The French Capital of India, Pondicherry, is often a popular destination for tourists, specifically art and architecture enthusiasts. The coastal town displays its rich historical background, culture, and stories left behind in the form of a visual treat. Be it a weekend getaway, a week-long vacation, or a month-long visit; the union territory has a lot of remarkably preserved heritage to explore. The Union Territory is home to buildings and streets exhibiting the vernacular Tamil style, the Franco-Tamil style, and the French style of architecture. A quaint destination with more than just its beaches and eateries to offer, here’s a list of 15 Places to Visit in Pondicherry for a Travelling Architect!  

Raj Niwas: Government House, Pondicherry | Places to Visit in Pondicherry

The iconic building has stood the test of time to represent the former French enclave’s history. Earlier called the Le Palais Du Governor, it displays a rich blend of French and Indian architectural styles. The present-day official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry retains its original plan despite various ruins and restorations. Initially designed in the Baroque style, later rebuilt in the Rococo style in the late 1760s. Intended as a symbol to display the power of the ruling class since the 18th century, the complex consists of the two-storied house, accommodation suits for the state as well as personal guests of the Governor adorned with monolithic pillars from Gingee, and a well-manicured garden. 

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Golconde: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Dormitory

Golconde is recognized as the first modernist building in India, even predating the reinforced-concrete structures of Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. Designed by architect Antonin Raymond, trained under the renowned FL Wright, influences of his celebrated style are seen in the structure. Completed in 1945 by George Nakashima, environmental sensitivity was the foundation for its design process, taking the tropical context as a key consideration. A strikingly simple plan, enhanced with elements such as cement louvers, concrete roofs, and brass hardware at a smaller scale, the dormitory is a design marvel for its innovative use of simple techniques, materials, and spatial planning. 

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Dune de l’Orient: Hotel, Pondicherry | Places to Visit in Pondicherry

A heritage mansion adaptive reused as a hotel today, it dates back to the 1760s, a period when hotels came up in Pondicherry and is labeled as one of the earliest of its typology. Occupied by the French Education Department since 1952, the authentic “Instruction Publique” board is still above the entrance door. By the late 1990s, the hotel was acquired by Francis Wacziarg and restored with the notion to revive its 18th-century character. Note-worthy preservation includes the ancient Chettinad plaster, repaired red oxide flooring, and retained ceiling paints. Awarded the Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for Culture Heritage Conservation in 2000, the building has played a pivotal influence in the awareness of restoration & heritage preservation. 

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Institut Français de Pondichéry: Library & Museum

The French Institute of Pondicherry is a research institution devoted to Indian culture, history, and ecology. The 19th-century colonial building by the sea is an excellent example of neoclassicism in architecture. Its sprawling yellow exterior not only enhances the building but also helps identify it with ease in the neighborhood. Roughly two centuries old, the building hosts a small beach-facing library and research center on the ground floor and a museum on the first floor. With a usable area of 32,000 sqft, the institute rents out spaces such as the conference room, garden, and terrace for hosting various events. 

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Ananda Rangapillai House: Heritage Mansion | Places to Visit in Pondicherry

The ancestral home of the famed Ananda Rangapillai, confidant, secretary, and commercial agent of Governor Dupleix, was built in the 18th century. The traditional Tamil house with European influences, located on Ranga Pillai Street, Pondicherry, was spared by a British assault on the port city in 1761. The mansion is a harmonious blend of the Indian and Gothic styles of architecture. The ground level, open to visitors, is designed in a traditional Tamil architecture style with a courtyard. On the outside, Chettinad-style carved wooden pillars are used as part of the traditional elements. The First floor, private to its residents, is designed in the European style with an open patio and French motifs on the walls. The terrace, supported by its stone columns elegantly expresses European Gothic architecture.

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Gratitude Heritage: Homestay, Pondicherry

Gratitude is a classical French Colonial family home from around the 19th century that is converted into a hospitality building. Restored closely to its original with the assistance of INTACH in 2010, its well-preserved high columns, wide arches, inner courtyard, and Madras terrace roof retain its authentic French style of architecture. Restoration and recycling of the old doors and windows were undertaken to retain original fittings wherever possible, with the rest of the shutters & hardware being identically recreated. The heritage building features a beautiful, full street frontage and contributes profoundly to its streetscape.

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Bharathiyar Memorial Museum: Research Center

In 1973, the building was acquired by the government to establish a museum and research center to commemorate “Mahakavi” Subramanya Bharathiyar, at his very abode. A traditional home displaying the blend of the French colonial and Tamil styles of architecture with its elaborate wooden door and white pillars hosted the poet from 1908 to 1918. Restored by the Pondicherry chapter of INTACH in 2014, the Madras terrace roofs were renovated, cement plaster on the walls was replaced with lime mortar, existing doors and windows were rehabilitated in addition to upgraded electrical networks and a new cement floor.

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Notre Dame des Anges Church | Places to Visit in Pondicherry

The Our Lady of Angels Church is one the oldest churches (completed in 1855) and a significant landmark facing the Bay of Bengal in Pondicherry, gracefully designed in the Greco-Roman style of architecture. Construction of the entire building is with brickwork and lime mortar, rising to the roof as elegant arches and vaults. Owing to egg whites and a lime mortar-based paint, it was earlier completely white, both externally and internally, thus also popularly known as White Chapel. The exterior colors were changed in the 1900s and 2000s, presently finished with an orange-pink color. The two pillars alongside the main chapel were originally designed and used as clock towers which were suspended during the 2012 renovations. 

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Cluny Embroidery Centre, Pondicherry

An 18th-century historic mansion, now catering to providing work opportunities to impoverished women is a classic example of colonial architecture in Pondy. Named Hotel Lagrenee de Mezieres, the building served as a private home until 1827, before becoming the property of a church. Dedicated to charitable work, the sisters later converted it into a center for underprivileged girls and women. The center’s vast portico overlooks its beautiful surrounding garden, and built spaces are enriched with 12 feet tall arched doors across the building. Walls are embellished with floral designs, almost relative to that of the embroidery pattern works done. Other highlights include its high roof over teak wood beams, chessboard-like patterned flooring, and solid columns. 

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Puducherry Old Court Building | Places to Visit in Pondicherry

Constructed in 1766, the two-storey court and law school was used as Hôtel du commandant du génie, and later as the Cour d’appel until 1955. The 148-year-old load-bearing masonry structure functioned as a court until 2008. Restoration of the heritage structure was undertaken by INTACH Pondicherry, which included the demolition of weaker portions to rebuild it with its authentic style and materials. The proposed restoration included a law museum, library, and a research hall among various other upgradation. The historic structure contributes significantly to its streetscape apart from being one of the landmarks listed along with the old lighthouse, Customs House, and French consulate.  

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French Consulate, Pondicherry | Places to Visit in Pondicherry

Over two and a half centuries old, the French Colonial-style building is hosted on a sea-facing plot amidst a lush garden. Earlier used as an extension of a cemetery, in 1840 the French Government bought the then-existing home and added the first floor in 1843. As part of the restoration, older parts of the building are retained with the original Madras terrace roofing, a system that uses wooden beams and rafters. A rooftop on-grid solar system was installed in 2015, certifying it with the highest rating for being energy efficient from the Bureau of Energy Efficiency.

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Sri Manakula Vinayagar Temple

Constructed around the period when the French came to India, the temple is dated to be at least over 500 years old. Despite several efforts to destroy the temple during the French regime and the harm done during the process, the temple survives. Following the Deccan era character and traditional Dravidian style of architecture, the structure is ornated with friezes and stucco figurines all around. Spread over 7900 square feet, the complex features a mandapam, a prahara with the main deities, and a raja gopuram within. Tales of Hindu mythology are elegantly narrated and depicted on the walls. The 18ft tall gold laminated Kodi Kambam, and the golden chariot made up of teak wood, covered in copper plates are note-worthy highlights.

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Arikamedu: Archaeological Site | Places to Visit in Pondicherry

Located about 7 Km south of Pondicherry on the bank of the Ariyankuppam river, the historical site served as a pivotal Indo-Roman trading city. The Archaeological Society of India now maintains the site that was once a major trading port between European countries and Rome from the 2nd century BCE to the 8th century BCE. The French Jesuit Mission building from the 18th century in extreme ruins is a French architectural wonder, despite its present state. Relics of walls, columns, and mortars still standing on-site are a testament to Arikamedu’s glorious history and culture. Recorded as the only port bearing the history of Tamilian trade with Imperial Rome, various valuable artifacts and relics discovered from the site are exhibited in the Pondicherry Museum. 

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Bharathi Park and Aayi Mandapam

The government park located in the heart of the city in White Town, hosts several modern monuments, old sculptures, statues, stone carvings, and stately buildings. Turned into a park in the 1950s, it is an ideal blend of refined landscape and historical features. The Aayi Mandapam, a historically significant structure, constructed in 1854 is located at the center of the park. The mandapam is renowned for its interesting legend behind it, making it the Greco-Roman architectural masterpiece that it is today. Divided into four equal parts by walkways, it also houses exquisite fountains, flower beds, and well-manicured lawns. 

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Meeran Mosque, Pondicherry | Places to Visit in Pondicherry

Locally known as Meerapalli, is a legendary 350-year-old historic place of worship. The second oldest mosque of the Union Territory was built by the Arcot Nawabs in the late 17th century. Constructed in the old Gothic Islamic style, the dome structure is supported by lofty pillars embellished with intricate designs. The two minarets and the bronze ‘Kalasa’ in the front-facing one is a distinguished elements of design in the structure. The historic shrine is also the resting place of its founder and has undergone aesthetic repairs over a period of time to preserve its architectural timelessness. 

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Citations for websites:

rajnivas.py.gov.in. (n.d.). LG Secretariat – Lt.Governor’s Profile. [online] Available at: https://rajnivas.py.gov.in/residence.html [Accessed 15 Sep. 2022].

admin (2021). Golconde Pondicherry | Modernist Building. [online] Sri Aurobindo Trust. Available at: https://www.sriaurobindotrust.org/2021/07/17/a-look-golconde-in-pondicherry/ [Accessed 16 Sep. 2022].

PlushEscapes.in. (n.d.). Hotel De L’Orient – PlushEscapes. [online] Available at: https://www.plushescapes.com/hotels/hotel/78 [Accessed 16 Sep. 2022].

Bindu (2019). The Institut Français de Pondichéry (IFP). [online] Bindu Gopal Rao, Freelance Writer & Photographer. Available at: http://www.bindugopalrao.com/the-institut-francais-de-pondichery-ifp/ [Accessed 17 Sep. 2022].

# (n.d.). Ananda Ranga Pillai House | Pondicherry | Tourist attractions | South Tourism. [online] www.southtourism.in. Available at: https://www.southtourism.in/pondicherry/monuments/ananda-ranga-pillai-house.php [Accessed 16 Sep. 2022].

www.gratitudeheritage.in. (n.d.). Architecture and Restoration. [online] Available at: https://www.gratitudeheritage.in/Architecture.html [Accessed 17 Sep. 2022].

Ilamurugan (2018). Pondicherry Tourism: Bharathiyar Memorial Museum cum Research Centre, Puducherry. [online] Pondicherry Tourism. Available at: https://explore-pondicherry.blogspot.com/2018/08/bharathiyar-memorial-museum-cum-research-centre-puducherry.html [Accessed 17 Sep. 2022].

Ilamurugan (2018). Pondicherry Tourism: Our Lady of Angels Church, Puducherry. [online] Pondicherry Tourism. Available at: https://explore-pondicherry.blogspot.com/2018/08/our-lady-of-angels-church-pondicherry.html [Accessed 17 Sep. 2022].

pondicherrytourism.co.in. (n.d.). Cluny Embroidery Centre Puducherry (Timings, Entry Fee, History, Location, Images & Facts) – Puducherry Tourism – 2022. [online] Available at: https://pondicherrytourism.co.in/cluny-embroidery-centre-puducherry [Accessed 17 Sep. 2022].

‌pdymun.in. (n.d.). Heritage Walk – Pondicherry Municipality – The Union Territory of Puducherry. [online] Available at: http://pdymun.in/heritage-walk.php [Accessed 17 Sep. 2022].

‌Jan 9, B.D. / T. /, 2017 and Ist, 23:43 (n.d.). Heritage French consulate building in Puducherry leads in going green | Chennai News – Times of India. [online] The Times of India. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/heritage-french-consulate-building-in-puducherry-leads-in-going-green/articleshow/56428691.cms [Accessed 17 Sep. 2022].

www.tourmyindia.com. (n.d.). Manakula Vinayagar Temple Pondicherry | Timings & History. [online] Available at: https://www.tourmyindia.com/states/puducherry/manakula-vinayagar-temple.html [Accessed 17 Sep. 2022].

‌en.unesco.org. (n.d.). Did You Know? The Port Trade Centre of Arikamedu and Roman Exchange with the Indian Subcontinent | Silk Roads Programme. [online] Available at: https://en.unesco.org/silkroad/content/did-you-know-port-trade-centre-arikamedu-and-roman-exchange-indian-subcontinent.

www.tourmyindia.com. (n.d.). Aayi Mandapam and Bharathi Park Puducherry | Historical Monuments. [online] Available at: https://www.tourmyindia.com/states/puducherry/bharathi-park.html [Accessed 18 Sep. 2022].

pondicherrytourism.co.in. (n.d.). Meerapalli Puducherry (Entry Fee, Timings, History, Built by, Images & Location) – Puducherry Tourism – 2022. [online] Available at: https://pondicherrytourism.co.in/meerapalli-puducherry [Accessed 18 Sep. 2022].

Author

Lakshmi Sundaram is an architect, muralist and graphic designer with an atypical and interdisciplinary outlook. Design being her finest channel of expression, strong narratives direct her work across all domains. Precisely, an aspiring little drop in a mighty ocean of design revolutions.