Fort Kochi – Explore Amidst the Colonial Charm

No cannon or other displays that go along with a Fort do exist at Fort Kochi. Though there are narrow alleys but none leads to any gallery or a palace of any king or queen that a fort guards. In fact there exists no fort though the name endures it. Fort Kochi is a place within the city of Kochi and lies in the peninsula. Perhaps the name takes its first part since a fort was built in this region by the Portuguese.

St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi

St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi

The points of attractions in Fort Kochi come to its visitors with the colonial charm that once it had. It is the place where came the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British. It was ruled by all of them who left their heritages behind. Over all these times, the king of Kochi was controlled by them and the king had only the titular privileges.

The King of Kochi gave this territory to the Portuguese in the year 1503 and the permission to build a fort to safeguard their economical interest. Thus, the fort built was named as Fort Emmanuel. Portuguese kept control over this land for 160 years. It was then, the Dutch who came out victorious over the Portuguese (1663). The Fort was bound to be destroyed. Dutch built another fort here named Fort Williams and ruled the place over 100 years, who were then defeated by the great rulers of Mysore- Hyder Ali. With the fall of major parts of India to the British, it too became a part of British India Empire. British destroyed the glorious forts of it and thereafter, no more forts were built here.

Almost 444 years of foreign control over this land till the independence (from the year 1503 to 1947) left the colonial charm at Fort Kochi which one may feel even today. So, should you be visiting Fort Kochi do not expect to see any fort. But the place has a lot to offer to its visitors and here are the places that attracted me the most. The places mentioned below are not in order of preferences but appear as I travelled to each of them.

Indo-Portuguese Museum

So far it might have puzzled you as to how it is possible that there remains nothing of the fort! Well, if a small portion can satisfy your desire, this is the destination. The Indo-Portuguese Museum is within the complex of Bishop’s House which locates near the Parade Ground in Fort Kochi. Originally built as the residence of the Portuguese Governor, this beautiful house amidst the lush greenery was later made the Bishop’s House. Its Gothic arches, pillars and the elegance would certainly tempt you to go inside though entry to it is restricted for the visitors.

Circular Garden Road to Bishop's House

Circular Garden Road to the Bishop’s House

Adjacent to the Bishop’s house is the Indo-Portuguese Museum. A narrow path led us to the museum where entry was made against nominal fees of Rs.10/-. While enquired for a guide, Mr. Joseph, a staff of the museum, who was selling tickets, offered his voluntary service to guide us. Finding him knowledgeable, we asked about the original Fort of Kochi. He replied smilingly that we were standing right over the sinking fort.

Narrow Path to the Museum

Narrow Path to the Museum

Bishop's House on the right

Bishop’s House on the right

He guided us to the basement of the museum where we saw the remains of the once Fort of Kochi. The museum is actually built over a part of the remains of the old fort, though only a little of it can be seen. It was so good to see at last the remnants of the Fort which are preserved in the basement of this museum.

Basement of Indo-Portuguese Museum where you can see remnants of Fort Kochi

Basement of Indo-Portuguese Museum where you can see remnants of the Fort

The Arch of the Sinking Fort

The Arch of the Sinking Fort

The displays are kept in the upper floor of the museum though not much to see but a few interesting items. It houses precious artifacts from old churches under the Cochin diocese including pieces of alter in a wooden carved structure, sculptures including Our Lady with infant Jesus, a big bible and old manuscripts.

Vasco da Gama Research Centre within the Bishop's compound.

Vasco da Gama Research Centre within the Bishop’s compound.

The museum remains open from 9am to 1pm and 2pm to 5pm except on Monday and other holidays.

It is behind this Fort that Portuguese built the first European church in India which was our next destination.

St Francis Church, Fort Kochi

St Francis Church, Fort Kochi

St Francis Church, Fort Kochi

This church has a long history. Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese sailor discovered the sea route to India, when in May 1498 he landed at Calicut (present day Kozhikode which is at a distance of about 181 Km from Kochi). Two years later, in 1500, Portuguese came to Cochin (present day Kochi) and pleased the King of Kochi for permission to engage in trade in Kochi. Later in the year 1503, to protect their commercial interest, the King of Kochi granted  Portuguese the permission to build a fort in the waterfront.  It is behind and middle of this Fort Emmanuel that Portuguese built the first European church in India that was made of wood and mud. Then again, with the permission of erstwhile King, the church was reconstructed by replacing the wooden structure with mortar and stone and reopened in the year 1516.

Cenotaph in front of St Francis Church

Cenotaph in front of St Francis Church

As we entered, we saw a Cenotaph towards the entrance in front of the church in the memory of residents of Kochi who fell in the Great War of 1914-1918 (World War I).

Some Photos of the St Francics Church
St Francis Church

St Francis Church

Entry Door of the Church

Entry Door of the Church

Inside the Church

Inside the Church

The great explorer Vasco da Gama arrived in Goa in September 1524 with his third voyage to India, but this time as a Viceroy of Portuguese India. He fell sick soon and died in 24 December 1524 in Cochin. He was buried in this St. Francis Church, and fourteen years later (1538) his body was shipped back to Lisbon, Portugul. The tomb stone of Vaso da Gama can be seen on the ground of burial spot inside the church.

Vasco da Gama's body initially rest here for 14 years after his death.

Vasco da Gama’s body initially rested here for 14 years after his death.

A photo frame  of Vasco da Gama is hanged near the burial spot

A photo frame of Vasco da Gama is hanged near the burial spot

Until the conquest of Dutch over the Portuguese in 1663 the church maintained in the order of St Francis. The Dutch demolished all the churches of the place except this church of Franciscans. They converted it into their Government Church. Later, in 1795 British invaded Kochi but allowed the Dutch to retain possession of this church. But in 1804, Dutch surrendered the church to Anglican Church (Church of England).

St Francis Church

St Francis Church

We saw gravestones were laid on the walls of church taken from the floor of graves. The Portuguese gravestones are on northern wall while the Dutch gravestones are on southern wall.

A gravestone laid on the wall of the Church

A gravestone laid on the wall of the Church

The Church remains open on all days up to 5 pm except on Sunday.

The Dutch Cemetery

Dutch Cemetery

Dutch Cemetery

The Dutch connection goes a little further to the cemetery that locates near the St Francis Church. The cemetery is kept closed all the time and is opened on request of the visitors. To visit the place one need to make request to the St. Francis Church who then depute a staff with key.

The Dutch Cemetery, Fort Kochi

The Dutch Cemetery, Fort Kochi

A road that runs parallel to the Fort Kochi beach led us to the Dutch Cemetery. The cemetery was constructed in the year 1724 and is believed to be the oldest in the country. It is a small place surrounded by walls and contains around hundred tombs.

My kids in front of a tombstone

My kids in front of a tombstone

Once left home long ago to join the colonial empires, they finally rest here forever!

Acknowledgement: I am indebted to wikipedia for the informations it provides on Fort Kochi which were of immense help for knowing the history of Fort Kochi and writing this travelogue.

They say, Kerala is “God’s Own Country”! How wonderful it was to visit one of His Church which has a long history. Apart from the above, there are many places to visit in and around Fort Kochi about which I will write in my next post.

On the natural splendours of places in Kerala you will love to rest your eyes and believe that how naturally beautiful Kerala is!

 

 

18 Comments

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Thanks Anupam for touring us in history. Kerela is a dream destination to all travelers. You have added more charm by describing it so historically. Lots of love to your beautiful kids.

    Keep traveling
    Ajay

  • Prasad Np says:

    Excellent account of Fort Kochi and now I realize how much I missed when i was there.. you are a master explorer

    • Dear Prasad,

      Fort Kochi is a place, I believe, one can explore as many times as he wants and I too believe that every time one may discover a new thing about untold Fort Kochi. Thank you so much for your kind words.

  • Uday Baxi says:

    Dear Anupam

    AN excellent post. The details and pics on Vasco-de-gama was outstanding.

    I agree with Prasad np.

    Thanks for sharing..

    Regards

  • Archana Ravichander says:

    Anupam,
    I appreciate your effort in capturing even the minutest details about the Fort. Kudos!
    If I were to describe this post in a single sentence, I would say “Wiki page for Fort Kochi”. No kidding!

    Thanks for the post.
    Best.

  • JATINDER SETHI says:

    I love the last line”Once left home long ago to join the colonial empires , they finally rest here “This line virtually opens up a panoramic view of colonial empire being built.
    Anupam, may be there is a story for you to locate all the old “resting” places of these fame and fortune hunters.
    Paying homage by kids(Picture of ur kids) is brilliant.
    One doesn’t have to say any word of praise for your post,anymore.

  • AJAY SHARMA says:

    Dear Anupam! Please amend the date, inadvertently mentioned as 1948 in place of 1498 under the caption St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi !!!

    “Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese sailor discovered the sea route to India, when in May 1948”

    • Dear Ajay,

      Tell me what to do with her, my proof reader, my wife! Though I do not pay her million dollars but certainly I give her million dollar smile. But you know, this is a pure materialistic world, and here quality/accuracy is not guaranteed for any honorary service.

      Anyway, Thank you for bringing that in our notice. I have made the correction. :-)

  • SilentSoul says:

    great story and log… how do you find time to wander so much ???

  • Naresh Sehgal says:

    Wah, Anupam. From Kashmir to direct Kochi…
    The post is full of information with supporting photographs.
    Why your son is sad ? Have you forced him for a pose ? :)

  • Mukesh Bhalse says:

    Excellent information about Fort Kochi. Seen your kids for the first time, both are so cute. Lots of love and blessings to them.

    Thanks,

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Archana summed it up well. This comprehensive summary of Fort Kochi would be hard to find at one single place, with photographs and so beautifully told. Thank you.

    Blessings to kids.

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