ST.ANGELO FORT, KANNUR
The St.Angelo Fort or Kannur Fort is located in Burnassery, 3 kilometres west to Kannur town of Kannur district, Kerala, facing the Arabian Sea. It is a colossal construction in laterite stone, triangular in shape, situated 40 feet above the sea level in 11 acres of land.
It is one among the prominent tourist attraction of North Kerala, with historical importance. The fort gives a fascinating view of the Arabian Sea, the Dharmadom Island, the natural fishing harbour – Mappila Bay and a seawall projecting from the fort, separating the rough sea and inland water.
The triangular shape of the fort and its adjoining bastions are classic examples of Portuguese Architecture combined with various European Architectural styles.
The St.Angelo Fort was constructed in the year 1505 by Dom Francisco de Almeida, also known as ‘the Great Dom Francisco’, the first Governor and Viceroy of Portuguese State of India. The fort was build up with strong laterite stones, up to the roof. A mixture containing jaggery, lime and egg was used to join the laterite stones. The main entrance is made up of wood. The fort includes facilities to accommodate 1000 soldiers, horse stable for 101 horses, more than 7 gallows, prisons and a church. The trench built around the fort had a depth of more than 40 feet, filled with water and crocodiles in it. The cannons used by the Portuguese and the British are now fixed in the fort.
The 500 years history of St.Angelo Fort has blood stains of cruelty and invasions, which later became part of the history of Kerala.
Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer, arrived in Kappadu near Calicut (Kozhikode) in 1498 AD. The Samuthiri (Zamorin), the ruler of Kozhikode received him, but Vasco da Gama could not establish a trade relation with the Samuthiri. In 1500 AD, Pedro Alvares Cabral, another Portuguese explorer and military commander arrived in Kozhikode to negotiate with the Samuthiri and obtained permission to establish a factory and a ware house. In 1501 AD Pedro Alvares Cabral entered into a conflict with the Arab merchants settled in Kozhikode, as a result, the Portuguese factory was attacked by the Arab and 70 Portuguese militants were killed. Moreover they didn’t get any support from the Samuthiri.
The Portuguese moved to Kolathunadu (Kannur) and was welcomed by the Kolathiri Raja, ruler of Kolathunadu who was a rival of Samuthiri of Kozhikode. Pedro Alvares Cabral made trade alliance with Kolathiri Raja and started a trade centre in Kannur, at the place where the present fort is situated. In 1501 AD itself, Joao da Nova, commander of the third Portuguese expedition, arrived in Kannur, and established a factory.
In 1502 AD, Vasco da Gama made his second visit at Kannur, which helped to expand the trade relations of the Portuguese. Temporary trade camps were constructed and 200 Portuguese soldiers were appointed in Kannur. A palisade was erected around the trade centre and factory, which was the first form of the fort.
In 1503 AD, Dom Francisco de Almeida was appointed as the Viceroy of Portuguese India, to set up four forts in the south–west coast of India. Under his leadership, the construction of St.Angelo Fort began in 23rd October 1505, with the permission of Kolathiri Raja. The fort was completed in 1507 AD, and Lourenco de Brito was appointed as the in–charge of the fort.
St.Angelo Fort became a strong-hold of the Portuguese in the Malabar region. It witnessed a number of attacks, and most of them were for gaining the possession of the fort. During the construction of the fort in 1506 AD, the Samuthiri of Kozhikode attacked the Portuguese through the Sea. He had naval support from the Turks and Arabs, but was defeated by Lourenco de Almeida, son of Dom Francisco de Almeida. He intercepted Samuthiri’s ships at the entrance of the harbour of Kannur. The battle inflicted heavy loss to the Samuthiri.
In 1507 AD, the Portuguese imposed a law on maritime trade that affect the safe conduct guaranteed to the ships of Muslim merchants of Kannur. This annoyed the Kolathiri Raja, and he turned against the Portuguese. Meanwhile, the Samuthiri of Kozhikode was able to convince the Kolathiri Raja about the imperial interest of the Portuguese. They made an alliance and attacked the fort, but failed. Another attempt was made by the same in 1564 AD. It was also a failure.
In December 1508, Alfonso de Albuquerque arrived in Kannur. He was appointed as the successor of the Viceroy, Dom Francisco de Almeida. But Almeida refused to hand over the charge. In August 1509, he arrested Albuquerque and was imprisoned at St.Angelo Fort for three months. Albuquerque was released following the arrival of the Marshal of Portugal.
A cruel incident in the history of St.Angelo Fort is related to the death of Kunjali Marakkar, the naval chief of the Samuthiri of Kozhikode. In 1600 AD, the Samuthiri betrayed Kunjali Marakkar and handed over him to the Portuguese. They took him to Goa and cut–off his head. The salted head was carried to Kannur and displayed in a bamboo post at St.Angelo Fort.
By the second half of 16th century, the supremacy of the Portuguese began to decline. Their trade had a downturn and the military expenses increased. Moreover they had to face severe setback from the provincial rulers of Malabar. The weakened Portuguese were dethroned by the Dutch East India Company. In a strenuous battle they captured and took control of the St.Angelo Fort from the Portuguese in 1663 AD. The battle seriously damaged the walls of the fort. The Dutch modified the fort by decreasing its size and constructing the bastions pointing towards the sea – a major attraction of the present structure.
The Dutch made trade agreements with the Kolathiri Raja and the Ali Raja of Arakkal dynasty. But disputes arose between them with respect to the collection of taxes. The Dutch ruled the fort for 110 years, and gradually began to feel that their forts and garrisons in Malabar region are uneconomical. In 1772 AD, the Dutch sold the St.Angelo Fort to Arakkal dynasty for Rupees one lakh. The tombs of Susanna Weyerman, first wife of Mr Godfried Weyerman (The Dutch Governor of Cochin from 1761 to 1764), who died on 28the March 1745, and the children of Weyerman from his second marriage to Jeanna Anna Banister, still maintained in the fort recalls the possession and position of the Dutch at the St.Angelo’s.
During that period, the British East India Company began to dominate in the Malabar region. In 1790 AD, they captured the St.Angelo Fort from the Arakkal dynasty. The British reconstructed the fort and used it as their military head quarters in Malabar.
When Tipu Sulthan invaded Malabar, the Kolathiri and Arakkal joined him and made an attempt to capture the St.Angelo Fort from the British, but failed. Years later, Arakkal Beevi – Ali Raja Bibi Junumabe II gained the ownership of the fort by giving an amount to the British. But in 1796, by the decline of Arakkal dynasty, they gave back the fort to the British, and until independence St.Angelo Fort was in their possession.
St.Angelo Fort is located in the cantonment area of Kannur.The fort is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India and it is well preserved. The District Office of the Archaeological Survey of India is in the fort premises.
To reach the fort, its 3 kms from Kannur town, 4 kms from old bus stand and walkable distance from new bus stand. Nearest Railway Station is Kannur (4 kms). To reach by air, from Calicut (Karipur) International Airport -122 kms.