Today, the smallest state in India may be defined by its beaches, parties and modernity but, truly, the heart of Goa lies in its heritage and culture. It is in this context that we must view Fort Aguada, built a hundred years after the Portuguese conquest of Goa in 1510.
This majestic fort, situated on Sinquerim beach at the mouth of the Mandovi River, overlooks the Arabian Sea and can tell tales of buccaneers, explorers, adventurers and traders. Built by the Portuguese over three years, from 1609 to 1612, the fort gets its name from ‘agua’ meaning ‘water’. A spring within the fort helped the crews of passing ships to replenish their freshwater stores.
Besides this, the fort which forms the entire peninsula at the south-western tip of the Bardez region in North Goa, was also the chief defence of the Portuguese against the naval invasions of the Dutch and the Marathas.
The fort was divided into two sections – while the upper part acted as a watering section and a fort protected by a deep dry moat (which you still have to cross to get inside), the lower part served as a safe harbour for Portuguese ships to dock and restock their supplies, along with a gun powder room, bastions and a secret escape passage to use during times of emergency.
The fort cistern could store over 2,300,000 gallons of water
In addition, the fort was a grandstand of about 100 cannons and had an enormous cistern, which could store over 2,300,000 gallons of water. The fort had walls 5 mt high and 1.3 mt wide, so it is no surprise that this was the only fort that was not conquered by invaders during the 450-year-long rule of the Portuguese empire in India.
But what stands out and remains the showstopper even today is the four-storey lighthouse erected in 1864 and the oldest of its kind in Asia. While it once used oil lamps to emit a beacon of light once every seven minutes, it was later upgraded to emit light every 30 seconds. However, it was abandoned in 1976.
Interestingly, did you know that prior to this, ships were guided into safe harbour by means of huge bonfires that were lit on the ‘Hill of Pilots’ above the place where the Church of Immaculate Conception now stands in Panaji.
Goa remained under Portuguese control till 1961, and in the mid-20th century, during the administration of António de Oliveira Salazar in Portugal, he converted the lower part of the fort into a prison and a dozen peaceful protestors demanding that Goa be handed back to India found themselves imprisoned here. Today, the prison serves as Goa’s Central Jail and mainly houses those accused of narcotics-related offences and trafficking.
Though not much of the fort remains today, with a part of it taken over by the Taj Group for a luxury hotel, whatever is intact is definitely worth a visit as it will take you back to a time when roaring waves brought ships into its sheltered harbour.
DID YOU KNOW?
The name of the famous Bandra Fort in Mumbai is ‘Castella de Aguada’, which too indicates its origin as a place where fresh water was available in the form of a fountain for Portuguese ships cruising the coast.