The nostalgic ruins of Vasai fort which is about 60 kilometers north of Mumbai in Maharashtra tells the tale of what was the headquarters of prosperous Portuguese rule in the 16th and 17th centuries. More than just a fort, Vasai Fort was once a living city of greater size and importance than Mumbai.
Vasai, called Baçaim by the Portuguese came into Portuguese possession after it was surrendered by Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in 1534. Portuguese used Vasai as their commercial and military base. It became their capital in the north Konkan region and their second most important location after Goa.
The fort, with stone wall and 11 bastions, covers nearly 110 acres. It is surrounded by sea on three sides. The Portuguese were renowned for their naval power and fiercely guarded it with a fleet of armed ships, making it impenetrable.
The Marathas tried for two years to capture Vasai Fort during Portuguese rule but couldn’t gain access. Their attacks only made minor dents on the fort and some of them can be seen on the fort’s wall. In the end, they managed to weaken the Portuguese by cutting off their food and trade supplies after conquering Arnala Fort to the north of Vasai.
Upon winning the war, the Marathas took possession of Vasai on May 12, 1739. It was a momentous occasion that severely diminished Portuguese influence and restricted their reign of the coastal region to Goa, Daman and Diu. Under the Portuguese and British reign, only Christians were allowed to stay in the city. Vasai, therefore, has several churches and a cathedral. Apart from that, Vasai has many beaches, historical places, temples, forts and more.
The Ulhas river, flowing west, in Maharashtra splits into two distributaries, one of which flows northwest forming the estuarine Vasai Creek. The Mumbai local, which is considered as a lifeline of Mumbai, connects Vasai to Churchgate on the Western Line of the Mumbai Suburban Railways, making the daily commute to and from the suburbs easy and feasible.
The entrance to the fort is through two thick wooden doors. The fort walls are still in a good condition indicating its strength from decades ago. There is a chapel inside the fort, and many run-down ships, anchors, watchtowers can be seen. The fort is also a favoured shooting location for many Bollywood movies.
Inside the fort’s western Land Gate (Porta Da Terra),there is a flat platform bearing a stark flagpole. It’s here that the Marathas unfurled their flag after finally capturing the fort in 1739.
The heavily bombarded Land Gate has a sophisticated design with double entrance, which was a common Portuguese defense mechanism. The door of its outer gate was studded with iron spikes to prevent elephants from charging into it. If the enemy did manage to enter the gate, they had to pass through a confusing courtyard and narrow passage to reach the inner gate. The passage, which was open from above, cleverly enabled soldiers on the ramparts to attack the enemy while they were trapped in it.
As one explores the Vasai Fort, they will be transported back to a defining period in India’s history and the location of the spirited battle between the Portuguese, Marathas, and British.
But these days, the fort falls under the auspices of the Archaeological Survey of India as a national protected monument. However, sadly, little money or effort has been put towards maintaining and conserving it.