Standing on the crumbling ramparts of what was once the most formidable and impregnable of the Portuguese forts in India, one looks out at a panoramic ocean vista, witnessing the confluence of the Mandovi River and Arabian Sea, over which the fort has kept watch for more than four hundred years.
This is so majestic a sight that it is easy to picture a Portuguese galleon or carrack on the horizon, on the last leg of its arduous voyage from far off Portugal around the Cape of Good Hope, finally able to make safe harbour and replenish its supplies.
The Fort Aguada is open all days of the week from 9.30am to 6.00pm
This fort is located on the Aguada-Siolim Road in Sinquerim (Candolim, Goa). There are two options to reach the hilltop fort. The 4 km long road from Sinquerim beach is used by motor vehicles. The other is a shorter 2 km foot path, but it should be noted that it is a steep climb.
The Aguada fort is a monument to Portuguese construction and engineering. Although parts of it have fallen to the ravages of time, much of it is intact and it remains the best preserved Portuguese fort in India today. It is named for the fresh water spring that gives the fort a constant supply of potable water, ‘agua’ being the Portuguese word for water and ‘Aguada’ signifying a place where water is collected. So well built and fiercely armed was this fort that it has never fallen into enemy hands.
Once the Portuguese established colonial rule in Goa, they took immense pains to protect themselves from hostile neighbours and enemy forces that waged war against their empire in Europe. Whilst forts like Terekhol, Rachol and Chapora proved effective against threats of invasion from within India, the Portuguese knew that they were also vulnerable to the naval might of warring European nations.
The confluence of the Mandovi River and the Arabian Sea was of great strategic importance, because whoever controlled this location controlled the waterways into the heart of Goa, and the then capital, Velha Goa. To this end, the Reis Magos Fort, Cabo Fort and Gaspar Dias Fort (which is no longer in existence today) were placed in such a manner as to be able to catch enemy ships in a daunting crossfire.
However, when the Dutch squadron attacked the harbour in 1604, even the combined might of these three forts proved ineffective, and although the invaders were eventually repelled it was at the cost of several Portuguese sailing vessels and countless lives. Added to that, they returned in 1606 and blockaded the harbour, effectively cutting off the trade routes.
The Portuguese therefore saw the need for a more potent military setup and thus began the construction of the Aguada fort in 1609. This was at the time of Dom Filippe’s rule, and to facilitate its construction a tax was levied to raise the funds. The fort was completed in 1612 under the watchful eye of Viceroy Ruy Tavara.
This fort, taking up the entire peninsula as it does, provided the colonists with an imminently defensible position as well as a safe harbour for ships to dock and restock their food and water supplies since the lower part of the fort had berths for the ships.
Fort Aguada is a typical example of Portuguese military architecture. Built of durable laterite stone, so easily available all over Goa, its massive bulwarks which stand fully 5 metres high and 1.3 metres thick, have stood the test of time, lashed as they are by fierce monsoon storms and winds. The fort covers the entirety of the peninsula, and is built using the natural terrain in order to make it more difficult for its walls to be breached.
In addition to an enormous cistern in which over 2,000,000 gallons of water could be stored, the fort also contained a formidable citadel, secret passageways and the capacity for up to 200 canons.
Built to encompass the entire Bardez Peninsula, the entire fort gives the impression of solidity rather than flights of fancy. The fort was built from designs drawn up by Italian military architects employed by the Portuguese Empire in Lisbon. The walls, standing 5 ft. high and 1.3 m. thick, conform to the natural terrain.
The fort is built on two levels, with berths for ships at the sea level and an imposing and formidable citadel surmounting the highest part of the hill. The sea level portion contained gun powder storage rooms, prisons, barracks, officers and chaplains living quarters and a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Good Voyage. It additionally had safe docks for Portuguese ships.
The entire area was surrounded by walls with bastions holding embrasures for cannons at irregularly spaced intervals. These sea walls are no longer in existence today. The largest of all the freshwater springs called the ‘Mother of water’ or ‘Mae de Agua’ is also located here.
The citadel was built in a more or less square shape with bastions for artillary at three of the corners which were strongly defended by thick walls and a dry moat, and the main gate on the fourth which faces out on a steep drop towards the river. The embrasures were built so as to give the cannons a wide range of fire.
This upper level was once mounted with 200 cannons to safeguard the fort walls. The bastions are arrow-shaped and had rounded corners. To make the fort even more impregnable, the citadel gateway was narrow and blocked by iron-studded doors. The ditch outside was spanned by a narrow walkway and has a magazine adjacent to it, the unique half-round design of which was most effective in deflecting enemy fire.
There is also, on this level, a large courtyard, containing the cistern for stores of fresh water which could hold up to two and quarter million gallons of water at a time. The excavation that was done for the cistern provided the stone which was used to construct the walls. Parallel walls form a narrow passageway from the citadel down to the main fort. There is also a raised walk-wall which overlooks the dry moat, and the gorgeous vista of the Arabian Sea.
The Aguada fort also numbers among its splendours a four storeyed lighthouse. This lighthouse was built in 1864 and is the oldest of its kind in Asia. It once used oil lamps to emit a beacon of light once every seven minutes, which was later upgraded to emit light every 30 seconds.
Although this lighthouse fell into disuse in 1976 and is most often closed to the public, there is a new lighthouse built closer to the edge of the cliff, called the Aguada Lighthouse and DGPS. One can, for a small fee, climb the steps of the lighthouse and enjoy the view of the areas surrounding the fort. Photography and videography are allowed.
The first lighthouse was built in 1864, making it one of the first to be built in Asia. 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.
The old lighthouse dominates the landscape of the fort from a distance. Its rather squat appearance is relieved by the balustrade that encircles it’s upper storeys and the curving staircase winding up to the lamp house. It also contains a copper plaque dedicated to the Viceroy Ruy Tavara and the architect and engineer under whose aegis the fort was built.
This lighthouse also once contained an ancient bell, taken from the Augustinian church; however this bell is now housed in the Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church, Panaji.
The old jail will now feature a newly renovated museum that will showcase the freedom struggle at the old jail. The Fort Aguada was converted into a jail during the Salazar administration, some say to house his political opponents. Beginning in 1946, dozen of peaceful protesters demanding that Goa be handed back to India, found themselves imprisoned here.
Although the jail itself is naturally closed to the general public, there is a rather magnificent statue just outside the gates of the prison area which commemorates the freedom struggle of Goa.
The statue depicts the figures of a man and a woman, the man cradling a child and the woman with her arms raised, breaking the chains which bind her. Behind them is the Ashoka pillar, the national emblem of India, with a plaque dedicated to the remembrance of all those who gave their lives in the struggle for freedom.
On the 18th of June every year, a ceremony is held here in remembrance of freedom endlessly sought after, tirelessly fought for and hard won.
The hilltop fort, though only a fraction of the original area of the fort is a popular tourist spot, especially to watch the sun set. To reach the hilltop fort there is a winding 4 km road that heads east from Sinquerim beach, alternately there is steep 2 km walking path that starts just near the Marbella guest house. Some, however, choose instead to walk out to the sea level fort walls, along the road past the Taj hotel.
No visit to the Fort is complete without a visit to the Church of St. Lawrence, patron saint of sailors. Built just on the outskirts of fort, this was one of the tactics used by the Portuguese to prevent their bastions from being fired upon at close range.
The Taj Aguada hotel now stands within the fort walls. A luxurious hotel on 88 sq km of beachfront property, it has been host to many Bollywood movie shoots, which make it instantly recognizable.