Morro Fort

Morro Fort

Chaul [Revdanda Fort], Maharashtra, India

Military Architecture

he Morro (hill or ridge) de Chaul Fort is situated on a promontory on the south bank of the Kundalika River opposite the former Portuguese city of Chaul. The history of this place is forever associated to the 1594 battle that led to its conquest by the Portuguese, one of the last victories and significant positions achieved by the Estado da Índia, barring Goa’s campaign of new conquests in the mid-18th century. Soon after fortification of the Chaul factory (1521), the Portuguese established a defence position on the south bank of the bar, whose precise location is unknown. According to Gaspar Correia, it was a “tower with one upper floor on top of the hill”. After some conflicts with forces from the sultanate of Ahmadnagar, the area of the promontory was demilitarised. But the Portuguese nevertheless occupied the site. The decisive battle of Morro de Chaul took place in September 1594, after soldiers from the sultanate of Ahmadnagar had built bastions and walls on the hill. From those positions they harried navigation on the Chaul bar. The Portuguese resolutely grouped at Chaul’s fort and crossed the river in small vessels. After a few hours of battle the attackers had taken various positions; the Indian forces only held out in one last structure, since then called the Tower of Resistance. According to Diogo de Couto, after the ridge was conquered most of its military structures were dismantled due to the inherent cost of maintaining such an extensive fortification. But that assertion is hard to verify. It is certain that a 1646 attack by Indian forces led to work on rebuilding the southern part of the fort, called the castle. Two inscriptions attest to those efforts, which resulted in the Chapel of Our Lady of Good Voyage, powder magazines and other structures. After that the fortification was apparently not subject to major interventions, despite being besieged in 1684. The ridge remained well equipped and watched until October 1740, when it was turned over to the Marathas along with the Chaul stronghold. The fort’s layout reveals the pragmatic and flexible approach used by Portuguese military engineering in the East. At Morro de Chaul the Portuguese joined a pre-existing fort along the top of the ridge to a coastal bastion overlooking the river bar, via a shielding wall more than half a kilometre long. It can be argued that the resulting imposing appearance somewhat overstated the fort’s actual strength and defensibility. The fort is relatively well preserved, with many artillery pieces still in their positions. On the lower level, closing a triangular ground on the north side, stands the Holy Cross Bastion. This position crossed fire with the Chaul stronghold to defend the bar. In 1635 it was equipped with five cannons and a detachment of 20 soldiers and two five bombardiers. On the Chaul side the wall opened via a gate to a small quay. The soldiers’ quarters still exist in the northeast corner of the ground. On the west side and higher up was the Knight’s Bastion. A staircase continues southward to the Bastion of Saint James, whence a wall about 100 metres long leads to the Bastion of Saint Francis Xavier. Another wall, about 120 metres long, extends to the watchtower of Saint Philip. Here another wall about 145 metres long stretches to the castle, the main core of the pre-Portuguese fortification. It is accessed via a door leading to a first open ground, where a number of Hindu sacred structures are located along with vestiges of other constructions. Several metres to the south is a further opening, flanked by two strong round bastions and providing access to the castle’s main ground, where the aforementioned Chapel of Our Lady of Good Voyage is located. This house of worship was administered by the Franciscans, who also played an active role in the conquest. The construction evolved from a structure with matted walls and a straw or palm-leaf ceiling to become an entirely vaulted building, with a frontispiece design characteristic of Província do Norte churches: entrance with round arch topped by a rectangular window and also an oculus. Noteworthy are the decorative motifs at the base of the entrance columns. According to Gritli von Mittelwallner, the main façade would have also included a small porch and bell tower. Inside, on the right side of the chancel is an opening for a sacristy; on the same side in the nave’s body a pulpit’s access stairs remain. Outside the chapel’s apse are two buttresses. This sector of the castle also contains the captain’s house, munitions stores and a cross. A door is in the wall on the east side, preceded by steps. Here begins the path leading to the village of Korlai at the foot of the hill. This door’s arch is of Arab appearance, crowned by a barely legible Portuguese inscription. It was probably one of the entrances of the pre-Portuguese structure. Immediately to the north, across a wall section, is another open space where an underground cistern is located. At the southern end of the fortification is a scissor-shaped bastion also equipped with artillery. Beyond it was a pit that effectively divided the defence structure’s terrain from the rest of the Morro de Chaul peninsula. As in the fortified plateau of Asserim, the hill’s parapets were readily supplied with boulders that could be rolled down the slope in case of attack. Communications across the river between the hill and the city were critically important. In 1635, one of the munitions stores on the hill belonged exclusively to Chaul. Mutual assistance between the fortifications, sweeping artillery crossfire over the bar and the good status of both the city’s and the hill’s fortifications made the city of Chaul one of the safest places in the entire Estado da Índia.

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