The Reis Magos Fort, owned by the Goa government and listed under the Goa Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, is the oldest fort in Goa. It has been restored to serve as a Cultural and Heritage Centre.
From its origin as a defense fortress to being used as a jail and then a hospital, the fort has served the state since 1493. It was abandoned in 1993 and started showing signs of neglect and deterioration.
This is when the late Mario Miranda, who was the convener of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), approached Lady Hamlyn of the Helen Hamlyn Trust (HHT) to fund the restoration of the fort.
This is an attempt to show how monuments can be used and what their regeneration can do to a community. It’s about making monuments come alive and be used by the city and the community. Heritage gives you a sense of who you are. It’s about identity.
The Restoration of the historically important Reis Magos Fort was initiated and paid for by the Helen Hamlyn Trust, working in partnership with the Government of Goa and INTACH.
The fort was opened to the public on the 5th of June 2012 and is maintained and made available for the public benefit by The Reis Magos Heritage Centre, financially supported by the Government of Goa.
Brief History of the Reis Magos Fort
The Mandovi unlike the Ganges, is a quiet flowing river. But at the XVI century, when Alfonso de Albuquerque made his entry in to its waters in February 1510, he got the feel of the might of a small fortified outpost built by the king of Bijapur, Yusuf Adil Shah, on the southern side of Bardez taluka. This little outpost reached out in to the narrowest point of the river and had strategic significance. On this occasion somehow, Albuquerque secured the port town of Ela (later known as Old Goa), some ten kilometres from where the Mandovi debouches into the Arabian Sea. This town, however, was soon re-conquered by the Sultans of Bijapur. With the fast approach of monsoon, Albuquerque had no other recourse but to anchor his fleet in Mandovi waters where the outpost again caused heavy damage to his forces.
On the 25 th of November of the same year, (after securing reinforcements from Portugal), Albuquerque reversed his defeats. He assaulted the outpost and again stormed the port towns of Old Goa.
Once the new territories of Bardez and Salcete were added in 1540s, the defence of the Mandovi river was further strengthened by the building of the Reis Magos Fort whose construction began in early 1550s. The Fort was built in stages.
Dramatically rising over the steep slope of the headland, the fort, built a little above the old outpost, had a defensive system capable of curbing the crossing of enemy ships through the Mandovi waters. A walled corridor connected the main fortress with the river anchorage, while a passage connected the rooms which ran along the river. The high walls are topped at vantage points by cylindrical watch turrets. The fort had the advantage of a perennial source of water from a nearby spring.
The Fort of Reid Magos was of great strategic importance because it served as the first line of defence to the port town of Old Goa. To make it more effective against the Dutch incursions, the Portuguese built in 1595 another fortification on the opposite bank of Mandovi river on land belonging to a nobleman named Gasper Dias.
The two forts were capable of the crossfire. Soon, however, it was realized that these two strongholds were not an effective way of obstructing the Dutch ships in their daring attempts of cruising the Mandovi waters. This prompted the Portuguese to realize the importance and necessity if raising strong fortifications on the mouths of the Mandovi and Zuari rivers at Aguada, Cabo, and Marmagoa respectively. Notwithstanding this fact and due to the strategic importance of the Reis Magos Fort, extensive changes to the structure were carried out in the year 1707, during the administration of the Viceroy Caetano de Mello e Castro. at this stage, it was defended by 33guns of different calibres.
During the Maratha incursion in 1739, the Fort of Reis Magos and its counterparts the Fort Aguada, could hold valiantly while the while province of Bardez was occupied by the Bhonsles (allies of Marathas). It was only in 1741 with the arrival of the new Viceroy, Marquis de Louriçal that the Bhonsles retreated back to Pernem. The British occupied Portuguese Goa from 1799-1813 during the Napoleonic wars. In 1808 they used the Fort of Reis Magos to lodge their soldiers.
The threat of naval attacks decreased by the 19th century as also Old Goa was abandoned in favour of Panjim as the capital as from then on, the relevance of the fort decreased.
The Reis Magos Fort was converted to a sub-jail to lodge short term convicts; it was also used to lodge some of the freedom fighters working for the liberation of Goa when the movement intensified in the 1950s. The fort functioned as a jail till 1993 and during this period a number of modifications were carried out. Once abandoned, the fort fell into decay.
In 2007, a tripartite agreement was signed between the Government of Goa, INTACH and the Helen Hamlyn Trust to restore and reuse the fort as a cultural centre. The restoration was sponsored by the HHT. The fort was thrown open to the public on 5th June 2012