Surat Fort, Surat city, Gujarat - a heritage structure and its recent conservation work

old fort, Surat.

Surat fort,

Surat castle, Surat, Gujarat.

Above image: Restored  bastion that was in a dilapidated state 

Restored colonial English style room, Surat Fort,

The Surat fort in Surat (now in Gujarat) city was built  as a strong and well fortified structure  more out of compelling reason than as a security measure  to defend the land and the kingdom.  Ruler Sultan Mahmud III constructed it to protect against Portuguese invasions  from Goa and elsewhere. Steeped in history, during the reign of Moguls in Delhi, Surat port on the west coast served as an important gateway for the Muslims who were on a pilgrimage to Mecca, an annual religious ritual undertaken by elderly Muslims. The Portuguese, knowing the importance of Surat and its location, posed threats to the city to control it. East India company already had established a trade center there.  

The Old Fort was built  in the 14th century by Mohammed Tughlag  (alias Ulugh Khan; died 20 March 1351), the ruler of Surat at that time. Concerned about the  attack by the Bhils – the local tribal of the and others, Tuglak wanted his town fortified. as a precaution. 

Though there  are many research studies on the growth and development of Surat in the medieval period, a general consensus, in terms of historical perspective, has been that because of its strategic  location on the coastal  area of what is now part of the Gujarat state, it was considered as one of  major ports of international importance centuries ago.  No doubt, way back in 1514, quite impressed by its location and other facilities, the Portuguese traveler  Barbosa  expressed his view that Surat was a great trading center dealing with all kinds of merchandise. and  it could handle many cargo ships from Malabar and  other ports providing large revenue  to the ruler.

Surat fort,Gujarat,  restored heritage water tank.

The Portuguese first arrived on the coastal Malabar in 1498 led by Vasco De Gama and after his successful voyage from India,  subsequent  Portuguese explorers to India with large  and powerful armada  were more bent on to monopolize the Spice trade and others and began to bring many areas under their control, including Goa.  Prior to the  visit of Barbosa, the Portuguese  in 1512 attacked Surat and burnt the township. This unprovoked attack and subsequent raid in 1530 for the second time under  the leadership of Antonio da Silvaria. resulted  in a chaotic political situation. The local Gujarat king  with a big army made a futile attempt to defend the city. The European raiders took over the town and burnt it in the following year 1531.

Portuguese India Armada.

Above image: Portuguese  India Armada (Armadas da ├Źndia) were the fleets of ships, organized by the crown of the Kingdom of Portugal and dispatched on an annual basis from Portugal to India, principally to Portuguese Goa (India).................

Vintage Portuguese Cannon inside Cabo De Rama for in Goa,

In this context we need to know about the Portuguese naval power and their adaptation to new inventions in cannons.  Naval artillery was the single greatest advantage the Portuguese  had  over their rivals in the Indian Ocean. So, the Portuguese  explorers in India were armed with superior  artillery power .and  had a huge advantage over the Indian rulers.  The King of Portugal made the best  cannon technology available  to his army men. in Europe, Their  bronze cannons were new, more durable and far more accurate adopting best  cannon technology  developed in Central Europe. They replaced the old ones, less accurate wrought-iron cannon. By 1500, Portugal  became a leading European power  and producer of  technology advanced naval artillery. To meet their needs and demand they imported vast volumes of copper and cannon from northern Europe and the crown industry gave importance to  the best quality, best innovations and best training, regardless of cost. On their payroll were  the best European artisans and gunners (mostly German) to advance the industry in Portugal and lured them with wage premiums, bonuses  and other perks. Portuguese naval artillery  would  immediately  incorporate any new innovation cropped-up  elsewhere and the bronze cannon was a new addition. 

Quite perturbed  by the unprovoked attack by the Portuguese who had far better artillery and fire power, the then ruler of Ahmedabad Sultan Mahmud Shah III ( reign: 1538-1554; of the Muzaffarid dynasty He had to battle frequently with his nobles who were interested in independence and  was killed by one of his servants), was keen to have a strong  and sturdy fort with better security measures built. The ruler chose Safi Agha, a Turkish soldier who had been given the noble title of Khudawand Khan to build the fort.. Emphasizing much importance to defensive measures against the strong enemies and to retard their offensive  move, the fort was built on an irregular square in plan in Portuguese style on the banks of the Tapi river.  

The height of the Fort wall was 20 Gaj (Yard) and 15 meters wide at each corner there is a large round bastion having 12. 2 meter height and the thickness of the wall was 4.1 meter. To facilitate the counterattack against the invading army, the builder  improved  defensive elements by installing the cannons at certain vantage points. Another feature is the masonry work was made stronger by mixing iron stripes to give better bonding, besides  filing the joints and  gaps in the walls with melted lead. The iron strips will hold together the masonry work.

As the Surat castle was falling apart due to poor upkeep and lack of proper maintenance for a long period, in the year 2015, the Government of Gujarat ordered the  Surat Municipal Corporation to carry out the conservation and restoration work. After various preliminary studies done by some agencies, the restoration work on the Surat fort began in 2015 (?). It was planned to undertake the Chowk Bazaar heritage square   project in three phases.  The  first step was taken by the city authorities to develop this square that included Surat castle and other  seven   heritage  structures that  needed immediate  repair and restoration. Somani Construction company was in charge of this project and it was completed in the middle of 2018 at the cost of Rs.20 crore.  

Restored building Surat fort. Surat.

Second phase of restoration work would cover the moat and the third  phase would  focus on external structure and other seven sites and it was expected to be completed  within 18 months time,. The estimate was Rs.32 crore. .An interesting feature of this project was  making provision for recreation for the people of Surat and  the construction of  4.5 km non-motorized road for walk along the river bank. . Earlier, the municipal  office  was housed in the fort in the recent past.