The history of Kalvathy canal is tied to the story of Fort Kochi and the city. The first Portuguese visitors who wished to meet the rulers of Cochin in the year 1500 A.D. brought their ships to Kochi’s natural harbour near Mattacherry. From here they set out along the Kalvathy canal in their sailing boats to land at a natural tank situated about a kilometre from the shore. This tank, local people say, was the centre of trade for several years after the Portuguese arrived. Over five centuries after the Portuguese landed in Kochi, all that remains of the tank is a field filled with rubble.
“Vasco da Gama’s expedition to Kerala shores was followed by another expedition led by Pedro Alvares Cabral. In Kozhikode, Cabral and his men had a fight with the Zamorin and they decided to come to Kochi.
They landed near the old harbour at Mattancherry on December 24, 1500,” says Austin Paul, president of the International Forum for Cultural Heritage and Tradition. From here, Cabral and his men are believed to have travelled up the canal in their boats to reach the tank situated near the current Government Hospital at Karuvelipady.
They later signed a friendship treaty with the then ruler of Cochin King Unni Goda Varma Tirumulpadu. In later years, the Portuguese would load spices on to their boats from the dock at the tank and carry them to their ships anchored off the shore. The Portuguese, in alliance with the Cochin rulers, later set up their Fort Emmanuel here. Though the fort was destroyed by Dutch traders later, Fort Kochi developed around the location of the old fort.
While the fortunes of the Portuguese in Kochi waxed and waned, the tank continued to be a key point for trade until recent years.
“The tank was the docking point for boats bringing in cargo from the harbour. Bricks, stone, metal and other goods were brought here from the main harbour for trade,” says P.S. Prakash, councillor from Karuvelipady.
Over the years, the tank was encroached upon, reducing its size greatly.
“It must have been around 2,400 sq.m in area at some point. The Portuguese sailing boats could be manoeuvred in this tank,” says former councillor V.J. Hycinth. The Government Hospital came up here later. Others too encroached on the tank to build roads and houses.
“The tank’s death began once water transport started losing importance and more space was necessary for roads. It soon became a waste dump and the corporation filled it up a couple of years ago. There were proposals to build a dormitory for the hospital here,” says Mr. Hycinth.
Mr. Paul feels that the corporation should take steps to revive the Kalvathy canal and set up a memorial reminding people of the significance of the tank that was once present here. “The tank has now been filled up. But people should at least know how the tank here was crucial to the history of Kochi,” he says.