Unravelling a 502-year-old historical account at Thangassery Fort

Unravelling a 502-year-old historical account at Thangassery Fort

A huge entrance façade announcing “Welcome to Thangassery” greets you when you come past half-a-km to the right from Altharamoodu Junction. This junction lies barely a kilometre into the Kollam Collectorate Road that leads to Kottarakkulam Sree Mahaganapathy Temple and further extends to Vaadi- the famous fishing harbour in Kollam.

Coming further into the road through the façade, flanked by centuries-old buildings on either side, and past the homes of fishermen, you will get to the lighthouse at the Vaadi-Thangassery four-laned path.

Barely 100 ft ahead, gazing at the Arabian Sea, stands the Thangassery Fort with 502 years of historic tales to tell. The Fort has witnessed the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires that add to the grand colonial history of Kerala. The fort was built in two years by thousands of people under the supervision of Portuguese engineer Hector De La Casa. Entirely built of sandstone and lime mortar, it is an imposing structure standing at 20 ft, with eight fortresses and vast corridors. The work of the fort completed in September 1519, however, only a part of it has come to remains today.

Stories of valour still seep from every nook and corner of Thangassery Fort where great battles were fought. It was a treaty signed by Portuguese governor Lopo Soares de Albergaria and the Rani of Kollam that paved the way for its construction in September 1516. The treaty sanctioned the restoration of St Thomas Church as well as the handing over of 500 kandi (an ancient measure of quantification) of pepper to the Portuguese ruler in instalments over three years. Accordingly, on February 1, 1517, Rodriguez was appointed the Portuguese captain at Kollam. However, the Rani of Kollam was not able to supply the pepper as per the agreement. Rodriguez, however, suggested, that an agreement could be reached upon if the Rani would allow them to build a safe station for their stay as a solution to the problem in hand.

The Rani gave her consent, despite the locals’ disapproval of this proposition. The opposition of the local people, although, was quietened by a Portuguese force that threatened to use the cannon on them. Soon after the construction of the fort, Rodriguez started to haggle for pepper. He seized the pepper that was brought to Kollam via Aryankavu. Local warriors of the time- Unneeri Pilla, Balan Pilla and Kollam Kurup- were angered by this move, and they attacked Thangassery Fort, capturing the Portuguese people in it. The local warriors kept the soldiers in jail for days; many Portuguese soldiers died of lack of food and unavailability of medical care.

When the Kochi Portuguese governor came to know of the situation at the fort, immediately sent a troop to Kollam. After an extensive battle, the fort was reclaimed by the Portuguese in August 1520. The Rani made a fresh treaty with the Portuguese. However, until the arrival of the Dutch in Kollam in 1658, the association between the Rani and the Portuguese remained bitter-sweet.

On December 28,1658, the Dutch naval troop attacked the Portuguese and conquered the Thangassery Fort under the leadership of Rijckloff Van Goens, Governor-General of Dutch East Indies. In 1659, the Portuguese army retaliated, taking the local soldiers into confidence. A battle that lasted two years finally saw the Dutch flag hoisted up the Thangassery Fort. Not much later, the Dutch started to extend their influence beyond the fort to the Kingdom of Kollam. This remained the case until the Battle of Colachel in 1741, when the Travancore King, Marthanda Varma, took over the control of Venad after chasing the Dutch out of the place. The Dutch had renovated the Thangassery Fort as part of shrinking the city limits and that’s how it got reduced in size. But as time passed, this grand fort, a priceless reminder of history, has become nothing but a shadow of all its glory.

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