Sanjeev V Sardesai
Fort Aguada – Upper Fortifications, is about 3-4 kilometres from the Sinquerim T-intersection. It is topped at the South end with an aesthetic lighthouse.
The old Aguada Light House is one of the oldest in India; however its exact date of construction is not known. P P Shirodkar, in his book ‘Fortresses & Forts of Goa’, says, in all probability, ‘it must have been constructed during the building of the fort itself’.
But this light house must have been made operational later, as we find that initially, the huge metal bell from the bell tower of St Augustine’s Convent, Old Goa (now in total ruins), was shifted to this fort, to toll the hours of the day to passing ships. Possibly it was also used to sound an alarm of approaching enemy vessels or in case any ship came too close to the rocky shores, around this land.
When the lighthouse became functional, this bell was shifted to the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Panaji. Incidentally, it is the second heaviest bell in Goa, after the “Golden Bell’ at the Se Cathedral, Old Goa.
The lighthouse initially operated on oil provided by the municipalities in Bardez, on revenue, collected through farming. It emitted light every seven minutes. In 1841, the then Portuguese Viceroy D Lopes de Lima replaced the oil light with a lantern which emitted static light for about 15 minutes. In 1864, this lighthouse got a mechanised system, which emitted light every 30 seconds.
Today, visitors cannot visit this lighthouse, but it’s still maintained by the ASI, for its historic value. Visitors can however visit (for a fee) the new lighthouse constructed in 1976 with modern technology, just outside the Fort Aguada precinct, facing the Arabian Sea.
When you approach the fort, we face a deep trench, surrounding the fort on three sides, known as the moat. These moats were built to stop the direct attack by enemies on the fort, giving time for those inside to protect it.
In many places, similar moats were dug and filled with water, sometimes having crocodiles to deter the enemy. However, Fort Aguada has a deep dry moat. The digging of this moat had served two purposes.
In Goa, we use quarried laterite stone for house constructions. The creating of this moat provided ample laterite stones to raise the height of the fort’s curtain wall, which provided better protection. The depth of this moat also provided ample security. It was this combination of a deep moat and high walls that prevented Chattrapati Shivaji from conquering this fort, in 1667, even after laying siege to it for over a month. It is said that when he attacked Bardez, the Bardez people took shelter inside the fort.
Please take all precautions as you walk along the outer parapet of the moat. A misstep … and a fall could lead to serious injury. To enter the fort, we have to approach a masonry footbridge, which looks like a later addition. In all possibility, this fort had a collapsible bridge, which could be retracted, to make this fort impregnable. However, this cannot be laid down as a hard fact.
The fort’s main entrance is hidden behind a very thick wall, having a broad rampart over it. This prevented the enemy from breaking the main door, using canon fire. The narrow foyer at the entry also prevented the enemy, from using massed force, and allowing the defending soldiers to shoot from the ramparts.
Combinations of steep stairs ahead leads you to the upper rampart, while an ascending ramp to your right, leads you to the vast, open, inner space. The view from the ramparts, over the entry gate, offers you the entire Goan landscape of Panaji, Sinquerim and the Raj Bhavan – Goa, Dona Paula, besides the Arabian Sea and mouth of River Mandovi.
We can see the Captain’s house and possibly the ammunition store, immediately to the left, when you enter the fort; this area is not accessible to visitors.
The corners of the fort have ramps, to roll up and mount the canons on the bastions. On some of the ramparts, we see ruins of residential quarters, possibly of the soldiers and officers.
In the central part, we can see a huge water tank or a cistern. This cistern, holding 2.37 million cubic gallons of fresh rain water gave the identity to this fort. ‘Agua’ in Portuguese means ‘water’. This harvested rain water was used by all the ships that left for Portugal from Goa. It is said that this water remained fresh and potable, during the entire journey (27-29 days) and was used by the passengers and crew.
There was gossip, that this cistern had many fresh water springs which catered to the water being filled here. However, a visit to this underground tank, with permission from the ASI, made it clear, that there wasn’t a single water spring and the entire water collected was from annual rainfall.
This collected water was let down to the lower fort, through a masonry built channel seen towards the SE end of this cistern, which allowed the water to systematically run downhill and get collected in a font, near a fresh water spring. The lower spring still exists. This water was then packed into special casks and transported to the ships, through canoes.
Apart from attacks by Chattrapati Shivaji and his son Sambhaji, Fort Aguada has also seen a huge fleet of 121 ships of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, which anchored itself off Aguada to assist Prince Shah Alam, who had captured Bicholim (Dicholi).
It will take around two hours to see the entire fort and its precincts. Visitors to the upper Aguada Fort are advised to wear a hat or carry an umbrella as it gets very hot inside. Also visitors are advised to carry potable drinking water.