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Revisiting the forgotten forts- Part III: From Worli Fort, the Portuguese kept eye on enemy ships, launched attacks

The fort caught attention of people only a few years ago, thanks to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link.

Worli Fort, Worli Fort Mumbai, Mumbai, Mumbai forts, Mumbai forts maintenance, Mumbai Worli Fort, Mumbai news, India news Built in 1561, the fort was renovated in 2007 when its flooring and walls were refurbished. (Express Photo by Dilip Kagda)

THE sun is setting and the shadows begin to lengthen on the flight of steps leading to the ancient structure built in Portuguese India in the 16th century. Kissing the Arabian Sea, standing tall beyond a colony of haphazard houses and constricted lanes, stands Mumbai’s only fully intact fort, in Worli.

And it was only a few years ago that this historic monument, built in 1561, caught people’s attention and led to increased footfalls. The credit for that goes to the Bandra-Worli Sea Link, according to caretaker Denis Patil. As motorists spotted the distinctive architecture of the fort from the sea link, the stream of visitors grew steadily.

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The stairs lead to a small arched entrance where one enters an area that is open to the sky. Here, Patil runs a gymnasium for community youth. Built on a raised platform, the fort was built to keep vigil on enemy ships and to launch attacks in times of war.

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Bhalchandra Kulkarni, deputy director of the Archaeology Department, terms Worli Fort as a “defence architecture”. “It is intact as there was no war during its handover to the British. It is in perfect condition and maintenance activity is conducted as and when required,” he says.

Patil, a local inhabitant, was 15 when his traditional occupation as a fisherman paved the way for a newfound interest. “My grandfather would often tell me tales of Portuguese colonisation in Bombay and why the Worli Fort was built,” he says.

Standing on the fort’s terrace, Patil, now 44, looks after the fort’s maintenance and points to a tower where once hung a bell. Positioning bells in the forts was a trademark of Portuguese architecture – showing not only a stroke of aesthetics but functionality, he specifies.

While the terrace overlooks the vastness of the still Arabian Sea on one side, it opens every night to the glow of sky-scrapers of the populous island city. Seen from here is an expansive stretch from Malabar Hill all the way to Bandra that dazzles with multi-coloured lights, illuminating the dark night sky.
“We have, on an average, 50 to 100 tourists coming in daily,” Patil says. Often foreigners and students of ancient architecture and history find their way up here, he adds.

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It was only a couple of years ago though that an elderly man from the fishing community told Patil about the purpose of the fort’s basement. “He claimed the basement was used to accommodate military before the British annexation,” he says.

A couple of cannons from that era still lie in the fort’s basement, he says. The fort was renovated in 2007 when its flooring and walls were refurbished.
The Worli Fort has often been in controversy over the gym and temple inside it. A few years ago, Patil was accused of illegally building both inside the protected monument. According to the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2010, construction is prohibited inside the protected monument. Patil, however, claims the gym has existed since 1962.
aamir.khan@expressindia.com

First published on: 18-11-2015 at 01:24:12 am
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