Bassein Fort

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The Fort's Facade
Bassein Fort entrance

Vasai or Bassein Fort is a large fort in Vasai village, in the Vasai taluka (county) of the District of Palghar, Konkan Division, Maharashtra State, Republic of India. The name "Bassein" is the English version of the Portuguese "Baçaim" (with the "ç" spoken as "s" and with the "m" silent), itself a version of an apparently native name that may have a connection to the Vasa Konkani tribals of the North Konkan region, extending from Mumbai into "South Gujarat." The Marathi name of the place is Vasai.

The complete form of the Portuguese name is "Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim" or the Fort of St. Sebastian of Vasai. The Vasai fort is a monument of national importance and is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.[1]

The fort and the village are accessible most easily through the Vasai Road Railway Station, which itself is in Manikpur-Navghar, a part of the newly raised City of Vasai-Virar (See "Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation"), and lies to the immediate north of the cities of Mumbai and Mira Road-Bhayander. The "Vasai Road" Railway Station is on the Western Railway line (formerly the Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railways) in the direction of Virar Railway Station.[2]

History[edit]

The Greek merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes is known to have visited the areas around Bassein in the sixth century, and the Chinese traveller Xuanzang later on June or July 640 CE. According to Historian Joseph Gerson Da Cunha, during this time, Bassein and its surrounding areas appeared to have been ruled by the Chalukya dynasty of Karnataka.[3] Until the 11th century, several Arabian geographers had mentioned references to towns nearby Bassein, like Thana and Sopara, but no references had been made to Bassein.[4] Bassein was later ruled by the Silhara dynasty of Konkan, and eventually passed to the Yadavas of Devagiri, before being conquered by the Muslim rulers of Gujarat.[5]

The Portuguese first reached the west coast of India when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut in 1498.[5] For several years after their arrival in India, they had been consolidating their power in north Konkan.[6] They had established a strong foothold in Goa, which they captured from the Sultan of Bijapur in 1510.[7] According to Historian Faria y Souza, the coast of Bassein was first visited by the Portuguese in 1509, when Francisco de Almeida on his way to Diu captured a Mohammedan ship in the harbour of Bombay, with 24 Moors belonging to Gujarat.[8] At the time, the cession of Mumbai (or Bombay) was of minor importance - but retroactively it gained a crucial importance when the place passed from the Portuguese to the English in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza, and became a major trade center - making this the treaty's most important long-range result.

Portuguese mariners exploring the north Konkan Coast, discovered the Arab Sultanate of Khambat or Cambay, building or renovating or expanding the fort in the early 1400s and attacked it in a failed effort to seize it. Later, after more systematic efforts, the Sultanate of Cambay ceded the fort to Portugal by the Treaty of Saint Matthew signed on the Portuguese brig Sao Matteus anchored in the Bhayander Creek or Vasai Harbor.

The Treaty of Bassein was signed by Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat and the Kingdom of Portugal on 23 December 1534 while on board the galleon São Mateus. Based on the terms of the agreement, the Portuguese Empire gained control of the city of Bassein, as well as its territories, islands, and seas. The Mumbai Islands under Portuguese control include Colaba, Old Woman's Island, Mumbai, Mazagaon, Worli, Matunga, and Mahim. Salsette, Daman and Diu, Thane, Kalyan, and Chaul were other territories controlled and settled by the Portuguese.

At the time, the cession of Mumbai (or Bombay) was of minor importance - but retroactively it gained a crucial importance when the place passed from the Portuguese to the English in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza, and became a major trade center - making this the treaty's most important long-range result.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Under Portugal, the fort was the Northern Court or "Corte da Norte," second only to the City of Goa, functioning as the headquarters of the Captain of the North. For 150 odd years, the presence of the Portuguese made the surrounding area a vibrant and opulent city.[6] As such it was the capital of Portuguese possessions on the coast north of Goa, over places such as Chaul-Revdanda, Karanja Island, the Bombay Archipelago, Bandra Island, Juhu Island, Salsette Island including the City of Thane, Dharavi Island, the Vasai archipelago itself, Daman, Diu, and other Portuguese holdings extending up the coasts to Pakistan, Oman, the UAE, Iran, and other parts of the Persian Gulf.

The ethnic community locally known in the Bombay region as the "East Indians" (sic) were called "Norteiro" (Northernmen) after the Court of the North functioning out of the fort.

Statue of the Maratha general Chimaji Appa at the Fort.
One of the few standing structures
Vasai fort building2.jpg

In the 18th century, the fort was taken over by the Maratha army under Peshwa Baji Rao's brother Chimaji Appa, and fell in 1739 after a three-year-long campaign. (See-Battle of Vasai) The British shortly attacked and took over the territory from the Marathas as the price for supporting one faction of the Marathas against another.

Present[edit]

The ramparts overlook what is alternatively called the Vasai Creek and the Bhayander Creek and are almost complete, though overgrown by vegetation. Several watch-towers still stand, with safe staircases leading up. The Portuguese buildings inside the fort are in ruins, although there are enough standing walls to give a good idea of the floor plans of these structures. Some have well-preserved façades. In particular, many of the arches have weathered the years remarkably well. They are usually decorated with carved stones, some weathered beyond recognition, others still displaying sharp chisel marks.

Three chapels inside the fort are still recognisable. They have façades typical of 17th-century Portuguese churches. The southernmost of these has a well preserved barrel-vaulted ceiling.

The fort is often used for shooting Bollywood film scenes. The films shot here include Josh, Khamoshi, and Ram Gopal Verma's Aag.

Besides all the structures one should not miss observing the nature that has taken over much of the fort. It is a great place to observe butterflies, birds, plants and reptiles.

The Archaeological Survey of India has started restoration work of the fort, although the quality of the work has been severely criticized by "conservation activists". It is said that the fort has a bad reputation for illegal activities and that during the week days its not advisable for tourists or women to visit it.[citation needed]

Bassein fort main entrance with embellishments

Accessibility[edit]

One needs to take a Western Railways train bound to Virar from Churchgate and get off at Vasai Road. If someone is coming from the Central Railway or Central Railway Harbour Line then they have to switch to the Western Railway line at either Dadar, Bandra or Andheri. Another railway line connects the Central and the Western Railways lines from Vasai Road Railway Station to Diva, a stop just beyond Thane city on the Central Railway line, and long-distance passenger trains travelling this route also carry commuters between the two lines. A new railway station named Kopar has started which is between Diva and Dombivli. Passengers travelling from Thane or Kalyan can alight at Kopar and go top by staircase and at Platform No.3 they can catch the Diva to Vasai train. Vasai Road station is only one hour by train from Kopar station. Currently there are 5 trains daily which goes to Vasai Road from Dombivli, Diva and Panvel and 5 trains from Vasai Road to Diva and Panvel. There is a State Road Transport Bus Terminus & Station adjacent and to the immediate west of the Vasai Road Railway Station in Manickpur-Navghar. The destination for buses going to the Vasai fort is "Killa Bunder" or "Fort Jetty/Quay." There are buses every half hour. Ticket costs you Rs. 7.00 and you can get off at the last stop and walk around. Auto-Rickshaws are also available which can be hired from the western entrance to the Railway station but cost more per head and are unsafe in that they are usually congested. Auto Rickshaws are also available which can be hired from the main road outside the station but it would cost you around Rs.20.00 per head.[7]

Gallery[edit]

The Flora and Fauna inside the fort premises.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Monument #110, Mumbai Circle, ASI: http://asi.nic.in/asi_monu_alphalist_maharashtra_mumbai.asp
  2. ^ Western Railway Mumbai Suburban Route Map: http://www.wr.indianrailways.gov.in/view_section.jsp?lang=0&id=0,6
  3. ^ Da Cunha 1999, p. 129
  4. ^ Da Cunha 1999, p. 130
  5. ^ Da Cunha 1999, p. 131
  6. ^ Maharashtra Tourism: Vasai Fort - http://www.maharashtratourism.gov.in/MTDC/HTML/MaharashtraTourism/TouristDelight/Forts/Forts.aspx?strpage=VasaiFort.html
  7. ^ Time To Travel: Vasai Fort - http://www.timetotravel.co.in/2010/01/vasai-fort.html

Coordinates: 19°19′49″N 72°48′54″E / 19.33028°N 72.81500°E / 19.33028; 72.81500