Time was when Bombay had a mighty fort...
Time was when impregnable walls enclosed the island city from Dongri in the north to Mendham's point in the south.
Time was when those great stone walls held buccaneers, mainly European pirates, at bay.
Time was when two sepoys, Hussein and Guddera, who took part in the revolt of 1857, were tied to a cannon inside the fort and blasted to smithereens.
Time was when...
That was all yesterday -- years ago.
Now, we have ruins of the fort, vandalised due to the non-existent interest
of successive governments, with little evidence of the mighty walls, little evidence of the magnificent armoury it once had and little evidence of its three mighty gates.
Yet, the legacy of the name remains -- it is still the Fort. For Bombayites, everything to the south of Victoria Terminus is Fort.
But how many know the colourful history behind these ruined walls? How many know what
it stood for? How many know the violence it encapsulated?
Very few. Maybe one there, another here...
The fort, historians will tell you, was constructed in 1722 to protect the island city from
seaborne assailants. The attackers were mostly European pirates, though there was the Maratha admiral Kanhoji Angre too. Though the British
considered him a pirate, Angre was the local hero. He continued to defy the alien rulers, plundering their ships at will.
Built under Charles Boone's governorship, the structure took seven years to complete -- from 1715 to 1722. It lies in an
irregular north-south trapezium with
esplandes (maidans) on its western side and the sea on the
The fort area started expanding as public buildings began
coming up with a distinctive architectural style. In the early 19th
century, the town hall (1833), the mint (1824-29), the customs
house and the St Andrew's church (1819) were constructed. Except for the St
Thomas cathedral, most of the buildings are in neo-classical style.
The castle around which the town developed in a semi-circle was a
combination of administrative, military and commercial centres.
A remarkable feature in the growth of the settlement was
the residential segregation that took place on race
and caste basis.
The east-west line of Church gate street conveniently functioned
as an intangible demarcation between the homes of whites and the
Indians. British residential and commercial houses and an angrezi
bazaar sprang up in the fort's north.
The real transformation of Bombay into a colonial town of high
architectural accomplishment took place in the late 19th century
due to the acceleration of trade and commerce. In 1862, Governor Sir Bartle Frere
drew a master plan for the city's growth. He planned sweeping changes, road
widening, restructuring of squares, demolition of fort walls
and opening tracts of land for 14 new buildings.
The Esplanade court (from where the chief metropolitan magistrate operates) is still referred to by many as Quilla court,
a reminder that it was part of the fort.
The fort was brought down much before Independence, in 1862; but the names Bazaar gate, Apollo gate and
Church gate (these three were the three entry points into the fort) still
The Bazaar gate was almost
opposite the site where the general post office stands now; the Apollo gate, to the south, was the main entry from the docks to the fortified town (it used to stand near the St Andrews church); and the Church gate was at the present Flora
Apollo Bunder, where the Gateway of India stands today, was once the
entry point for tourists to Bombay.
And Bombay green was the--
Oh, forget it! If we are to go on, it is near never-ending! And we do think
that is enough of nostalgia for the day!