The turn of the fifteenth century witnessed two invaders who approached India, namely the Portuguese by sea and the Mughals by land. Both initiated great and lasting changes. Within Fifty years of Vasco da Gama’s arrival, the Portuguese had occupied some sixty miles of coast around Goa, with territories stretching up to thirty miles inland. They occupied a still larger though narrow tract with four important ports, several towns and villages. The Portuguese paid their first visit to the islands in 1509 AD when they landed at Mahim after capturing a Gujarat barge in the Mahim creek. After a series of attacks by the Gujarat Sultanate, the islands were captured by the Sultan Bahadur Shah.

In 1534AD, to exterminate threats from Rajputs and Mughals, Sultan Bahadur Shah signed a peace treaty with Nuno da Cunha. As per the treaty, Sultan Bahadur Shah handed over the fort of Bassein to the Portuguese. It was not a great loss to the Sultanate, as Bassein was situated to the south of the Sultanate and was not of any military importance during warfare. But on the part of Portuguese, this treaty turned out to be a tangible gain. This led to the establishment of numerous churches which were constructed in areas where the majority of people were Roman Catholics. The Portuguese strengthened their possession by building forts at Bassein, Mahim, and Bandra.

Bassein fort is one of the most significant forts of the Portuguese dominion, which is evident from its size and the extent of remains. The fort in the old city was the headquarter of the Portuguese in the North, next in importance to Goa. The coastal land fort of Bassein was surrounded by sea on three sides and to the land side, it had a moat which was filled with sea water. Apart from the actual fortifications comprising of eleven bastions, two main entrances and a back entrance, the fort complex includes seven churches, four convents, two colleges, a citadel, two palaces, a pond, a tank, temples and several smaller structures.

Source: Archaeological Survey of India, Mumbai Circle

The fort complex was more like a fortified town with straight streets, large squares. The footprint of the fort is an irregular decagon built of stone masonry. The bastions were given the name apostles and holy saints and are of the jutting ear-shaped typology, common for Portuguese forts. The complex has two main gateways: Porta Da Terra – west entrance from the land and Porta Do Mar – sea gate on the east, along with a small postern on the south which leads to the Koli settlement. The semi-circular bastions present in the complex seem to be the only surviving remnants of Sultanate rule. The Portuguese buildings inside the fort are in ruins, although the remnants give a fair idea of the floor plans. Some buildings have well-preserved facades.

In the 18th century, the fort was taken over by the Maratha army under Peshwa Baji Rao’s brother Chimaji Appa and fell in 1739 AD after a three-year-long campaign. The British Shortly attacked and took over the territory.

The four centuries old Bassein fort is now under the protection of Archaeological Survey of India, Mumbai Circle. Various conservation and restoration works have been undertaken by ASI to safeguard the complex from further deterioration, but considering the size of the limited workforce, the task seems difficult. Irresponsible public behaviour of littering, vandalizing and defacing the structures with graffiti adds on to the plight.




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