Kannur [Cananor]

Lat: 11.853766666667000, Long: 75.372088888889000

Kannur [Cananor]

Kerala, India

Historical Background and Urbanism

In 1502 the Portuguese built their first permanent establishment in the port of Kannur [Cannanore], a factory dedicated to acquiring ginger, very abundant in the Kingdom of Kolathunadu. The Portuguese fort was eventually built on the site, a long spit of land, low and flat, which dominated Kannur Bay. The area was then barely inhabited and marginal to the native town. The early Portuguese settlement grew up at the end of that peninsula and the factory built in 1502 was the founding building of the small burgh. Its defence system was built to withstand incursions from the mainland, while on all other sides it was surrounded by a rocky coast, so it was clearly isolated from the local environment. Four years later construction work began on a large structure meant to store food. A hermitage dedicated to Our Lady of Victory was also built, commemorating the naval success achieved by the Portuguese led by Lourenço de Almeida. A quay was later built to enable docking on the bay side of the peninsula. The following year, when the defence precinct was besieged by the Muslim Mappila community, a fire broke out in the factory building whose roof was made of palm fronds. It spread quickly to adjacent houses, all built of flammable materials. This confirms the settlement’s existence in that sector since some time beforehand. It was portrayed in the mid-1500s by the chronicler Gaspar Correia. His drawing and text coincide with respect to the presence of the cited public buildings arranged around a courtyard used to treat and condition the ginger. On the opposite side by the sea stood the food and munitions warehouse, a single-storey building backing onto the wall, and the hospital, perhaps established by Francisco de Almeida, though certainly operational in the 1510s, as indicated by the provisions for infirmary staff and pharmacists. It was then deemed the best facility of its kind in India, and was sought by people from other fortresses. But it stopped operating in 1554; its small building was then converted into a weapons store and gunpowder magazine. The nearly 30 houses, almost all single-storey, were also arranged around that large public space, toward the far southern end of the peninsula by the shoreline. The northern part of that space joined to the fort. At the tip was the Hermitage of Our Lady of Victory, an elongated construction with a gable roof. It was probably still in the 1510s that the nearly 20 Portuguese casado settlers and 80 members of the garrison began to favour the northwest location of the tower keep, therefore adjacent to the exterior wall and ditch, allegedly because the houses at the tip were very uncomfortable during the monsoon. Gaspar Correia’s drawing shows this space fully urbanised by mid-century, with two land gates on opposite sides by the sea and the bay. António Bocarro (1635) reported that only the latter was still fortified. This sector was organised around two circulation axes: one almost perpendicular street fronting the sea, which linked the precinct’s gate by the tower keep to Saint Francis’s Convent ; and another almost perpendicular street leading to the passage out of the complex. They met at the Largo do Matriz [Parish Church Square], the main public space. Several secondary streets, more or less orthogonal, formed blocks. The houses were almost all single-storey. The kitchen gardens inside the blocks were marked out by stakes in back of the properties. Some houses abutted the wall. During the governorship of Francisco de Almeida work began on building the parish church dedicated to Saint James. This small construction was repaired, adorned and given a new bell in 1514, though five years later it was considered unable to hold all the Christian population. It was situated inside the fort and was most likely the long narrow building with a round-arched portal topped by a window and gable roof with bell structure by the eaves that Correia labelled the Misericórdia [charity institution]. That institution was given its own worship space in the mid-16th century and must have moved there after the new “principal church” was raised between 1523 and 1524 “inside the walls”. A temple was then made, “of good quality and largeness [...] with a chapel on one of its flanks”, certainly the building that chronicler depicted in the centre of the urbanised space between the tower keep and the wall and exterior ditch. It had a gable roof and voluminous bell tower, and was situated on open ground, walled and raised; it was accessed by stairs located right in the middle of the settlement. Kannur’s main church suffered a great deal of damage in the early 1600s. In 1619 the king insisted that it should be repaired, ending the possibility that it would benefit from the contract to prepare the defence system overseen by the engineer Júlio Simão. The very last religious space to be built in Kannur was the convent of the Observant Franciscans. In 1518 they raised the possibility of establishing an oratory there, following on those installed in Goa and Kochi. The king began by blocking this intention, but by 1542 it was already established by the friars. Three years later the order’s new custodian came from the home kingdom with authorisation to that effect. In 1549 the construction work was almost finished, with the chapter approving the establishment of a college on the site. Ten years later the complex comprised Saint Francis’s Convent and Saint Anthony’s Church. It was situated at the far west end of the settlement, near the exterior wall and ditch. The drawing by Pedro Barreto Resende in António Bocarro’s report indicates that the ensemble was augmented by a cloister, probably built after the nearby fortification gate was closed off. As for the original settlement at the end of the peninsula, it gradually disappeared, perhaps due to the exposure to inclement weather. By the first decades of the 1600s the Hermitage of Our Lady of Victory, with added bell tower and apparently renamed Our Lady of Miracles, stood isolated over the bare environs. In the first half of the 16th century some Portuguese decided to move beyond the military precinct to live with the converted Indians. In 1519 it was hard to house so many people inside the walls; four years later, houses had to be demolished to make way for the new church then being built, which shows how densely occupied the space between the tower keep and the exterior wall and ditch was. There were then 25 Portuguese casado settlers with 70 children. But more than 200 Portuguese wintered there that year; there were also 700 native Christians [cristãos da terra]. In the middle of that century Gaspar Correia depicted a line of single-storey houses outside the fort and bordering the bay, with a boat landing – a space marked by the presence of crosses. But it was burnt down sometime before 1554, leading to the death of some of its inhabitants and causing misery among the survivors. This was certainly due to the lack of physical separation between this outlying cluster and the Muslim hamlet, the so-called Moorish bazaar, which was located in an adjacent area also by the shore. Five years later there were already “stockades that enclosed the outside settlement”, in the words of Diogo do Couto, confirming the organisation of an urban space outside the fort and protected by defence structures. The latter were weak, so the non-combatant resident took refuge in the fort during times of trouble. This cluster, the Portuguese settlement’s first defence line, was continually assailed by skirmishes orchestrated by the Mappila community led by Ali Raja. There are occasional reports that the Muslims were able to burn some of the houses there, for example in the 1630s. At the time it was a village with stone and mortar houses and tile roofs, surrounded by “very large” yards and kitchen gardens, with a perimeter of just under 1,500 metres. Portuguese Cananor never enjoyed a true urban status and was called a fortress, never a town. The initial impetus to settle around the fort did not lead to establishment of a significant installation. The Europeans remained confined to a small peninsula. It was a position originally justified by the trade in ginger, a product which tended to suffer major competition from other colonial markets. The Portuguese presence was therefore and above all justified by strategic reasons associated to the attempt to control the activities of Malabar’s Muslim communities.

André Teixeira

Military Architecture

Religious Architecture

Equipment and Infrastructures

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