History has always been fascinating for its mysterious accounts and complexity. And the old buildings, monuments, and sites often stand as the testimony of the time elapsed. A symbol of glory and grandiose, a lot of these marvelous structures suffer and disappear under the piles of crumbling yesteryear. Among these lost marvels is the Surat Castle that was turned to ruins with a hundred stories buried under the heaps of advancements. But what remained intact in them were the cultures and stories that flourished in those walls, telling tales of wars and glories. With the combined efforts of a huge team led by the Surat Municipal Corporation & Arch. Sumesh Modi, one-third part of the castle has been restored and is open for the public view at present, while two-thirds of it still remains as a work under progress.
Digging up the Ruins
A lot of us have heard of the ‘Killa’ that existed at the Chowk area centuries ago, but no one has ever really seen it. So ever wonder how did an entire castle has stood at a place since ages, yet remained invisible to so many passersby? The heartbreaking reason is that centuries of misuse and exploitation, intended and unintended by the officials who used the monument for storages and offices, had brought it to shambles. From being buried under the foundations of government buildings to the saga of its revival, it must have been an exhilarating journey for the castle to bear the storms of time and then be brought back to life with sheer genius and passion. The Surat castle is one of the ancient monuments of 16th century existing in the city and bears a significant relevance to its history. However, such a great fortification built to provide the citizens of Surat with an adequate defense against the attacks of the invaders seems to have been forgotten from the minds of the present generation. The breakthrough came in the year 2010, when the Municipal Commissioner of Surat, S Aparna extended a proposal to restore the rich history of Surat’s lost Castle. Out of 17 national and international firms who pitched to take up the restoration project, Heritage Concern by Arch. Sumesh Modi was selected. His crucial role as a conservation architect and insightful views on history and heritage bagged him the responsibility to restore Surat’s long-lost treasure of heritage. And thus began the toiling expedition to evacuate, excavate and get the real shape of the Castle out that is still on.
When the History Began
In the context of the identity of Surat in medieval times, all the historical narratives point it out as one of the major port of international importance on the map of the world trade. Majorly all the businesses in the ancient times used sea routes and Surat was a prominent port for the trade of spices. The city served as an important trade center and enjoyed prosperity through sea trade in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. It became the most important trade link between India and many other countries and was at the height of prosperity till the rise of Bombay port in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In fact, if one traces the social, economic and political history closely, he might conclude that Bombay prospered because Surat declined and not the vice versa.
From Turkish Sultans & Mughal Emperors to Portuguese Military & British Reign, Surat Castle witnessed the evolution of culture & traditions, socio-economic legacies, and identities. Built under the rule of the Gujarat Sultanate in 1546, the charge of Castle was taken by commandants appointed by Emperor Akbar in 1573. Sidhi admiral of the Mughal fleet seized the charge in 1751, but by the end of 1759, it was captured by the English along with the city. In the year 1872, the force was withdrawn, and the vacated rooms were made over for the accommodation of the various offices connected with the revenue and police departments, in whose occupation the castle has since remained.
To come up with a full-fledged restoration plan that is also as authentic as possible, a lot of human hours were put in the research work. From various archival data retrieved from around the world, there were approximately 200 books that mention the presence of this castle in Surat. With a series of amusing facts, it was also discovered that the castle was built on the foundation of another castle that was built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq in 1372 and has five layers within. Surat suffered a provoked raid in 1530, for the second time by the Portuguese and the fort was constructed as a defense measure on the banks of Tapti river. It consists of a secret tunnel that served the purpose of supplying food and water to the soldiers protecting the fort under attack. Apart from its importance in the trading sector, Surat was essentially a port that led to a number of religious places of worship. So the well-known Makai Bridge in the present day was actually a bridge leading to the shortest way to Mecca (a pilgrim for the Muslims).
With imposing structures, monolithic designs and intricately carved walls, this architectural marvel resonates beauty and carries the remains of the bygone eras. Therefore, visit the castle to experience its magnificence yourself.