City Fortification

City Fortification

Goa [Velha Goa/Old Goa], Goa, India

Military Architecture

The Portuguese found in Goa an opulent and expanding port city with an urban layout spread along the Mandovi River between the Muslim castle or fortress (to the east) and the naval shipyard area (to the west). An approximately semicircular walled ditch enclosed the city on the west, south and east sides. All this defence perimeter had four gates: the Quay Gate (next to the fortress on its west side); the Riverside Gate (next to the shipyard, west of the fortress); the Baçais Gate (south of the fortress, opening to the interior of Tiswadi Island); and the Mandovi Gate (to the east and close to the fortress). After the city was first conquered on 17 February 1510, Afonso de Albuquerque hastened to restore its walls and clean up the respective ditch. Besides these repairs, Albuquerque decided to ‘shorten’ the fortress, i.e. to reduce its footprint, occupying only the northern or riverside part of its structure. In this sector the Portuguese built a number of houses to use as storehouses and arsenal. As lime was lacking the work was done with stone and clay. The aim of these pragmatic actions was to withstand with the few available men and resources the expected counteroffensive and siege by Adil Khan’s forces. But the Portuguese were unable to resist and had to abandon the city three months later. On 25 November 1510 the city fell once again into Portuguese hands. Work on building the new fortress began in early December on the site of the dismantled Muslim structure. This project was overseen by Tomás Fernandes and involved work by 20 Portuguese stonemasons and local workers, as well as many soldiers from the fleet. It is hard to rigorously ascertain its precise location without an archaeological investigation. But we know from contemporary descriptions that the fortress comprised three main redoubts: a tower next to the quay gate (west); a tower keep (farther south, by the river); and a third tower, near the Mandovim or custom house area (east). From the Mandovim tower a couraça extended northward, leading to a bastion over the river. While the quayside and Mandovim towers were square, the river bastion was octagonal. The two-storey tower keep, equipped with artillery, was probably rectangular. Between the tower keep and the quayside tower was a gate allowing entry to the fortress. A moat was dug around the precinct which communicated with the river. When the fortress work was well advanced, Afonso de Albuquerque ordered the city walls repaired and strengthened. A new wall section was built to join the Quay Gate to the Riverside Gate, defending the city’s entire shoreline. The Muslim wall was also rebuilt and strengthened with cubelo towers “established below, by the ditch, with gun emplacements that swept the entire wall”, according to Gaspar Correia. The Riverside Gate merited special attention and provisions, and was equipped with artillery pieces. The system was put to test in 1511 and 1512, when Goa was attacked several times by forces of the Sultanate of Bijapur based in the Benasterim Fort. Note the gradual changes of the names of the city’s four gates. The Quay (Cais) Gate began to be known as the Arch of the Viceroys, the Riverside (Ribeira) Gate was named after Saint Catharine, the Baçais Gate after Our Lady of the Hill and the Mandovim Gate after Our Lady of the Conception. From 1530 on, when the capital moved from Kochi [Cochin] to Goa, the city’s population grew sharply and the urban fabric flowed beyond the wall perimeter. By around 1550 the wall ditch was mostly filled with rubble and the wall itself was dismantled or ruined in some sectors. The fact that buildings abutted the walls on the exterior also made it ineffective. Like Tiswadi Island, the entire city was badly protected and this was aggravated by the destruction of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire (1565). Amid these circumstances royal orders to begin a double defence project arrived: to build a wall along the entire east and southeast flank of Tiswadi Island; and to build another wall to encompass the new urban perimeter of the city of Goa. Only the first wall was begun. As Pyrard de Laval noted, in the early 1600s the Portuguese were no longer concerned about safeguarding the city of Goa from the land side, “which means toward the interior from the island, because the passage points were well guarded and they trusted them”. Actually, the bad winds now blew from the sea. In about 1554 the fortress became the official residence of the governors and viceroys of India and until 1684 was the maximum institutional symbol of the Estado da Índia. What was then known as the Palace or Mansion of the Viceroys was subject to various interventions, though from the mid-18th century on it was abandoned and fell into ruin. The Pombaline initiative to rebuild the city produced a detailed restoration plan, but in 1818 the Viceroy Count of Rio Pardo ordered it dismantled. Nowadays a few vestiges of the walls remain, along with one or another ornament and the Arch of the Viceroys.

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