VESTIGES & MONUMENTS OF PONDICHERRY
A wondrous history of this place is told by obliging Pondicherrians. As well as the striking grid like street planning buildings and monuments. About the arrival of the European maritime powers of the 16th century the Portuguese the Dutch, the Danes, the English and importantly, the French, setting foot first in 1670.
About the transformation of a tiny fishing village into a grand port city by the 18th century, brave generals, friendly maharajas and even, philanthropic courtesans. And about an undisturbed French rule for 138 years till 1954.
Park Monument (Aayi Mandapam)
The most beautiful public space in town is the green and shaded Government Park, in the heart of Pondicherry. Standing smack in its centre is Aayi Mandapam. Built in Greco-Roman architecture, unsinfully white, during the reign of Napoleon III -Emperor of France.
It bears the name of Aayi - a 16th century courtesan. Who razed down her home and replaced it with a reservoir. To appease a passing king, angry at having mistaken her candle-lit residence for a holy place. It was from this lake that Napoleon's men quenched their thirst, some 300 years later. Napoleon, charmed by the story, ordered a monument to Aayi.
Ananda Ranga Pillai Mansion
Ananda Ranga Pillai was the celebrated Dubash of Dupleix, the governor of Pondicherry, while it flourished under French glory. Pillai's compilation of diaries serves as a storehouse of information on 18th century French India.
His mansion completed sometime in 1738 is one of the oldest surviving buildings on the west side - then known as "natives' quarters." Its architecture represents a curious mix of French and Indian styles.
The Statue Of Dupleix
This is Pondicherry's tribute to Francois Dupeix, whose able governorship came to an end in 1754. However, French recognition came about a century later, when, in 1870, they paid homage by commissioning two statues - one in France and the other in Pondicherry.
The 2.88m tall structure was erected over six carved ornamental granite pillars at the Place Du Republique. It now stands re-stationed overlooking a children's park at the southern end of the promenade, now named Goubert Avenue.
Place Du Gouvernement
The Place Du Gouvernement is a brilliant example of town planning in Pondicherry. Comprising the 18th century "Palais Du Government" - now the 'Raj Nivas' (not open to the public) - and the old tribunals - now housing the Legislative Assembly - along with a neat three-sided line-up of other handsome buildings.
At the centre, surrounded by a well-tended garden, stands the water monument, sculpted to commemorate the introduction of good drinking water for the population. Latin and Tamil inscriptions bear out the story. Some exquisitely carved monolithic pillars, brought to Pondicherry from the Gingee Fort after its capture in 1751, adorn the place.
19th Century Light House
The early sea-farers to Pondicherry were guided by a beacon kept burning on the red hills (Gorimedu), about 5-km west of the town. The now-abandoned light house standing on the edge of the sea near the Place Du Gouvernment was lighted for the first time on 1st July 1836. The light was placed upon a masonry tower, 29m above sea level and was visible upto a distance of 29-km into the sea. In 1931, a revolving lantern replaced the fixed light. It fell into disuse with the commissioning of the new light house in 1979.
French War Memorial
No visit to Pondicherry is complete without a free wheeling stroll down the peaceful Promenade Goubert Avenue (locally known as Beach Road), where one will find this elegant tribute to the uniform. It gets prettily illuminated during a solemn ceremony every 14th July, Bastille Day.
The Statue Of Joan Of Arc
A lasting, triumphant image of the heroic French damsel Jeanned'Arc, is frozen in marble, within the garden laid out in front of L'Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges.
In The French Quarters:
Hotel Lagrenee De Meziere, 1774: Once a private house, this place has now become a workshop of the religious order of Saint Joseph De Cluny. One can put his head in the gate and have a look at magnificent early colonial architecture and equally beautifully embroidery.
Lacee Francais, 1826 : Lacee Francais, still educates hundreds of young Pondicheriens in French. One has to take permission from the office walking around the old courtyard to see photographs of colonial Pondy in a fine old building.
Le Grand Hotel D' Europe: Opened in 1891, this hotel has got a classic look and is closed to the public.
L'ecole Francaise D'extreme Orient: Meaning, the French institute of the Far East whose two handsome buildings are almost diagonal to each other at an intersection, one specialising in Indology, the other in History and Archaeology.
In The Ashram Quarter:
The French Consulate General: This place is open to French nationals. The whole facade and shape of the building have changed over the years, but it still retains some elements from the 18th century.
L'institut Francais: As the gate is generally open, one may walk into the courtyard and have a quiet look around. They have a very old Ganesha statue. If one has a professional interest in Indian civilisation, history and society, in ecology, or in environment and development in South and Southeast Asia, one may pick up the institute's information materials describing current activities.
Le Foyer Du Soldat: This place is the legion hall for retired soldiers from Pondicherry who served in French wars in Europe and the colonies. The building looks perky enough with its proud Tricouleur or tricolour (red, white and blue flag) but the veterans must be getting on!
The Park Surroundings:
Venkateshwara Balaji is a small but increasingly popular shrine, whose main abode is Tirupati, the richest temple in India, in the Tirumala hills northwest of Chennai.
The Qualithe Hotel
The Qualithe Hotel, whose original building dates from the 1870s, consists of a terrace restaurant and rooms upstairs, and a street level bar that cries out for a gentle retrofitting of its seedy charm. There is talk of putting in a piano too.
The UCO Bank:
The UCO Bank, which dates from 1916 when it was La Banque de I' Indochine, preserves for those who wish to change money there a gentle reminder of the complexity of the British ledger system. Dead in London but alive and well in Pondy, this is a place to try once. There is a Durga statue around, at the backside of the building.
The Legislative Assembly
The Legislative Assembly was established in 1962 in what was formerly a private house.
The Ashram Dining Room
The Ashram Dining Room, which has prepared the food for many Ashramites and their guests since 1934, is on land once occupied by Governor Dumas's 1735 Residence and even after many reconstructions it probably reflects its architectural heritage. Have a look when the gate is open at meal times.