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Striking Plan of Tiruchirappalli, Drawn at the End of the Carnatic Wars

Finely-executed manuscript plan of the city of Tiruchirappalli, here called Trichenapaly, on the south bank of the Kaveri River. The French plan, executed in 1763, was completed just as the French were losing influence in the region.

The plan is oriented with west at the top. It shows the walled city with its many gates and bastions. A key to the left lists the main features of the town and environs. The city contains several ponds, usually with trees around them, and one larger, rectangular structure that it labeled as the pond of the ‘Bramans’, C in the key. At the center of this pond is a small square, which is the site of the Thayumanavar Temple Teppakulam.

Just below this pond and temple is a building complex on a hill—the elevation is indicated by hachuring. This is labeled in the legend as the “Grand Pagoda on the Mountain”. It is more widely known as Rockfort, a fort and temple complex built on a stone hill. The hill itself is one of the oldest geological formations in the world at 3.8 billion years old. It houses caves carved in the sixth century and two temples, the Ucchi Pillayar Temple and the Thayumanaswami Temple. This fort was the center of hostilities in Tiruchirappalli during the Carnatic Wars.

The Carnatic Wars and Tiruchirappalli 

The fact that this plan is in French offers a glimpse into the complex eighteenth-century history of Tiruchirappalli, which played an important role in the conflicts between the English and French East India Companies and local rulers.

Before and during the First Carnatic War (1746-1748), which was a part of the larger War of Austrian Succession, Tiruchirappalli changed hands several times. In 1749, just as hostilities in Europe ended and the Second Carnatic War (1749-54) began, the Nawab of the Carnatic Muhammed Ali Khan Walajan was defeated at the Battle of Ambur and fled to Tiruchirappalli’s Rockfort. He was pursued by Chanda Sahib, the victor of Ambur, with French support.

Sahib lay siege to the city in 1751-2. His French support and ambitions to expand his territory raised the ire of the English East India Company, who allied with Muhammed Ali Khan Walajan. The British and their allies were able to defeat Sahib and restore Wallajah to the throne. Robert Clive gained fame in his taking of Arcot, the Carnatic capital, which Sahib had left undefended. Sahib was captured and executed. Thereafter, the British maintained an armed presence in the city, forcing the French out of influence.

During the Third Carnatic War (1756-1763), the British forces captured the French settlements at Chandannagar and Pondicherry. In the Treaty of Paris, those settlements were returned to France. However, French factories, or trading centers, were not allowed to be run by French administrators. The French also agreed to support the British-supported client governments. Thus, by 1763, when this plan was drawn, French influence in the region was waning.

This diminished influence makes this plan all the more interesting. It shows continuing French interest in trade, even if their goals of a French Empire in India had been eclipsed by British influence and power. The plan depicts a thriving fortified city that was at the height of its early modern global importance.