Chaul [Revdanda Fort]

Lat: 18.546830986816000, Long: 72.927727983775000

Chaul [Revdanda Fort]

Maharashtra, India

Historical Background and Urbanism

In March 1508 the port and the sea near Chaul were the setting for one of the most renowned naval battles of the Portuguese presence in Asia: the Battle of Chaul, Portugal’s first naval defeat in Asia. A small fleet was surprised by the Islamic fleet commanded by Mir Hussein and armed by the ruler of Diu, Meliqueaz (Malik Aiyaz). This was a formidable unit brought together and armed by the joint forces of the Mamluk sultanate of Cairo and Alexandria, Rumi (Turkish) mercenaries, the Samorin of Kozhikode and Venice, among others. The Portuguese commander Lourenço de Almeida, son of the first Viceroy Francisco de Almeida, died when his ship was destroyed on the Chaul bar when retreating. Everything was at stake as the recently-arrived Portuguese competed for control of the Indian seas with the Muslim mercantile status quo backed by the Ottoman Empire, via which merchandise from the Far East reached Europe. The retaliation was not long in coming and here was openly a matter of personal vengeance. In what is considered the Portuguese navy’s most emblematic battle, on 3 February 1509 the Portuguese fleet commanded by Francisco de Almeida himself defeated the Samorin of Kozhikode’s fleet, razed the city of Dabul and destroyed the Islamic fleet lying off Diu, thus establishing a foothold for Portuguese dominion over the Indian seas which lasted several decades, although there were frequent encounters with Turkish fleets. On the way, he forced the feudatory ruler of Chaul, a vassal of the Sultanate of Ahmadnagar, to become a vassal of the King of Portugal, paying regular tribute in exchange for support in the fight against the Sultanate of Bijapur. Some commercial exchanges had occurred previously, which led to the establishment of a factor designated by Goa at the mouth of the Kundalika River, whose navigability allowed products of high commercial value to be brought from the interior. On the other hand, the position on the coast, halfway between the spices of Malabar and the riches of Khambat, made its military control a strategic matter, also because the geographic features enabled establishment of an effective defence system. The river enters the sea capriciously through a siphon. The inside of the bend, a stretch of beach open to the south, was the ideal place to set up a factory and fortress, also because, as in Vasai, a swampy estuary isolated that strip from the mainland side to the east. Virtually the only direct contact with the mainland was by the north. On the south shore, the importance of building a fort on the hilly isthmus (Korlai) which forced the river to flow northward into the sea was obvious, as it would not only enable cross-fire, but also prevent anyone from targeting the north shore without being punished. Upriver from that site, ideal for installing the factory and fort and thus where the Portuguese city developed, was the city of Chaul de-cima (upper). According to various accounts, in the early 1500s, despite being very small and almost unpopulated during the months when the monsoon hindered navigation, trade and war, the city was well defended and endowed with good buildings. It was basically a port terminal, and thus seasonal, for an interior kingdom, the Sultanate of Ahmadnagar. Despite the symbolic submission to vassalage in 1509 and the establishment of a factor, only in 1516 was authorisation requested and obtained from Sultan Nizam ul-Mulk of Ahmadnagar (Nizamaluco for the Portuguese) to build a factory. The modest building was raised on the land strip at a site called Revdanda, a name now used to designate the old Portuguese Chaul de-baixo (lower). Five years later and once again making the best of local political problems, authorisation was granted to build a fort. This was an important step, for it became the most advanced Portuguese base in the conquest of the north and control of the rich dealings with Khambat. In 1524, despite the blockade immediately imposed on the port by a new Turkish fleet, the fort was ready. It had been preceded by a quickly-built wooden structure, inside which stone was worked. Meanwhile, once the factory was installed a town grew up on the surrounding open land, which may have had small provisional enclosure, most likely an entrenchment. In the following years, and despite its intense trading activity, Chaul played an active role in the constant struggle to win maritime and commercial hegemony over the northern Indian Ocean from the Muslims. From 1540 on, the constant pressure of the Turkish fleet and the mood swings of the sultan who hosted them became almost negligible. But when the Portuguese learned of the latter’s death in 1557 they realised that the peace was over and as an urgent preventive measure proposed the occupation and fortification of the bordering hill of Korlai, where an entrenched battery had been built during the 1520s siege. The new sultan refused permission and began building his own fortification. The viceroy’s quick intervention interrupted its construction and everything remained as before, for a while. But the sultan eventually resumed the construction work. In 1594, under entirely different circumstances, the Portuguese conquered the hill in a heroic attack. The change accompanied the submission of the Hindu kingdom of Vijayanagar to Muslim domination and the mutual alliance the Muslim kingdoms established to expel the Portuguese from India. As happened with Goa, Chaul suffered a major siege in late 1570 and early the following year. By the end of June the city was practically destroyed by the fighting and constant bombardments. A peace treaty was then signed. Besides the fort, the convents, churches and private houses were also used as defensive structures and almost all were severely damaged. It was obvious that it was vital to modernise the defences by fortifying. The city then began to be enclosed, taking on its characteristic urban form, not only in layout but also the photogenic image of a bastioned vessel on the beach lined by coconut palms. Just what town did King João III raise to city status in 1545? This is hard to ascertain, given that besides the bastioned perimeter, described below in its own entry, the urban core has disappeared under a dense and privately owned palm grove, clearly rooted more than a metre above the city’s onetime ground level. It is a layer surely rich in materials which only archaeology can properly excavate and study. The ruins of some structures are still standing, though disappearing at a fast pace. Available old images clarify the position of the defensive perimeter, but provide little information about the buildings and urban structure. The most reliable resource against the dense palm grove is the report from the 1964 survey conducted by the German historian Gritli von Mitterwalner. The original fort was no more than a small square roqueta with a surface area of about 2,500 sq. metres and walls about four-and-a-half metres thick. Turrets can still be made out in three of the four corners, one of them being a keep. It was raised at the far south-southeast end next to the factory and the beach. Only in the mid-1530s was the first Christian house of worship raised – Our Lady of the Sea, the first parish church – outside the fort’s southeast corner. Successive renovations eventually transformed it into a building of a respectable size and architectural quality, leading to removal of the fort’s fourth turret. The factory was located across a square to the west. At the same time the church was founded the Franciscans established themselves, overseeing the former’s spiritual management. But construction of their convent only began in 1561 and lasted for three years. In 1549 it was the Dominicans’ turn. Both complexes are quite large and were raised along the beach from the west to the south-west, thus establishing a pole opposite the original core and making room for development of the intermediate urban grid and buildings. The Misericórdia charity institution was established early on and ended up installing itself in the middle distance, toward the north. Everything, including descriptions of the combats in the 1570-71 siege, seems to indicate that the city’s perimeter was roughly bounded by the following facilities (clockwise): parish church, fort, Dominicans, Franciscans and Misericórdia. The only square that has been referenced is the one mentioned, between the fort and the factory. In the middle of the rural hinterland to the north a number of churches were founded, such as that of the Mother of God, which besides supporting conversion efforts also played a central role in determining an advanced defensive line, as will be seen in the following entry. The bastioned perimeter raised in the last decades of the 1500s, though subject to continual improvements until the Portuguese presence ended, enclosed the city, leaving it two access points, the usual sea and land gates. Exceptionally, the parish church was originally on the outside. This was because the construction of a wall about two-and-a-half metres thick and one higher began beforehand. From the fort it stretched east to the estuary, leaving the church outside but thereby pre-enclosing that front. It was a shield to connect the fort to the powder magazine and was under construction until 1531, contracted to the master André Fernandes. It is significant that there is no reason to suppose a clear connection (rectilinear or even direct/straight) between the two gates. The pre-existing convent facilities were rebuilt, maintaining the previous urban arrangements; it is quite likely that something similar happened with the other buildings. But the city resumed as before, without major changes in its urban structure besides, obviously, now having a clear boundary. These limits nevertheless more than doubled the previously occupied area. It was in that space, on the extended street linking the Dominican convent to the Misericórdia, where the court and convent of the Augustinians was established (1587), i.e., just before the Land Gate. On a roughly parallel path to the east the Jesuits installed themselves in 1580. With the major exception of these two streets and another to the west, also serving the Augustinians and the court of justice, it is not possible to make out other indications of an eventual regular layout of Chaul’s urban grid, which was apparently not very dense, the houses having relatively spacious yards. But the enlarged urban area provided by the wall did not prevent the city from expanding northward, where along the onetime central street there is still a lively cluster of buildings. Although it corresponds to the parishes of Saint Sebastian and Saint John, we can consider this district to be that of the Mother of God, for in this area above the beach a Capuchin convent and church of that order were raised in 1584; they also became a pole for an advanced defence line endowed with its own wall and bastion. As a corollary to the process of Maratha harassment of the Província do Norte, with the other positions in Vasai district already lost, in 1740 the parties negotiated an agreement whereby Portugal ceded Chaul in exchange for peace in Daman and Goa. The city founded by the Portuguese, which never had more than two or three hundred residents from the home country who coexisted with many native faithful, then lost its urban condition. Those unable to flee to other Portuguese settlements took refuge on the other side of the river in the village of Kolai at the foot of the hill. Even today there are clear attestations of that ascendance.

Religious Architecture

Military Architecture