Lakshmi Sharath discovers that the St. Angelo Fort built by the Portuguese actually had a prisoner who went on to become the Viceroy

Centuries after Vasco da Gama landed in Kerala, the Portuguese flavour is still evident in the State. Driving around, one sees forts, lighthouses and churches that take you to the era when battles were fought at sea and enemies were thrown in dungeons. It is almost sunset, and I am at the St. Angelo Fort in Kannur listening to one such story. The interesting element is that the captive who was locked up in the fort was neither Dutch nor British. He was not an Indian either, but a fellow Portuguese.

The 16th Century stone fort was built on the shores of the Arabian Sea by the first Portuguese Viceroy in India, Dom Francisco de Almeida. This was around the time when the coastline was at siege from various dynasties from India, Europe and the Middle East for the control of spice trade. Several battles were fought bitterly on the sea and the shore, and one of them was the Battle of Diu. A combined force of the kings of Gujarat and Calicut with the support of Egyptians, Ottomans and Venetians opposed the Portuguese. While the latter did emerge victorious, a political conspiracy ensued. Almeida arrested Afonso de Albuquerque, the general who had fought along with him in the battle as the latter was supposed to supersede Almeida as the Viceroy. He was imprisoned for six months in this very fort. Albuquerque did take over the reins eventually, but the Portuguese soon had to relinquish their hold on the fort.

A century later, the Dutch took over the fort and restored it. Bastions were built and the fort was modernised, but it was eventually sold to the Arakkal royal family of Kannur in the 18th Century. A few years later, the fort changed hands again, this time with the British in charge. They built the first-ever lighthouse of Kannur and strengthened it further, but the old Portuguese fort was completely destroyed.

Walking around, I see the three large bastions built by the Dutch, an old lighthouse that used to be lit by a lamp during the British days, a restored chapel, the barracks, canons and tomb stones. The fort is triangular and built with laterite. We climb the old staircases and look out into the Mopilla Bay, a natural harbour. Small and large barges are returning home as the colours of twilight reflected in the water. Yonder is the Dharmadam Island, a haunt for tourists. A few tourists are walking along the wall of the fort. The sun is tucked away by the clouds and we are deprived of a rosy sunset. But I stare at the water and wonder how the sea was once home to fleets from all over Europe and the Middle East, battling for control of the spice trade. My reverie is interrupted by a policeman who politely requests us to leave, and it’s time to call it a day.