Madurai a well-known city for its architecture, culture, and art forms, has a recorded history, showcasing the reigns of various rulers, starting from the Pandyan dynasty, followed by the Kalabhras dynasty, Chola dynasty and then seized by the Delhi sultanates, The Vijayanagara and lastly the Nayaks. In 1807, it (finally) came under the Madras presidency by the British rule.
Since it has been under the rule of various dynasties, the architecture and the city forms were mostly modified or destroyed and rebuilt to a new form.
The city planning is based on the traditional arrangement which has fivefold concentric rectangular forms with temples at the center, surrounded by important structures). It is believed that the planning of the city is based on Vasthu Shilpa Sasthra which developed alongside the Vaigai river. Though the city planning followed a basic pattern, the inner streets developed in an irregular pattern.
The part of the city where the Meenakshi Amman temple is located at the heart is surrounded by four tightly packed major streets namely –Chithirai, Avani Moola, Masi, and Veli streets. The part of the city located to the south of the Vaigai river is considered as the ‘old city’ whereas the Northern part is considered as the ‘new city’ which developed gradually over time.
The city is witnessed to be historically important as it is quoted in many Tamil poems and literature. Though it has a strong history, the growth of population and modification of buildings had brought about major changes to the traditional character of the place.
The four main streets which are considered to be the early developments of the city have the most iconic structures where major historical incidents have happened. But, the present conditions of these buildings are in a crucial stage where they have been modified and majorly demolished to meet the contemporary changes and needs of the public. Preserving the entire street line is a difficult process, but, they can be controlled to a minimum extent. Let’s say, an old historical building can be preserved by balancing the contemporary commercial functions as well as the traditional architectural character of it.
There are several such places –in and around the old city of Madurai.
- Pudhu Mandapam
- Khadi Kraft
- Historical Residences
- Theatre Halls
- Other Important Landmarks
Listed above are very few places that hold back a strong history. Though the structures are demolished and modified, the history is still remembered by the natives of the city.
To preserve such historical structures, the government did introduce an act where no building surrounding a certain distance from the Meenakshi Amman temple, is to be built above or the as same height as the temple. But nowadays, people barely remember the law, and the view of the temple is hardly visible from the streets.
Concentrating on the four tightly packed streets of the old city, which is still the adobe of various ancient buildings. South Masi street, which is mostly crowded for almost 365 days in a year is the commercial area and the busiest street of Madurai. Such highly populated urban areas with historical structures, need special attention to preserve them from being demolished or completely modified.
One such instance is the 10-pillar street in South Masi street. It is believed to be a part of the Thirumalainayakkar Mahal, where they used to tie elephants in the early period. The columns are made of circular stones that are piled one above the other. It spans 12 meters high and 1.2meters in diameter. The street is very narrow and has buildings that are closely built to the pillars.
These places are mostly crowded and less breathable for the historic structure to survive. This situation can be solved if the commercial shops are redesigned in such a way that it has a window or large openings facing the pillars. That will help the pillars to stand free from damage.
Historic Residences are located in the busiest streets of Madurai such as South Masi street, using lime as a major building material and having certain iconic elements such as balcony overhangs and parapet walls with sculptures and writings. Usually, these residences are being rented out for retail shops because of their rapid increase in demand in the current days. One way to avoid such situations is to rent the ground floor for shops and maintain the above floor as it is, preserving the architectural character. In the case of densely populated streets, ventilation through interior spaces can be designed in case of future renovation or expansion. These historic buildings of residences, theatre halls, and other structures build the mental map of the people, keeping the story intact.
These structures are majorly covered by large-sized posters, banners, and electric posts. These are the recent photographs of the buildings which exhibit the ancient architectural elements.
It is impossible to completely preserve the buildings as they are located in the commercial area of the city, which is busy and crowded all year round. A hierarchy of functions can be introduced to maintain the architectural elements as well as to satisfy the functions of the growing need of the population.