Aguada, Goa, India

Military Architecture

The Aguada Peninsula is located north of the Mandovi River bar and was chosen as the site for one of the biggest forts built by the Portuguese in India, comparable in size to the strongholds of Vasai and Diu. Its geographic location and architectural features bear strong analogies to the Mormugao Fortress that defended the mouth of the Zuari River. It was begun in 1604 by the engineer Julião Simão and it is probable that the extensive construction efforts were essentially completed in the late 17th century, although it was subject to occasional repairs or renovations in later years. It currently continues to function as a prison, making use of the structures of Portuguese origin. From very early on vessels entering the Mandovi River stopped to take on water from the springs on the current Aguada Hill. In 1604 a Dutch fleet comprising seven sailing ships anchored for a month in a bay near the peninsula, but the ships suffered no damage from shots fired from the Three Kings Fortress or the artillery from Gaspar Dias Fort. The incident demonstrated the defensive weakness of that area by the river bar. As a consequence, Viceroy Aires de Saldanha immediately ordered construction of a new fortification that could not only defend the water supply zone, but also the whole southern flank of the peninsula. The aim was to effectively guard the river mouth and to ensure that vessels could circulate under the protection of its covering artillery fire. The so-called Royal Fortress was operational by 1606. It stood in the shore area on the south side of the peninsula and was completed six years later, as indicated by an inscription at the site. It had a long irregular parapet (nearly 115 metres) from which 19 guns could fire at six different angles. The northern part of the structure contained the captain’s two-storey houses, arranged around a main building oriented east-west. Integrated in this structure and along its axis was the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Voyage. Farther east was the munitions warehouse, later turned into a military prison. Near this building was also the River Gate, under a structure used as a barracks. On the other end of the Royal Fortress was the North Gate, also protected by a cavalier bastion. A lighthouse situated on a rise about 170 metres to the north crowned the entire complex; it already appears on a map dated 1615. When construction of this first core was finished various walls or couraças were extended north toward the lighthouse, where the citadel was later built, and west and east along the peninsula’s coast. Note that after 1961 the Royal Fortress was converted into the Goa territory’s main prison, with its structures subject to various changes. It has nevertheless maintained the basic footprint and volumes from the Portuguese period. Soon after work began on the Royal Fortress, a shoreline curtain wall was built running eastward to the site of the drinking water sources. In 1624 these were channelled to a monumental fountain that appears in the view of the lands of Bardez included in António Bocarro’s codex. This area, located about 200 metres northeast of the Royal Fortress, ended up also serving as location for the Sea Bastion or Battery, around which barracks and other structures were built to support the unloading dock, which was still unfinished in 1635. Another curtain wall extended westward from the Royal Fortress, accompanying the coastline for about 700 metres and leading to the western bastion. On the northeast side of the peninsula, over Candolim beach, a bastion was built in a semicircular form, joined to land by a landfill. Known later as the Queen Maria Bastion, it was probably built before 1635 but subject to later interventions. The rest of the wall, which practically joined the Queen Maria Bastion to the Sea Bastion and girded the north, east and southeast flanks of the peninsula, was a project apparently begun after 1635 and carried out at a slower pace. It included five other bastions and two gates, the main one integrated the Cava Bastion and was accessed over a drawbridge. Farther east were the Mamam and Saint Lawrence bastions, with a stretch of unfortified coast in between. The entire defence perimeter situated on lower elevations of the Aguada Peninsula totalled 14 bastions and extended over about four and a half kilometres, encompassing around 150 gun emplacements. The strength of this defence perimeter varied; the more elaborate sections on the south and northwest sides nevertheless allowed artillery pieces to be transported between bastions. On the highest part of Aguada Hill stands the fortification once known as the Citadel, joined to the Royal Fortress by two curtain walls and linked to other strategic points of the peninsula by roads. This approximately quadrangular-shaped fort comprised three regular bastions and a fourth redoubt in the southeast corner, where the lighthouse tower was located. The dimensions of this fort and the layout of its bastions bear clear affinities with the Fort of Saint Jerome in Daman. They were both probably designed by the hand of the architect Júlio Simão. We know from António Bocarro that the fortification was essentially finished by 1635, although the ditch around it seems to be from a later date, given the elaborate design of the counterscarp. The two north-facing bastions are the most developed, with flanking casemates and oreillons. The southeast redoubt (where the lighthouse was) also contained the main gate, defended by two gun emplacements. South of this redoubt was the magazine. Two couraça outworks stretched from this point, following the slope down to the shore fortification. They had bastions at intermediate elevations. The citadel precinct also contained a large square cistern. Besides these two large groups of structures (shore perimeter and citadel), the Aguada Peninsula’s interior also contained several others built from the 17th century on. Standing out among them are the Church of Sinquerim and the Chapel of Our Lady of Remedies, as well as various barracks or storage buildings. Aguada’s fortified system maintained some of its strategic value until the mid-19th century. Not only was it used for signalling purposes and for supplying water to vessels crossing the Mandovi bar, it also served as a military prison and location for troop exercises. It was one of three positions occupied by the British during the Napoleonic Wars, from 1804 to 1813, along with Mormugao and Our Lady of the Cape. The extent and complexity of this defence system is one of the most interesting examples throughout the former Portuguese Empire and provides a true lesson about the fortification modes and methods used by its military engineers.

Sidh Losa Mendiratta