All our lives we are reminded of the line from the National Pledge which says, “I love my country, and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it.” Sadly, this is lip service, especially when it comes to preserving and protecting the heritage landmarks which give our country so much character. All over India, fantastic architectural wonders sit in disrepair – a tragic end to structures which were once an important part of our country’s history and heritage.
On World Heritage Day, we rediscover some of Mumbai’s forts.
Madh Fort, Versova
Probably the most difficult-to-reach fort on this list, this watchtower fort (see pic above) was built on Madh Island in the 17thcentury by the Portuguese. It wasn’t to be theirs for too long, however, as the Maratha Empire captured it in 1739. Unfortunately, nobody’s been taking care of this bit of the city’s heritage and the fort is crumbling away on the inside, even if the exterior looks alright. In addition, this is Mumbai’s most popularly-known fort, given that it’s been featured in Bollywood films, such as Shootout at Wadala, as well as the evergreen CID.
Fort George, Fort
Built on the site of the former Dongri Fort in 1769, Fort George was initially not much more than an extension of the fortified walls of Bombay, but has since come to become one of the most iconic forts in Maharashtra. In case you’ve ever wondered why that part of Mumbai is known as ‘Fort’, well now you know. Fort George is the only remaining vestige of the Bombay Fort that was built by the British, after the walls of the fort were torn down in 1964 to allow for the flow of commerce. It is currently in danger of being lost to the ravages of time, with the remaining structure falling apart within the compounds of St George hospital.
Mahim Fort, Mahim
Strategically overlooking Worli to the south, Bandra to the north, and Mahim to the east, Mahim Fort survived the ravages of time only to be let down by callous administrative neglect. Today, not only is the fort falling apart, but it is also getting swallowed up by the encroachment of slums and tidal erosion. A truly saddening decline for a fort that is so steeped in history as this, having been the site for multiple skirmishes between the British, Portuguese, multiple rulers of Gujarat and even the Marathas, for well over 600 years.
Not too many Mumbaikars have been to Sewri, so it’s no surprise that this well-preserved fort isn’t common knowledge to all. What today is no more than a historical landmark, was once the site of innumerable struggles for power. This fort is completely devoid of embellishments and was designed to do one thing and one thing only – defend the coastline. The fort is landlocked on three sides and sits atop a cliff overlooking the Mumbai harbour. Currently, the fort is scheduled for extensive renovation projects which could lead to it becoming a major tourist attraction. But if you can’t wait for the project to be completed, head on over for some birdwatching since the fort overlooks the Sewri mudflats – temporary home to several migrating bird species.
Castella de Aguada, Bandra
This 17th century fort was built by the Portuguese in 1640 to serve as a watchtower that overlooked the Arabian Sea and (what was then) the southern island of Mahim. In typical Indian fashion, ‘Castella’ is a misspelling of the Portuguese ‘Castelo’ (castle), but it seems that the original Portuguese builders dubbed it Forte de Bandorá (Bandra Fort). The “Aguada” in its name indicates that it was once a place where fresh water was available for Portuguese ships sailing past the coast. Delightfully, this fort was given a much-needed makeover, including a beautiful amphitheatre, in 2003, and has been maintained by the Taj Land’s End hotel, which inherited it from its previous owners.
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Cover Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons