Arikamedu, an abandoned city of South India and a flourishing Indo Roman trade centre during the 1st century BC is located about 7 Km south of Pondicherry on the bank of Ariyankuppam River. Far from the din and bustle of a city, it is the only surviving historical place in South India with a cultural continuity from 300 BC-1800 AD which was acquired by the Archaeological survey of India since 2004.
As you enter the territory of this heritage site, you will come across the relics of walls, columns and mortars standing forlorn along the bank of Ariyankuppam River that will take you back to the glorious days of Roman trade in this region. The dilapidated building of the French Jesuit Mission belonging to the 18th century is one of the striking relics of French architecture and a sight to behold! Such archaeological evidence as well as the travel accounts of the French astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil clearly indicate that the city had a fascinating urban settlement between 100BC till 100 AD.
As you make your way into the precincts of Arikamedu which is marked by a fencing by the Archaeological Survey of India, you will come across a derelict structure of a thoroughfare standing amidst palm and coconut fringed verdant meadow which is presumably the entrance to the main site. The place has a tranquil charm of its own being located in an offbeat destination and not much frequented by tourists.
The feeble existence of a storehouse amidst the ruins will remind you of the opulent economy of the Orient and its exchange of riches with the Occident. It is the only port which bears the history of Tamilian trade with Imperial Rome. Many of the valuable artefacts and relics belonging to the Roman era are preserved in the Pondicherry Museum for public view that give you a clear notion about the history and culture of Arikamedu.
How to Reach Arikamedu
The distance between Pondicherry bus stand and Arakimedu is just 8.5 Km and can be traveled by any public transport. Buses run by PRTC (Puducherry Road Transport Corporation) ply between places and will drop you at Arikamedu in about 20 minutes.
As locating the gate of Arikamedu may be a task for you, it is recommended that you take a taxi or auto to if you are traveling for the first time.
Best Time to Visit Arikamedu
The best time to visit Arikamedu is in the months between the months of October till March. During this time of the year, the evenings are cool and pleasant making it an ideal vacation time for domestic and inbound travellers. Summers start from March and continue through the end of July.
The summer months are usually hot and humid and the place experiences a maximum temperature of nearly 41◦C. At this time of the year, the traffic is noticeably low. Winters are pleasant in Arikamedu drawing the highest traffic of visitors during the months of December till March. The prevailing winter temperature is around 17◦C making it feasible for sightseeing, beach sports and other activities.
What Not to Miss at Arikamedu
Attractions Near Arikamedu
Instead of going on foot you can go on a bicycle tour and cover a maximum number of highlighted spots along the promenade. If you go for a morning walk, do not miss out the chance of viewing the stunning sunrise on the eastern skyline creating a brilliant color show across the sky. One of the most sought after promenades in Pondicherry is at Paradise Beach where you can see the marvellous sight of the Chunnambar River emptying itself into the Bay of Bengal at its confluence.
4. Goubert Market: Shopping at the Goubert Market is one of the highly recommended activities near Arikamedu. It is the most popular market for the locals and suburban people for their huge stock of fresh and organic products. The buzz of the market place with bargaining customers and sellers keeps on varying with the day.
From sea fish to colourful flowers there is a touch of freshness in every item you lay your hands on! There are boutiques for apparels, jewellery and handicraft items. The warmth and hospitality of the vendors will surely give you a pleasurable shopping experience outside your hometown.
Things to do Near Arikamedu
1. Pondicherry tour on wheels: You can explore every corner of Pondicherry in a vintage bicycle within a very short time. As you pedal through the cobbled streets of the seaside town you will chance upon houses with colonial architecture that takes you back to the bygone era.
On a short trip, you can visit the parks, serene promenades, and Muslim, Tamil and French neighborhoods that give you a taste of Pondicherry’s multicultural flair. Bicycle tour in Pondicherry includes breakfast, guide and bike gears. Start early to avoid road traffic and visit the places unhurriedly.
Other Essential Information About Arikamedu
Location: Arikamedu is located halfway from the union territory of Puducherry in Kakkayanthope on the right bank of River Ariyankuppam in south Pondicherry. It is about 4 Km from Pondicherry after you turn eastward from the highway.
Entry fee: No entry fee
Parking Facility: As it is an open space there is no parking zone allotted for the visitors as such. You can seek the help of the locals or your tourist guide who can help you park your car in a safe place.
Distance from Pondicherry bus stand: Arikamedu is located at a distance of about 8.4 Km from Pondicherry bus stand.
The name Arikamedu first occurred in the travel accounts of the French astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil who visited Pondicherry during 1768-71. Later, in 1941 the French archaeologist G. Jouveau Dubreuil visited the place and related it with the ancient city of Poduke Emporium which occurs in the book Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Dubreuil’s postulations triggered interest among the French archaeologists who excavated the place in the subsequent years.
Discovery of the Arikamedu
But none of the excavations were done scientifically until Sir Eric Mortimer Wheeler undertook the task in 1945 and discovered the existence of a port city under the ruins. He named the place Arikamedu which means “mound on a river bank”. Wheeler also claimed that Arikamedu was a sleepy fishing village before the emergence of the Greco Romans. Later it became a port city during the Yavana period.
Excavations of the Arikamedu
In the southern part of the city few Mediterranean merchandises or amphora were found after excavation that date back to the 1st or 2nd century BC. In the northern part bricks were found that also are supposed to have Mediterranean origin.
Findings of the Arikamedu
Arakimedu being an important hub of trade in ancient India have always been under the scrutiny of archaeologists who went on to excavate the place time and over again. The findings of Arikamedu contain ancient relics of Roman, Chinese, French and Chola dynasties. These include Roman pottery artifacts, coins, terracotta tiles, Chinese and Islamic pottery,Roman Lamps, golden beads, ring well,walls, arches and bricks of Roman constructions.
The most significant findings from this region are the Sigillata pieces that probably arrived here during the 1st century BC, Amphorae (narrow necked pink wine jars with two handles and a yellow slip) and Arretine wares (burnt clay utensils with motifs on their surfaces). Coins belonging to the time of Constantine 1 were also among the significant findings from the site.
What to Expect While Visiting Arikamedu
As you stare at the forlorn arches and brick bases of the earliest Roman architecture in this place you can sense a strain of ephemerality hovering in the air. Once a bustling trade centre now lies as an abandoned site for archaeologists and common tourists to visit and bring out new facts about Arikamedu. After being hit by a devastating cyclone in 2011, one can only see the 18th century walls of the French Mission house.
History of Arikamedu
Arikamedu was originally a fishing colony which later became a trading outpost for carrying out commercial relations with Imperial Rome since the Megalithic (2nd century BC) through Medieval until the Modern Period. The city was connected with other cities of India and overseas by road and marine routes. Merchandise ships arriving from Anuradhapura and Muziris used this port as a station for the transshipment of goods to North India and the countries of Southeast Asia.
The city also had maritime relations with Kaveripattinam, Alagankulam, Suttukenii and Musini. Arikamedu was basically a manufacturing hub of the famous muslin cloth, terracotta items, glass, gold and jewellery from semi-precious stones. The city boasts of housing extensive glass bead manufacturing units that are considered the “mother of all bead centres” in the global trade.
The Archaeological Importance of Arikamedu
Apart from numerous stoneware relics and archaeological vestiges that date back to the 2nd century BC, findings of Chinese celadon pottery, Chola and East Asian artifacts were also discovered after several excavations. Twentieth-century archaeological evidence testifies the existence of a booming urban settlement in Arikamedu. The northern part of the city was inhabited by the Yavanas while the southern part was inhabited by the locals.
Tableware made of Terra Sigillata (Roman clay pots red in color) has been discovered in only two places outside Rome one of which is in Arikamedu which proves that there were trade relations between the two places. From the traces of beads excavated from Alexandria and other ports of the Red Sea, it is evident that the Romans used the Red Sea for transferring to India.
Although there were multiple excavations in this place, the major scientific excavation was carried out by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1945. It is from his excavations that historians came to the conclusion that Arikamedu was a flourishing port city.
Places to Stay Near Arikamedu
Places to Eat Near Arikamedu
1. Velo Café: Velo Café is a must visit place near Arikamedu where you can enjoy dining with multi-cuisine platters. The restaurant serves French, Continental, European and local dishes, salads and snacks. It also arranges bicycle tours within the city limits. The interior is clean and well decked with bicycle theme.
Tips Before Visiting Arikamedu
1. Avoid visiting Arikamedu from March-July as the temperature soars up to 42◦C making it extremely difficult for sightseeing.