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FORT AGUADA: The majestic unconquered fort of Goa

Sanjeev V Sardesai

The Fort Aguada is undoubtedly one of the most important edifices in Goa, with its imposing fortifications, standing on the ridge of the Sinquerim hillock, overlooking the expansive Arabian Sea, while guarding the entrance of the River Mandovi. It also has the distinction of being known as the ‘Unconquered Fort of Goa’.

In recent times, this destination has been on the must-visit list for visitors that come into Goa. It is a repository of many fascinating legends and stories of heroics and bravery, and has played a very important part in the Goa Liberation movement.

When we speak of Fort Aguada, the first impression is that it is a high walled structure, lying atop the hillock, with a dry moat surrounding its three sides, and which assisted the Portuguese to control the shipping movement, in to and out of, the River Mandovi. However, when we look holistically at the fort layout, we realise that what we know as Fort Aguada is just a part of the huge complex of its actual fortifications.

At a distance of 18 kilometres from Panaji, Fort Aguada can be accessed via Betim, Verem and the Nerul Bridge or one can proceed from the Mandovi bridges to the O Coqueiro junction and drive along the Chogm Road via Calangute and Candolim.

This fort may be divided into three sections. The two immediately visible areas are – the upper fort (moat, light house and water cistern) and the lower fort, facing the River Mandovi at sea level (the canons on walls and high security areas, earlier used as a central jail).

However, most of us fail to realise that these structures had a very powerful primary line of defence, which is partly seen today in ruins and has been aggressively encroached upon. This was the primary moat, which extended from the huge masonry, arm-like rampart, with a circular bastion into the Arabian Sea, at the South end of Sinquerim Beach, right up to the Nerul Creek to the East, separating the mainland Sinquerim from the fortified area. We can still observe a ruined bastion, where this deep moat met the banks of the Nerul Creek.

The first tell tale signs of this deep primary defence can be seen, when we approach the T-intersection, on the fort route, near Fort Aguada Resort bus stop at Sinquerim. When we look to the right, towards the sea shore, we see a huge and deep, man-made trench with high, fortified walls towards the resort (south) side. These are the remnants of the primary moat. Due to non maintenance, wild creepers almost hide these massive fortifications.

The deep trench that we see, passes under the culvert we cross on, and extends further east to proceed and meet the Nerul Creek. However, if we see below, today, the same moat has been filled up and many residences have been constructed on it. But the bastion, on which may have been placed a few canons to protect the Nerul Creek, still exists and can be identified by a very uniquely structured cross, at the left hand side of the main road, about 150 meters from this Sinquerim T-intersection. This moat separated the fortified area from the mainland Bardez Taluka.

Just a few meters down this road is a petite jetty, from where visitors can enjoy boat rides and dolphin tours. Here was also located a custom house, which recovered and controlled the taxation from sea bound trading vessels, that entered this creek, during the Portuguese era.

A steep road to the left leads you to the upper plateau of the Sinquerim hillock. As you reach the peak of this road, it again bifurcates into a T-intersection. While one road goes straight to the lower fortifications, you have to take the road to the right to reach the upper fortifications of Fort Aguada.

About 100 meters soon after, you see a picturesque church dedicated to Saint Lawrence – the patron saint of the sea-farers. The church is also known as the ‘Linhares Church’ as it was ordered to be built by the then Viceroy of Portuguese Goa, Conde de Linhares.

Another aesthetic aspect, is the small masonry gazebo, overlooking the scenic bay of Aguada. Every August 10, on the feast of St Lawrence, a religious procession is held, and the priest then ascends this gazebo and blesses the sea and the fishermen. On this day, it is widely accepted, that the sand bar that forms, across the mouth of River Mandovi, during the monsoon and blocking navigation in this river, starts to rescind and the channel becomes favourable for navigation. The first boats then leave for the high seas.

Another historic hidden aspect that you can find here, right besides the western side of the compound wall, and possibly after a search, are the tombs of a British lady and of German Ernst Truper, 2nd Officer of M S Ehrenfels, one of the three German ships, which played a very damaging and secret part in WWII, while anchored in neutral Portuguese waters at Mormugao Port. It is widely surmised that the first British Cemetery was established at Sinquerim plateau, before constructing the one at Dona Paula. However, no definite traces of this cemetery are found here.

As we proceed towards the west end of this promontory, towards the Aguada (upper) Fort, we also get to see the helipad, constructed to facilitate the visiting dignitaries – the heads of countries, during the Commonwealth Heads of Governments (meeting) Retreat {CHOG(m)}, in Goa in August 1983.

Today, the Aguada Fort is under the jurisdiction of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and they take good care of it.

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