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Rachol Fort

An ancient and historically significant fort, this fort is today little more than a ruin being swiftly reclaimed by nature. Little remains of its wonder and glory save an archway over the road leading to the Rachol seminary and a dried up moat surrounding the hill upon which the seminary sits. Known more for the scenic beauty that surrounds it rather than any architectural merit, the fort nonetheless has a fascinating if bloodied history.

Since there is little left of the fort itself it is wise to try to combine the viewing of it with a visit to the seminary.

The town of Rachol lies in the Salcete taluka of South Goa, 7km Northeast of Margao

This is a fort that predates the Portuguese invasion. It was in fact built by the Bahamani Sultanate and fell into the hands of the Vijayanagar kings after a prolonged and bloodied battle. These kings later bartered with the Portuguese, exchanging the possession of the fort for help against the Sultanate of Bijapur.

The Portuguese, meanwhile once they gained control of the fort armed it to the teeth. It is said that at the height of its power it held up to one hundred great cannons and guns, which would of course be how they managed to repel the powerful Maratha armies under the control of Sambhaji.

The fort was constructed by the Bahmani Sultanate, most probably during the rule of Mahmud Gawan (1461-1481) who recaptured Goa from the Vijayanagar kings. This was the golden era of the Bahmani dynasty which ended with the death of Mahmud Gawan. Legend has it that he executed his chief advisor because of erroneous court intrigue, thus leading to the machinery of state failing to run smoothly. The story goes that when he realized his mistake, he dwindled into depression and died within a year.

Following his death, the Vijayanagar king Krishnadevaraya, launched an attack on the Bahmani Empire and in the process (among other things) gained control of the Rachol Fort. When the Portuguese gained dominion over Goa in 1510, the canny Krishnaraya set up cordial relations with them, even going so far as to use their expertise to facilitate a better water supply to his kingdom.

When the Portuguese helped him to overcome the Sultanate of Bijapur, he gave them the Rachol fort as a gesture of gratitude and friendship. The Portuguese took command of the fort in 1520 and set it up with 100 cannons and many other refurbishments to make it a fierce defensive position.

It’s location on the banks of the Zuari river made it fort of great strategic importance in defending the newly formed Portuguese colony from both internal and external threats. By 1521, they had built a chapel within its walls dedicated to St. John the Baptist. A church was built in 1565. In 1604, the fort was renovated and rebuilt.

In 1684, the Rachol fort held the armies of the Maratha ruler Sambhaji at bay for months. Even though the Marathas had gained control of the Chapora fort and some Northern territories, the Rachol fort fiercely defended the southern part of the Portuguese empire in India. To commemorate this, there was a plaque sent from Portugal reading “Sendo o conde de Alvor vice-rei da India mandou reformar esta fortaleza depois de se defender do cerco de Sambagy, em 22 de abril de 1684” which means “Sent from the Count of Alvor, Viceroy of India after reform of this fortress on defending the siege of Sambhaji, on 22 April 1684”

With the expansion of the Portuguese empire which resulted from the success of their ‘New Conquests’ the fort lost its military standing and was abandoned by the Portuguese military and subsequently fell into a state of decay and disrepair.

Nothing much remains to be seen of the original fort save the archway spanning the road which leads to the Rachol seminary. Historical records state that the fort once surrounded the entire hill upon which the seminary now stands. The fort contained within it a chapel and church dedicated to St. John the Baptist as well as a formidable citadel.

The fort was surrounded by a deep moat, the dried up remains of which can still be seen today.

Although little physical evidence remains of a once great fort, a visit to Rachol will not leave the visitor unrewarded. The village of Rachol has many historical monuments to delight the eye and stimulate the mind, and with a little imagination, it is not hard to stand atop the hill and imagine the legendary battles fought between the heavily armed fortress and the enemy armies which besieged it.