Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Yeshvantgad Fort 1662

The former Chalukyan port, and one time, regional capital, Reddi, boasts one of the most impressive forts in the region. Situated on the ruins of the now completely dilapidated port, Reddi is only a few leagues away from Terecol fort on the Maharashtra side of the border. The precise origins of the fort are unclear. It may have started off as a Bijapur coastal garrison post only to be developed by the Sawants and then the Mahrattas into a fort of significant strategic coastal importance. It is certainly one of the biggest in the area. There is an extensive system of fortifications that reaches down to the virgin beach below. To penetrate the fort one has to go through several gates and outer walls. The interior still is - unusually for the region - largely intact, even if abandoned and taken over by the vegetation. There is a central courtyard in the interior with a few columns and pillars left standing. The ramparts have partially crumbled away into the ocean below. A few wild monkeys inhabit the place.
Little is known about the history of the fort. In November 1746, four Portuguese battalions supported by troops from the kingdom of Sunda attacked the then Sawant held fort. After several days of fighting, the fort fell to the Portuguese. Political negotiations ensued in which the Sawants proved desperate to regain the fort, so important was Reddi as a strategic naval base. The Viceroy, however, made it clear that no fort of this importance could be restituted without the express approval of the King of Portugal. Disillusioned, the Sawants plotted with the connivance of the native Governor to regain the fort. Informed of the conspiracy, the Viceroy had the Governor summarily hanged and replaced. In August 1747, the Sawants poisoned the garrison's fish supply. When the Portuguese troops showed the first symptoms of illness, the Sawants launched a major attack but it was in vain. The Portuguese resisted and retained control of the fort. It was eventually handed back to the Sawants following a peace treaty before falling into the hands of another power. For fifteen years, from 1765 to 1780, the Union Jack proudly flew over Yeshvantgad fort after a fierce naval engagement. The late R. B. Worthington of the Bombay Civil Service provided a valuable physical description of the fort for the Bombay Gazette:
'Built on the south side, the fort commands the mouth of the creek. The citadel stands on a hill, which, with a large piece of the surrounding plain, is enclosed by an irregular outer wall. A little above the fort the creek is joined by an estuary, the water of which protects the eastern end, and a short branch of it washes close along the foot of the southern fortification. At the south-east corner of the wall is some ruined masonry apparently guarding a sluice, by which probably the level of the water could be kept up at low tide. The land to the south-east was probably formerly under water at high tide and an impassable swamp at low tide, for the whole of the outer defences of that side of the fort seem to be much slighter than elsewhere, the wall ceasing to be fortified and becoming more like a dam than a fort wall. Along the south-west there are low fortifications and a small pass ending in a gate, from which a towered wall stretches to the sea. Thus the whole line of circumvallation, about 1½ miles, intercepts a long strip of smooth sandy beach about a quarter of a mile in length. Of the whole space enclosed by the walls, the eastern half is taken up by the hill and citadel, and the western half by a plain, now covered by a palm grove and a small cluster of houses. The outer wall is armed with round towers, the strongest of them about twenty feet high and joined by a loopholed curtain about 17 feet high. Through the gate of the outer wall, a paved road, passing up the central citadel hill, is crossed by a wall that runs from the citadel to the outer fortifications. Through a gate in this wall is a square court, and up a flight of steps and through a third gate is the citadel. From their outer foundations the walls of the citadel stand about twenty-five feet high, and close under them circling all except the south-east corner of the walls, is a dry ditch or trench twenty-four feet wide and about thirteen feet deep, cut in the solid rock, its side opposite the wall being a sheer perpendicular. Towards the north-west the side of the moat opposite the wall is lined with masonry. In the south-east corner, where there is no moat, the wall is built rather to protect the besieged from distant artillery than to carry guns. It is not easy to see over, and the ground outside is divided by walls leading from the citadel to the outer fortifications. The square court in front of the citadel entrance is on a much lower level than the citadel itself, the top of its walls being about seventeen feet lower than the top of the citadel. Its walls are ten feet thick and twenty feet high, and it has round towers at the corners twenty-five yards apart measuring from centre to centre of the towers. The whole court is enclosed within the moat. The walls of the citadel are about twelve feet thick at the top, with a semicircular tower at about every sixty yards, intended for great guns. The circumference of the citadel is about one-third of a mile. The plateau inside is almost perfectly level. The palace is a double square with oblong towers at opposite corners. Its timbers have been carried away, and the only interesting point about its architecture is the question whether it may possibly be Portuguese [See Bom. Gov. Sel. X. 157. It may be that the fort once belonged to the Portuguese and that the palace was a monastery.]. The fort walls are in good preservation, and the buildings are still habitable. The fort was occasionally used as a sanatorium for Belgaum troops in the past. Within the fort walls is a police station...'

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