02 February, 2010

Goa - Viceroy's arch (Tiswadi)

The discovery and the establishment of a new sea route to India around the Cape of Good Hope by Vasco da Gama, made the Portuguese realize that they need to have a permanent trading post established in India, to exploit and profit from the spice trade. When their repeated attempts to do just that along the malabar coast that was controlled by the Zamorin of Calicut proved difficult, they finally decided to try their luck northwards along the coast.

Goa once known as the "Pearl of the Orient", was a muslim city to the north of Malabar. Duarte Barbosa wrote about Goa as: "The city was inhabited by Moors, respectable men and foreigners and rich merchants; there were also many great gentile merchants and other gentlemen, cultivators and men at arms. It was a place of great trade. It has a very good port to which flock many ships from Mecca, Aden, Homruz, Cambay and Malabar country... The town was very large with good edifices and handsome streets surrounded by walls and towers." At that time, it was being ruled by Adil shah of Bijapur.

In 1510 under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque the Portuguese laid siege upon Goa. On February 17th he entered the city of Goa for the first time and met little resistance as the Sultan was engaged with his forces elsewhere. Sultan Adil Shah soon came after him with a vengeance and and on May 23rd 1510 Alfonso de Albuquerque had to flee the city of Goa. Determined to win it for good, Alfonso de Albuquerque made another attempt a few months later with the help of a Hindu Chieftain called Timoja (also referred to as Thimaya). Under Adil Shah, Hindus were heavily taxed. The Goan Hindu (this includes the Christians who later converted or were forced to convert) was very dissatisfied with Muslim rule. Thimaya invited Portuguese to relieve Goa from Bijapur. Albuquerque's timing could not have been more than perfect. Sultan Adil Shah had just died and the heir to the throne was the infant Ismail Adil Shah. Ela or the city of Goa was under Rasul Khan, one of his generals. After an initial attack on the Arsenal and a quick and bloody battle, Alfonso de Albuquerque victoriously entered the city of Ela, Goa on St. Catherine's Day, November 25th 1510.

Almost nine decades later(in 1597), viceroy D. Francisco da Gama,the great-grandson of Vasco da Gama erected the Arch of the Viceroys, to honor the achievements of his great grandfather, Vasco da Gama. On taking office, every viceroy of Portugal posted to Goa, using the old ceremonial route made the procession under the arch,along the river Mandovi, where they would be given the ceremonial key to Goa. The road under the arch known as the Rua Direita leads to the main square where most of the monuments exist today.

The tradition of erecting triumphal arches goes back to Roman times, when such structures were used to celebrate great military victories, the foundation of new colonies, or the accession or death of an emperor. Revived during the Renaissance, the triumphal arch was also employed by later colonial powers in the distant lands under their rule.

The arch carries the deer crest of da Gama's family. On top of the arch on the side facing the Mandovi river is a small statue of Vasco da Gama, fully attired in his royal uniform. The arch is built of laterite stone with the side facing the river constructed of green granite.

Correspondingly, in the rear, is a statue of St Catherine of Alexandria stamping under her feet, the back up, Adil Shah, the Sultan defeat by the Portuguese.

There are two inscribed slabs alongside the walls in the arch.Inside the archway is an inscription recording that the arch was built by the Governor, Francisco da Gama (1597-1600), in the memory of his great-grandfather, Vasco da Gama. Another inscription on it is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary, commemorating the emancipation of Portugal from Spain in 1656.

Though the original structure was built in 1597, over eight decades after the conquest of the city by the Portuguese, the arch underwent considerable changes. The original arch collapsed in 1948 and it was restored in 1954, retaining the statues, excepting the bronze statue of St. Catherine which was at the top of the structure in a separate niche.It is now in the courtyard of the museum.

29 January, 2010

Goa - Aguada Fort (Bardez)

Pre-15th century Arab and Chinese geographical texts describe various natural hazards involved in long-distance shipping. However, they did not cite any significant political or military impediments to undertaking long-distance voyages to India other than the risk from pirates.Peaceful trade had remained the norm in the Indian Ocean. Evidence left behind by chroniclers like Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta, Persian ambassador Abdur Razzaq, the Venetian Nicolo Conti and Genoan Santo Stefano indicate that the Indian Ocean was the scene of thriving trade in the 14th and 15th centuries.

In 1497, 5 years after Christopher Columbus landed in America, Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese sailor, navigated around the Cape of Good Hope and sailed all along the eastern coast of Africa, stopping at the numerous Muslim trading cities that extended from Sofala to Ethiopia. In 1498, he reached the western coast of India: he was the first person to sail a ship directly from Europe to India. In India, da Gama loaded his ships with spices and returned to Europe. His voyage had been sponsored by merchants hoping to break the Muslim stranglehold on the spice trade; da Gama had shown that European merchants could sail to India directly and not deal with middlemen.

Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean in 1498 no single power had attempted to monopolize the sea lanes that connected the ports of the Indian sub-continent with the Middle East and East Africa on the West, and the ports of South East Asia and China to the East. But once the Portuguese had discovered their new route to India, they displayed considerable zeal in seizing the most profitable ports of East Africa, the Persian Gulf, and the Saurashtran, Konkan and Malabar regions in India. In 1510, Bijapur's Adil Shahi ruler ceded the control of Goa to the Portuguese. The Portuguese built forts at strategic locations in Goa and strongly garrisoned to protect the entrance to the port or to the provinces around.

A chain of fortified coastal settlements backed by regular naval patrols allowed the Portuguese to gradually eliminate many rivals, and enforce a semi-monopoly in the spice trade by the middle of the 16th C. Portuguese shipped highly-prized Indian textiles to Indonesia - picking up valuable spices in return for shipment to Europe. But the very profitability of this trade brought competitors. First the Dutch, and soon after the English and the French.

Fort Aguada stands on the Sinquerim plateau of Bardez Taluk in Goa. Built of laterite stone it was once the most important line of defence of the Portuguese colonisers 500 years ago. The construction started in 1604 and was completed in 1612. From the foot of the hill, between the two wings of walls, a stair of 100 steps come down to the level of the sea where there was a fortification with a platform. It consists of two levels - On the northern side on the lower half borders is where the Portuguese ships used to dock as it provided a harbour for local shipping. The upper level located about 200 feet above sea level comprises of a moat, underground water storage chamber, lighthouse,gunpowder room and bastions. This is where soldiers could look out toward the waters and warn of incoming Dutch enemies or attacking Hindu warriors, the Marathas. It also has a secret escape passage to use during the time of emergency.

A gunpowder room was once used to store the artillery for the 79 cannons that dominated over the grandstand. The fort was built to hold a series batteries, which allowed 200 guns to work at a time for the defence of the coast. In the year 1864, Portuguese constructed a four storey lighthouse measuring 42 feet, which in the present times is the oldest one in Asia. It was lit in the night and was last used in 1976. In recent times, it was used by the Portuguese to house political prisoners who fought for liberation.

“Aguada” is the Portuguese term for “water”. The fortress had a spring of sweet water within and underground water storage facility (the storage capacity of the tank is 23,76,000 gallons), from where sailors drew drinking water for their voyages. It was the first source of drinking water available to ships arriving in Goa after the long sea voyage. The prison, the biggest in Goa, is another relic from colonial days. Fort Aguada was never successfully invaded by outsiders during the 450-year Portuguese rule. The fort stands today intact reminding us the last portuguese glory.