Vasai Fort- Fort Bassein

Overview:

Type:Coastal Fort
Location:About 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Mumbai in  Maharashtra
District:Thane

Fort Bassein, also known as the Vasai Fort or Fort Baçaim, is a large fort in the town of Vasai in the Palghar district of Maharashtra state in the Konkan division in India. The fort derives its name from the Portugese word, ”Bacaim.”This word has association with Vasa Konkani tribes of the region of North Konkan, extending from South Gujarat to Mumbai.”

The complete form of the Portuguese name is “Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaím” or the Fort of St. Sebastian of Vasai. The Vasai fort is a spot with noted historical importance and is considered to be a heritage site by the official tourism department. This architectural marvel is now safeguarded by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is a popular tourist attraction of Maharashtra tourism. The village and the fort of Vasai can easily be approached via the Vasai Road Railway Station.

History:

Pre-Portuguese Era : The Greek merchant Cosma Indicopleustes is known to have visited the areas around Bassein in the 6th century and the Chinese traveller Xuanzang later on June or July 640. According to historian José Gerson da Cunha, during this time, Bassein and its surrounding areas appeared to have been ruled by the Chalukya dynasty of Karnataka. Until the 11th century, several Arabian geographers had mentioned references to towns nearby Bassein, like Thana and Sopara, but no references had been made to Bassein. Bassein was later ruled by the Silhara dynasty of Konkan and eventually passed to the Seuna dynasty. It was head of district under the Seuna (1184-1318). Later being conquered by the Gujarat Sultanate, a few years later Barbosa (1514) described it under the name Baxay (pronounced Basai) as a town with a good seaport belonging to the king of Gujarat.

Portuguese Era : The Portuguese first reached the west coast of India when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed at Calicut in 1498. For several years after their arrival in India, they had been consolidating their power in north Konkan. They had established a strong foothold in Goa, which they captured from the Sultan of Bijapur in 1510. According to historian Manuel de Faria e Sousa, the coast of Bassein was first visited by the Portuguese in 1509, when Francisco de Almeida on his way to Diu captured a Muslim ship in the harbour of Mumbai, with 24 citizens of Gujarat aboard.

Treaty of Bassein (1534): The Treaty of Bassein (1534) was signed by Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat and the Kingdom of Portugal on 23 December 1534 while on board the galleon São Mateus. Based on the terms of the agreement, the Portuguese Empire gained control of the city of Bassein, as well as its territories, islands, and seas. The Mumbai Islands under Portuguese control include Colaba, Old Woman’s Island, Mumbai, Mazagaon, Worli, Matunga, and Mahim. Salsette, Daman and Diu, Thane, Kalyan, and Chaul were other territories controlled and settled by the Portuguese.

At the time, the cession of Mumbai was of minor importance – but retroactively it gained a crucial importance when the place passed from the Portuguese to the British in 1661 as part of the dowry of Catherine of Braganza and became a major trade centre – making this the treaty’s most important long-term result. Bassein was the Portuguese northern capital at the time of the 16th-century treaty with the Sultan.

Under Portuguese India, the fort was the Northern Court or “Corte da Norte”, second only to the city of Goa, functioning as the headquarters of the Captain of the North. For approximately 150 years, the presence of the Portuguese made the surrounding area a vibrant and opulent city. As such it was the capital of Portuguese possessions on the coast north of Goa, over places such as Chaul-Revdanda, Karanja Island, the Mumbai Archipelago, Bandra Island, Juhu Island, Salsette Island including the city of Thane, Dharavi Island, the Vasai archipelago, Daman, Diu and other Portuguese holdings extending up the coasts to Pakistan, Oman, the UAE, Iran and other parts of the Persian Gulf.

The ethnic community locally known in the Mumbai region as the “East Indians” were called “Norteiro” (Northern men) after the Court of the North functioning out of the fort.

Maratha Era: In the 18th century, the Bassein Fort was taken over by the Maratha Empire under Peshwa Baji Rao’s brother Chimaji Appa and fell in 1739 after the Battle of Baçaim. The fort was taken by British in 1774 and returned to Maratha in 1783 under the Treaty of Salbai. The British in 1818 attacked and again took over the territory from the Marathas. The fort also played a strategic role in the First Anglo-Maratha War.

Siege of Vasai: The Siege of Baçaim began on 17 February 1739.  All the Portuguese outposts around the major fort at Vasai had been taken. Their supply routes from the north and south had been blocked and with the Angres manning the seas, even that route was unreliable . Chimaji Appa arrived at Bhadrapur near Vasai in February 1739. According to a Portuguese account, his forces numbered 40,000 infantry, 25,000 cavalry, and around 4,000 soldiers trained in laying mines. Plus he had 5,000 camels, 50 elephants etc. More joined from Sashti in the following days, putting the total Maratha troops amassed to take Vasai at close to 100,000. The Portuguese, alarmed at this threat, decided to vacate Bandra, Versova and Dongri so as to better defend Vasai. As per orders of the Portuguese Governor, only Vasai, Daman, Diu and Karanja (Uran) were to be defended. These were duly fortified. In March 1739, Manaji Angre attacked Uran and captured it from the Portuguese. This was followed by easy Maratha victories at Bandra, Versova and Dharavi which the Portuguese garrison had vacated. Manaji Angre joined Chimaji Appa at Vasai after this. Thus by April 1739, the

The capture of Thane and Dharavi meant that even small boats could not reach Vasai without being fired upon by Maratha cannons. Still, General Martinho De Silva wanted to fight a losing battle. Chimaji Appa now decided to bring down the fort of Vasai itself.[ All except Vasai in Maratha hands, including the forts at Bandra, Versova, Dongri and Uran. The fort at Vasai is situated on land with the Arabian sea on one side, the Vasai creek on another two sides.

The village of Vasai itself and the large Maratha camp at Bhadrapur were to the north.Within the fort itself, the towers of San Sebastion and Remedios faced the Marathas at Bhadrapur. The barracks and everything else was inside, with the main gate facing the Vasai creek. Chimaji Appa began the siege on the 1st of May 1739 by laying 10 mines next to the walls near the tower of Remedios. Maratha soldiers charged into the breach caused by exploding four of them. Almost immedietly they came under fire from Portuguese guns and muskets. Chimaji Appa, MalharRao Holkar, Ranoji Shinde and Manaji Angre goaded their contingents to scale the walls throughout the day. Next day on the 2nd of May, the tower of San Sebastion and Remedios were repeatedly attacked. More mines were set off during the day, causing large breaches in the walls, between the two towers. Around 4,000 Maratha soldiers tried to pour into the fort, but the Portuguese opposition was fierce. They also managed to defend the two towers by lighting firewood etc. On the 3rd, the tower of San Sebastian was demolished by a Maratha mine. Maratha armies could now easily march into the fort, without the fear of being fired upon from the tower. The encirclement and defeat of the Portuguese was complete. Chimaji Appa decided to settle the war at this point by sending an envoy to the Portuguese. In his letter, he warned them that the entire garrison would be slaughtered and the fort levelleved if the war continued. The Portuguese commander in charge of the fort duly surrendered on the 5th of May 17. On the 23rd of May 1739, the saffron flag flew atop Vasai.

British Era  [Treaty of Bassein (1802)] : The Treaty of Bassein (1802) was a pact signed on 31 December 1802 between the British East India Company and Baji Rao II, the Maratha Peshwa of Poona in India after the Battle of Poona. The treaty was a decisive step in the dissolution of the Maratha Empire.

Places to Visit on Fort:

The fort is a major tourist attraction in the region for its Indo-Portuguese history. The ramparts overlook what is alternatively called the Vasai Creek and the Bhayandar Creek and are almost complete, though overgrown by vegetation. Several watch-towers still stand, with safe staircases leading up. The Portuguese buildings inside the fort are in ruins, although there are enough standing walls to give a good idea of the floor plans of these structures. Some have well-preserved facades. In particular, many of the arches have weathered the years remarkably well. They are usually decorated with carved stones, some weathered beyond recognition, others still displaying sharp chisel marks.

Three chapels inside the fort are still recognizable. They have facades typical of 17th-century Portuguese churches. The southernmost of these has a well-preserved barrel-vaulted ceiling. Besides all the structures, tourists often also observe the nature that has taken over much of the fort. Butterflies, birds, plants and reptiles can all be observed.

How to reach:-

Bassein fort is situated near to the Bassein Beach in Mumbai and hence can be approached by air, rail and road. The fort can be reached by taxis and the MTDC buses that travel from the various parts of Mumbai to the place Vasi and takes only about half an hour. Vasi can also be approached through Ghodbunder Road from the place Thane. Vasai is the closese railway station and can be reached from the Churchgate, Dadar and Andheri by boarding Dahanu or Virar local trains. From the station rickshaws or buses can be availed to reach the fort. The Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport is the nearest one and tourists can travel by air to reach Mumbai from any part of India.

The fort is open all days of the week from 10.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Best time to visit:-

The fort can be visited anytime of the year but the best time to visit it is from October to March.

Ravi

About Ravi

I love history and also like to read about the history of forts in Maharashtra. Graduate from Mumbai, Maharashtra.

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