Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Elevated gardens

The usual reference to this abrupt patch of green along Ebrahim Sahib Street in Royapuram is 'Hanging Gardens'. When the Archeological Survey of India declared it a 'protected monument' sometime in the 1990s, it was not the greenery they were concerned about, but the structure on which the Maadi Poonga (Terrace Garden) had been created. The Garden was first created in 1957, but for a long while during the 1980s and 90s, it had been allowed to run to seed, providing a vantage point for all kinds of shady activities. In the early 2000s, the Corporation of Chennai decided to spruce it up and it is now a pleasant alcove that one can run up to from the usual grime of Ebrahim Sahib Street.

In its original plan, there were no steps to run up on. Not here, not anywhere along the roughly 6km stretch that it extended across. Running somewhat perpendicular to the coast, this was the limit of Madraspattnam of 1770s; a thick wall, which, at that time, was 17 feet high. The idea was to create a bulwark against Tipu Sultan's sorties, even though by the time the wall was completed in 1779, Tipu was a spent force. Sentries - and supplies - were taken to the top of this structure was accessed through ramps, which ran parallel to it at several points. Within half-a-century of its being built, the wall was deemed to be a constraint to the city's expansion and, except for this short stretch, was demolished in phases.

References to the wall still survive; the wall had eight gates and the place where some roads lead out towards the north and west of Chennai are still referred to by the gates that stood there - especially Elephant Gate towards the west!

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