Cochin Fort - A Photo Tour

The first fort ever constructed by the Europeans in India was the Manuel Fort or Emmanuel Fort built in 1503 in Cochin (also called Kochi) named after the King of Portugal. The fort was called 'Manuel Kotta' in Malayalam language. 

The surrounding area is now known as Fort Kochi or Fort Cochin. 

Let's go through a brief history of Cochin:

Cochin was first visited by the Portuguese under Admiral Pedro Alvarez Cabral on 24 December 1500. At this time, Unni Goda Varma Tirumulpad (Unni Rama Koil I), called Trimumpara by the Portuguese, was the Raja of Cochin. The Raja welcomed the Portuguese and concluded a treaty of friendship. He also granted permission to the Portuguese to build a factory at Cochin while the Portuguese promised to free the Raja of the Samoothiri's (The King of Calicut is known as Samoothiri. The Portuguese called him Zamorin) yoke and even to add Calicut to his dominion at some future date. 

Vasco da Gama, on his second voyage to India, arrived Cochin on 7 November 1502, and the Raja gave him a grand reception.

On the departure of Gama, the Samoothiri sent forces to attack Cochin. 

Francisco de Albuquerque on reaching Cochin on 2 September 1503, found the Raja closely besieged by the Samoothiri, who had made war on him for entering into an alliance with the Portuguese. The Raja who persisted in not surrendering the Portuguese, was taking refuge in the island of Vypin. 

We have the following information from Faria e Sousa: "The commander [Francisco de Albuquerque] sent the King a present into the island, part whereof was 10,000 ducats in money. Then going ashore, the King ran and embraced him, crying Portugal, Portugal; and the Portuguese, to return the civility, cried Cochin, Cochin."

On the arrival of the Portuguese, the Samoothiri's forces were struck with terror and immediately left the city. The Portuguese then restored the Raja on the throne of Cochin.

Highly pleased with the assistance of the Portuguese, the Raja granted Francisco de Albuquerque the permission to erect a fort in his kingdom close to the edge of the river, for the protection of the Portuguese factory during the absence of their ships.

Thus the foundation of this fort was laid on 26 or 27 September 1503. 

The fort was constructed in the form of a square, each face being eighteen yards long, with bastions at each corner, on which ordnance was mounted. The walls were composed of trunks of coconut trees, firmly fixed into the ground, and bound together by iron hoops and large nails. Earth was rammed in between the two rows of timbers, and the whole was surrounded by a wet ditch.

The Raja sent materials and workmen for the construction of this fort. He himself often went to inspect the progress of the work.

On 30 September, Francisco's cousin Afonso de Albuquerque landed Cochin with three more ships, and as the crews of those vessels were also at once put on to the work it was soon finished.

On the morning of 1 November 1503, the fort was inaugurated and christened Fort Emmanuel, and it was garrisoned by 100 men under Captain Duarte Pacheco.

João de Barros observes that Francisco de Albuquerque, who superintended its construction, having a singular devotion to the Apostle James desired that the fort should be designated Santiago. Manuel de Faria e Sousa calls it Fort St. James. 

The first viceroy Francisco Almeida who came to Cochin in 1505, wanted to strengthen the fortress. Seeing the deficiency of the wooden fort, he tried to erect a stone fort. But as Raja Nambiodara (Unni Rama Koil II), who succeeded Unni Goda Varma, was against such a move, the viceroy deliberately made the wooden frames to catch fire. Immediately he got permission from the Raja to build a fire-proof stone fort and to 'all the others to construct stone houses and to live in them fireproof as they do in Portugal'.

The wooden structure was replaced by a strong fort in 1506, and this fortified part of Cochin was made the seat of the Portuguese Government in India by Francisco Almeida, until it was transferred from Cochin to Goa in 1530.

Duarte Barbosa gives the following description of the fort in 1518: "At the mouth of the river the king our Lord possesses a very fine fortress, which is a large settlement of Portuguese and Christians, natives of the land, who became Christians after the establishment of our fortress. And every day also other Christian Indians who have remained from the teaching of the Blessed Saint Thomas come there also from Coilam (Quilon/Kollam) and other places. In this fort and settlement of Cochin the king our Lord carries out the repairs of his ships, and other new ships are built, both galleys and caravels in as great perfection as on the Lisbon strand. Great store of pepper is here taken on board, also many other kind of spices, and drugs which come from Malacca, and are taken hence every year to Portugal".

The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie – VOC) under Van Goens captured Cochin on 8 January 1663.

As the Dutch could not manage so large a fort, they reduced its size to one-third. A wall about one and a half miles in length was built with 7 strong bastions which were called after the names of the seven Dutch Provinces: a bastion on the sea-front (Gelderland) and five on the land side (Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, Utrecht, Groningen). The seventh one was Stroomburg.

town plan of dutch cochin
Town plan of Dutch Cochin in 1671-72 by Philip Baldaeus showing the site of the early Portuguese fort and the later town at the time of the Dutch takeover.

Here is the description of the Dutch fort of Cochin by Stavorinus (Voyages to the East-Indies By Johan Splinter Stavorinus): The city of Cochin is fortified on the land side by six large bastions and a cavalier, and to the eastward it has an irregular outwork. On the water side it is provided with a substantial wall, in which there are loopholes terminating at its eastern extremity in a ravelin before the cavalier. A wet ditch ran round these works, while before it was a covered way and glacis.

There were three gates, on the west the Bay-gate, on the east the New-gate and on the north leading to the river, the Water-gate.
In 1778, Adrian Van Moens completely altered the fort providing it with new ditches 'out of the very ruinous condition into which they had been suffered to fall by former governors'.

In October 1795, the British East India Company under Major Petrie captured Cochin. They blew up the fort in 1803.

Only a little trace of it is left now.


History of Christianity in India: From the Beginning Up to the Middle of the Sixteenth Century (up to 1542) By A. Mathias Mundadan

History of Kerala Written In The Form of Notes On Visscher's Letters From Malabar - Volume 1 By K. P. Padmanabha Menon

Portuguese Cochin and the Maritime Trade of India, 1500-1663 By Pius Malekandathil

The Land of the Permauls, Or, Cochin, Its Past and Its Present By Francis Day