in the state speak of its rich cultural heritage like the shore temple. The Government Museum, located in Egmore, is one such. The Madras Literary Society, an extension of the Asiatic Society of London, started its campaign to start a Museum of Economic Geology in Madras to understand the natural resources and cultural heritage of the Madras region.

In January 1851, the East India Company went ahead with the offer of having the Madras Central Museum at the College of Fort St.George, Nungambakkam. The buildings there were in a battered state, because of which it was shifted to another structure. In December 1854 the museum had been shifted to a building named Pantheon (public rooms or the assembly rooms) This was the locality where the elite of the city met. The museum was named the “Pantheon Museum”. The road on which the museum existed also came to be known as the Pantheon Road. Many structures were added to the complex later on. The Pantheon remains the only surviving core of the old museum.

The Egmore Museum, Chenna2
The museum complex by Willie Burke, c. 1905_©

Historical Significance Of The Museum

The Egmore Museum has played a pivotal role throughout history and even at present in fostering diverse cultural activities and events. The museum complex was built to preserve artefacts and create an awareness of the culture of the region. In the past, the museum served as a point for the social elite to meet and socialise, enjoy plays at the museum theatre, and indulge in knowledge with the artefacts. The museum has witnessed different periods of British colonialism, Independence, Urbanisation and Globalisation standing as an entity reminding of the city’s glorious past. It remains an entity with a character trying to bridge the gap between the old and modern at present by upgrading its way of use to society now.

The Egmore Museum, Chenna3

Design Features Of The Museum:

The Museum was designed by the British architect Henry-Irwin, and built by Namberumal Chetty. The museum’s splendour and magnificence reflect the architectural trends of the past during British rule. Its overall design reflects Indo-Saracenic style and a blend of Mughal, Hindu and European influences. It is a complex built on 16.25 acres of land, housing 6 buildings and 46 galleries. Each of its galleries is categorised into various sections which include archaeology, anthropology, numismatics, botany, zoology and a variety of sculptures.

The museum complex accommodates 6 buildings with its main galleries namely I) the Hindu Sculpture Gallery II) the Bronze Gallery III) the Amaravathi Gallery IV) the National Art Gallery. Despite the numerous galleries, its categorisation helps ease the navigation within the museum while viewing the displays. 

The Egmore Museum, Chenna4

Public Library & The Museum Theatre

Among the additions to the old museum, is the Connemara Public Library which is said to be the core of the existing museum with its stained-glass windows and ornate woodwork. The museum also holds a Classical Italian-style theatre, built for theatrical performances with a capacity of more than 600 seats. In the past, this theatre was used for the English play’s performances, enjoyed by the elite society of the British era. This theatre is now used for cultural and academic programs such as lectures, workshops and conferences.

The Egmore Museum, Chenna5

Structure & Building Materials

The structure was built with pink and red sandstone, with marble flooring, madras roofing, and an imposing doorway like the “Buland Darwaza ” at Fatehpur-Sikri. The walls and columns of the museum are intricately designed with floral motifs. The decorative features in the interiors of the museum give a sense of royal touches making it look exquisite.

The Egmore Museum, Chenna6

Impact Of The Museum On The City’s Urban Fabric

Its location at the centre of the city makes it a focal point that binds the modern and historical features of the place. The museum continues to serve as a platform for intellectual discourse as numerous events for community engagements, workshops, exhibitions, scholarly research, case- studies for students, and school visits occur. The museum has served as a point of facilitating for scholars, artists, historians, archaeologists, and also the general public into the glorious past of the Madras Presidency. It has a deep cultural impact on the city’s urban population binding them with a sense of identity and allure of the place. The Egmore Museum has stood the testimony of time, in the preservation of history and also in accepting the modern to continue its function, making it a timeless piece of architecture for the city.

The Egmore Museum, Chenna7



Fariya is a budding Designer & Writer wanting to create an impact in the Architectural Writing Landscape. She is a Poet herself, and is passionate about history, traveling and teaching.