Sunday 6 January 2013

The British fort from where not even a single shot was fired

This is one of the major forts built by the British in India more than two hundred and fifty years ago. It quickly became the centre of trade and commerce and of course the military. In a few years time, it also became part of the City  that was the first capital of India.
The fort stands even today, a tribute to the British engineers and planners. Yet, this fort has a dubious distinction. It is perhaps the only fort in India and one of a handful in the world that never saw even a single shot fired.
This is the Fort William in Kolkata which is built on the banks of the Hoogly, a major distributary of the River Ganges. The fort took shape during the early years of the Bengal Presidency of  British India.
Kolkata then was the major military, trade and commerce centre of the British and the Governor-Generals of India were based from here.
The fort was named after  King William the third of England and Ireland. Even today, most of the fort is visible from the Maidan which is a vast open space in front of the walled structure. Once upon a time, the Maidan used to be a part of the Fort and it is now the largest urban park in Kolkata.
By the way, there are actually tow For Williams. The old one was built in 1696 by the British East India Company under the supervision of John Goldsborough.
This was the fort where the infamous Blackhole incident occurred.
In 1756, the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj Ud Daulah, attacked the fort and conquered Kolkata. He then changed its name to Alinagar.
The British then began fearing another attack by the Indians and this led them to build a new and stronger fort in the Maidan. It was started by Robert Clive in 1758 and  completed in 1781 at a cost of two million pounds.
The Fort William we see today is one of  the biggest forts built by the British and it covers  70.9 hectares. It is this structure that has the distinction of being the only fort in the world from which not a single shot was fired.
Today this fort is managed by the Indian Army and civilians are generally not allowed inside. This is also the headquarters of Eastern Command and it has provisions for accommodating 10,000 army personnel.
Much of  the Fort and its buildings are unchanged except for the  St. Peter's Church which used to serve as a chaplaincy center for the British no longer exists.
The Old fort was repaired and was used as a customs house from 1766 onwards. The New Fort is still in use as described above.
The new fort is built of brick and mortar in the shape of an irregular octagon with five of its sides facing the land and three towards the Hoogly. The design is in the shape of a star, which is believed to be best suited defence against cannon fire.
The fort was  surrounded by a dry moat 9 metres deep and 15 meters broad. It has six main gates- Chowringhee, Plassey Calcutta, Water Gate, St Georges and the Treasury Gate.
If you want to visit the fort, you have to obtain permission from the Army. Well, what do I have to say about connectivity of Kolkata. There are any number of trains and flights from all parts of India.
There are a lot of see in Koltata. I will cover them in another article.

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