Saturday, August 2

A tryst with Fort Angelo

The Fort Angelo is one of the most important seashore forts of Kerala. 

I made a tryst with this beautiful location to see if it can be my next cycling destination. Just 102 Km from Calicut, it can be a beautiful place where I can come and stay put for some time.

( I wonder if the department of the Archeological Survey of India will allow my cycle inside the fort! ) 

The mighty laterite structures are a great sight to see, feel, and stand beside. The colonial powers were generous to use this building material as their primary source for their massive structures. Baked bricks were never used in any of their buildings in Malabar, when these red stones were available in abundance. 

In 1498, the Portuguese navigator Vasco De Gama set his eyes on Mapila Bay and asked the then local king, Kolathiri Raja, if a settlement could be built. The benevolent king was pleased to give him the prized spot of Mapila Bay. Later, as Portugal forces weakened and as the colonial power rolled into the hands of the Dutch, they added more structures to this fort. Finally, the British brought their changes, adding security at all the sides of the fort, making it an important military location.

The architectural feature of the fort is composite: that of the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British put together. The beauty of the structure is that, all the three sides of the fort are surrounded by sea with long spectacular view of the distant sea. The built up is huge and massive. The entire structure is made out of local laterite stones. The lavish use of these stones will make one wonder as to how these stones were hurled all the way to the mouth of the bay and lifted up so high to put them in such a precise manner. Stones are dressed like teacakes cut and kept on a tea table. After more than 500 years of constant exposure to sun, rain, and salt water, I cannot spot any major deterioration in the masonry work. The ramparts are beaten by strong waves 24 X 7, and still it holds perfect. I wonder what type of mortar was used to hold these stones against the beating of the waves day and night ! 

The restored flag mast stands at the exact location where the original stood. Standing there and looking across the sea, I was feeling the strong winds of the times caressing my face and whole …. When there wasn’t any means of signaling to the distant sailors but the unfurling of flags in different shapes, color, and size and the use of the cannon booms, these flag masts were lifelines.
What a time it must have been to stand miles away in this rough, rocky sea on a fighting vessel to spot this fort at Mapila Bay! 
Many times, the flags of the colonial colors might have flown half-mast, many times the colors might have been brought down signaling the change of guard and many times the colors might have been dragged down to sign a violent takeover.
Today, the mast is silent … silent like the fort.

These structures were built by the Dutch when they brought in their famous cavalry  to fight the British. Think of the early 16th century when more than 200 Dutch horses stood war-ready in these horse-stables. These walls must have listened to the low and gentle neighing of those horses, having come a long way from their Occidental native lands. What surprised me is the coolness and the comfort of these structures which were in good condition by any standards.

The Portuguese fortified this built-up with high ramparts and totally isolated it from mainland with deep water-moats all around. Added to that, cannons were placed on the strategic merlons pointing to sea and land. It would have been almost impossible for the enemies to run over this fort without negotiating these moats. Later, the Dutch built ammunition-house and stored gunpowder in this fort. The British added more cannons and built additional crenellations to the battlement of the fort.

The once used living quarters, Church and the basic amenities of the fort  are not the same as we see it today. The fort reached its glory during the reign of the Dutch Colonial power, when their Governor resided in it. Today, we only see empty buildings, much of it exposed to the elements of nature. Still, we can see that stones and the wood staying together to give a shape and form of the past…

The only surviving writings in the fort is an epithet. It tells of the death of Susanna Weyerman, the first wife of the Dutch Governor of Malabar Godfried Weyerman, at the age of 17. Was she buried somewhere in this fort? But what surprised me is that there are no religious signs or quotations from the scriptures on this epithet. Instead, there is a strange sign of a skull and bones carved on the granite.  

P.S : I couldn’t do a major photo shootout. I could only click few shots of the fort as I was with my family and family-shots had to be prioritized.