The word “Aguada” means freshwater in the Portuguese language. Fort Aguada, in Goa, was built by the Portuguese who started its construction in 1609 CE and completed it by 1612 CE. It is strategically located at the confluence of the Mandovi river and the Arabian Sea on the Western Coast in India. It is considered to be one of the most impenetrable forts of the region.
The Portuguese were one of the first European powers to arrive in India. Such was their obsession with finding an ocean route to India that the then ruler, Prince Henry of Portugal, was nicknamed the “Navigator”. However, this obsession was founded on a strong base. Most of the land routes to India were under the monopoly of the Arabs who acted as intermediaries for all trade between India and Europe. Developments in 15th century Europe, such as the Renaissance, brought with it a spirit of inquiry and exploration. The demand for spices and oriental luxury goods increased with a boost in economic development in several regions of the West.
It was the Portuguese traveller Vasco Da Gama who discovered a direct sea route to India in 1498 CE. Through the 16th and 17th centuries, the Portuguese presence in India was contested by the Marathas. Soon, other colonial powers such as the Dutch arrived in the subcontinent as well.
Fort Aguada was built to defend against the Maratha and Dutch invaders who competed with the Portuguese for trade and territorial control in the Indian subcontinent. Prior experience had taught the Portuguese the importance of consolidating their defenses against other European powers who sought control over Indian trade in the region. In 1604 CE, the Dutch Armada attacked the Mandovi river. The Reis Magos Fort, Gaspar Dias Fort and the Cabo Fort, which had already been established by the Portuguese to ward off the local invaders, proved to be ineffective against the foreign powers. Though the Dutch were eventually defeated, it was at the cost of several Portuguese ships. Two years later, the Dutch again caused disruptions by blocking the mouth of the Mandovi river, thereby closing the harbour for the movement of all ships.
It was during the reign of the Catholic King Dom Filippe of Portugal that the construction of Fort Aguada began in Goa. On site, its construction was monitored by Viceroy Ruy Tavara. The Portuguese employed Italian military architects to build an impenetrable fort in their own indigenous style. Laterite stones, which were locally available in Goa, were used for the construction of this structure. The broad layout of the fort traces the natural terrain by the sea and uses it to its advantage. It is built on two levels- a platform on the sea level and a formidable citadel that sits at the highest point of the hill. At the sea level, there also exist barracks, prisons, storage rooms for gunpowder, living quarters and a chapel. One of the most important functions of the sea-level platform was to provide the incoming Portuguese ships with a safe and protected harbour. The Portuguese were the first to introduce a formidable navy to the Indian subcontinent and the might of their heavily constructed, double-decked ships armed with cannons was unparalleled. The fort complex was bound by thick walls which contained crenels for cannons at regular intervals. The outermost fortifications can still be found in patches by the riverside. This fort was equipped for defense against attacks from both the sea and the land.
The citadel of the fort was laid out in a square shape with heavily guarded bastions constructed on three corners. These bastions were protected with the help of thick walls and dry moats. The fourth corner held the main gate of the citadel which opened out to a steep decline to the river. This gate could be accessed by a very narrow pathway and was blocked by iron spiked doors. The upper citadel at one point in time could use about 200 cannons in total, making it a formidable structure. It gazed into the broad horizons of the Arabian sea and protected the heart of the Portuguese stronghold in the region.
Within the citadel was also a large cistern containing water and a freshwater spring which would replenish the water reserves for all the ships which would stop by. It is believed that the stone which was dug out from this cistern helped build the fort itself.
Another prominent feature of the Aguada fort is the tall four-storied lighthouse, built in 1864 CE, that guided the ships safely into the harbour. It is one of the oldest lighthouses of its kind in the whole of Asia. This lighthouse initially used oil lamps to emit its beacon of light across the sea. We can also find a copper plate dedicated to Viceroy Ruy Tavara and the architects of the fort in this lighthouse. While this lighthouse is no longer open to the public, another built much later, in the 20th century, closer to the edge of the cliff, is open for visits. This lighthouse is called the “Aguada Lighthouse”.
Another interesting structure in the fort was the chapel dedicated to “Our Lady of Good Voyage”, where the incoming ships would anchor and restock before setting out for further voyages. The title “Our Lady of Good Voyage”, was used to denote the Virgin Mary and it is said to have originated amongst the seafaring communities of Portugal.
Connecting the citadel and the anchorage on the lower level are parallel defensive walls. On the lower level, we find the famous “Mae de Agua” or “Mother of Water”- an incredibly large freshwater spring. This site is closed for visitors as it was used as a prison till recently. In 2015, its inmates were moved to the Colvale jail and the site was to be developed into a tourist and heritage site. A prominent statue stands in front of the prison gates. It depicts a man cradling a child and a woman breaking out of chains symbolising the freedom struggle in Goa. Behind them is the national emblem of India, the Ashokan Pillar.
Even today, hundreds of years after its construction, it is not difficult to comprehend the strategic importance of this structure and its historical development over the years. On the outside, it gazes over the vast expanse of the Arabian sea reminding us of the arrival of the colonial powers of the West. On the inside, the secret and winding passages of the fort symbolize the intense and complex power struggles amongst these powers for trade and dominance in the Indian subcontinent.