The coastal state of Goa is dotted with a number of forts that have held historical as well as architectural significance. Built through the course of history as guarding the region against attacks by the erstwhile rulers, these monuments are significant markers of key events that altered the landscape of Goa. While some of these forts lie in ruins today, some of them serve as popular tourist attractions or pit stops on treks.
Located at the northern tip of Goa, a ferry ride away from Querim, the Tiracol Fort was built in the 17th century by Maharaja Khem Sawant Bhonsle of Sawantwadi. The fort had strategic importance, as it overlooked the Terekhol river and the sea, as well as gave a bird’s-eye view of the Querim and Kalacha beaches. During its occupation, a church was built within the walls of the fort by the Portuguese. Originally meant as a dedication to the Holy Trinity, it is now a church of St. Anthony. In 1954, a group of Satyagrahis
who were against the Portuguese used this fort as one of the three locations to enter Goa,and also unfurled the Indian flag at the site. Today, the fort functions as a boutique luxury hotel known as Fort Tiracol Heritage.
Also known as the Halarn Fort, the Alorna Fort is one of the oldest fortresses in Goa. Located in Mapusa, it was built by the warrior clan of the Bhonsles in the 17th century with the aim of safeguarding the region from the attacks by the Marathas. The fort was constructed keeping in mind the strategic defence systems. While it currently lies in a decrepit state, it once had four cannon stations; now there are only two. With several watchtowers having vanished over the years, only two stand as of today.
The fort offers sweeping views—of paddy fields in the distance, the highlands, and the Chapora river. Marquis was the first Portuguese intruder of the fort, taking it over in 1746 CE. Acknowledging his triumph over the fort, the Bhonsles conferred upon him the title of ‘Marquis of Alorna’. Later, in 1781 CE, another Portuguese ruler named Dom Frederico Guilherme attacked the fort and seized it.
Located in the Bardez taluka in north Goa, the Chapora Fort is one of the most popular historic sites in the state. Given the steep slopes on all sides, the fort had an ideal defensive advantage for its occupants. Originally built by Adil Shah of the Bijapur Sultanate, its nomenclature perhaps stems from ‘Shahpura’ or the ‘town of the Shah’. When the Portuguese defeated the Shah and seized the fort, it had great military significance for them, as the Chapora river marked the northern boundary of Goa, with Pernem on its
opposite bank being the province of the Maharaja of Sawantwadi. Falling several times into the hands of the Marathas, the fort was finally regained by the Portuguese in 1741 CE with the ‘Novas Conquistas’ or the ‘New Conquest’. When it was rebuilt by the Portuguese in 1717 CE, several tunnels were added to the fort, and can be viewed by visitors till date.
The Corjuem Fort is unique as it is one of two inland forts in Goa that has survived. Located in Corjuem across the river from the village of Aldona, it is about 12 kilometres from Panjim. Built in 1550 CE, it originally belonged to the Bhonsles of Sawantwadi. It was later annexed by the Portuguese in 1705 CE in order to boost their defence of Panjim, which had, by then, become the capital city. In the 19th century, it was used as a military school to defend the town of Corjuem. While it lies in disrepair today, its vantage point offers sweeping views of the Goan countryside.
Located in the Bicholim taluka of north Goa, the Sankhali (or Sanquelim) Fort is right in the middle of a busy marketplace and lies in a decaying state today. It played an important role in the defence of the passage from the ghats to Goa’s coastal regions. Originally under the control of the Bhonsles, it was taken over in 1746 CE by the Portuguese viscount Marquis de Alorna. Until 1817 CE, the fort possessed eight cannons, and was abandoned by the end of the 19th century.
Situated along the eastern tip of the island of Divar, close to banks of the Mandovi river, the Naroa Fort is over 300 years old. Originally built in the 16th century as a military camp for the Deccan Sultanate, it was later captured by the Portuguese to be rebuilt and reinforced so that the eastern border could be safeguarded against the Bijapur Sultanate. Abandoned in 1834 CE, it now largely lies in ruins. What remains of the Naroa Fort is a chapel known as the Holy Spirit Church, which is said to have been erected by Captain Diogo da Silveira in 1710 CE. An icon of St. Thomas the Apostle stands at the central part of the altar.
Reis Magos fort
Located in Verem in the Bardez taluka along the banks of the Mandovi river, The Reis Magos Fort’s initial incarnation was built in 1493 CE by the rulers of the Bijapur Sultanate as a military outpost. The actual fort was constructed on the same site by the Portuguese in 1551 CE, as the first and most significant line of defence for the then capital of Velha Goa (Old Goa). It was extended several times over, before being reconstructed completely in the early 1700s. Its large, sprawling expanse meant that Reis Magos
could accommodate a fully armed garrison and had numerous underground passages. As the threats of naval attacks reduced over time and the capital was shifted from Velha Goa to Panjim, Reis Magos no longer served its purpose of military fortification and fell into disuse. In the early 1900s, it was converted into a prison and continued to house one until 1993. Today, it is a prominent cultural centre as well as a tourist attraction, along with the Reis Magos Church that stands closeby.
Located along the arterial Anjuna-Siolim Road in Candolim, Fort Aguada has been standing for over 400 years at the confluence of the Mandovi river and the Arabian Sea. Named after the freshwater spring that provides the fort a constant supply of water (‘agua’ is the Portuguese term for ‘water’), it houses an enormous cistern to store gallons of water. Key attributes of the Aguada Fort are the presence of a citadel, the many secret passageways, and its capacity to accommodate 200 cannons.
It has a four-storeyed lighthouse built in 1864 CE, considered the oldest of its kind in Asia. During the Salazar administration, it was converted into a prison. In fact, in 1946, several peaceful protestors who demanded that Goa be handed over to the Indian state, were imprisoned here. The former jail is now renovated to house a museum.
While Mormugao was an important port for the Portuguese rulers, the eponymous fort, located a few kilometres away, was built to secure and guard the mouth of the harbour. Its construction began in 1624 CE. With the then viceroy being worried about the repeated attacks by the Marathas, it was contemplated that the capital city be moved from Velha Goa to Margao. This thought necessitated the further fortification of Mormugao. In 1703 CE, the viceroy shifted his official residence to the interiors of the fort.
The subsequent viceroys, however, realised that the location wasn’t central enough, and hence moved back to Velha Goa. The Marathas then captured the fort in the 17th century, after which it fell into the hands of the Portuguese once again. Today, it is a key attraction, its refurbished structure serving as the main draw — including the towering bulwarks, three magazines, prison blocks, a chapel, and accommodation for a garrison.
Not much remains of the Rachol Fort today, except for an archway leading up to the seminary and a dried-up moat around the hill where the seminary is located. The Rachol Fort is in the Salcette taluka of south Goa, and was built by the Bahmani Sultanate, before it fell into the hands of the Vijayanagara rulers after a prolonged battle. Later, when the Portuguese gained control over the fort, it was armed with over a hundred cannons and guns, which enabled the Portuguese to repel the subsequent
Maratha invasions. Once abandoned by the Portuguese, following their ‘New Conquests’, the fort began to lose its military standing. Since then, it has been lying in a state of decay and disrepair. It is believed that the fort once housed not only a citadel but also a chapel and a church dedicated to St John the Baptist.
The coastal town of Betul in south Goa, where the Sal river meets the ocean, is the site of the Betul Fort. Said to have been built in 1679 CE by local administrator Hawaldar of Balli upon the orders of Shivaji Maharaj, it is perhaps the only fort in Goa commissioned by Shivaji. In 1763 CE, the Portuguese entered into a pact with the Soundekar kings—with whom Hawaldar of Balli had cordial relations—and annexed the area. The fort has a police station, custom house, and a post office within the confines of the fort. While it lay in a neglected state for a very long time, a private initiative of heritage enthusiasts has recently made an effort to rally for its restoration.
Cabo de rama
Located along the Canacona coast in south Goa, it is believed that the Cabo de Rama fort derives its name from the Ramayana. It predates Portuguese rule in Goa; they gained a stronghold over it in the 1760s, after the king of Soonda had surrendered his territory to them in return for protection against the threat from Hyder Ali of Mysore. The Portuguese, upon acquiring control, equipped the fort with 21 guns, military barracks, commanders’ quarters, and the Capela de Santo Antonio, a chapel that is still in use. While parts of the Cabo de Rama lie in ruins, it is still a popular tourist pitstop, offering sweeping views of the nearby Colva Beach.
One of the key historical monuments in Goa are ancient caves. As sites of great archaeological interest, they are unique to the natural landscape of the state. While some are located along beaches, some are accessible after an uphill trek.
Some of the important caves include the following:
Khandepar caves are situated in North Goa district in Ponda taluka. The caves are built of laterite blocks and date back to the 10th and 11th century. There are four free-standing rock cut caves out of which three of them are similar in pattern being carved from a single block with two cells while the fourth is single celled.
Buddhist Caves, Rivona
The Rivona Buddhist Caves located in South Goa district near River Kushavati are thought to have been used by Buddhist monks in around 6th – 7th century. This area also has a famous temple dedicated to Lord Shiva called the Zambaulim temple.
Usgalimal – Pansaimol Rock Art, Sanguem
Between Rivona and Netravali villages, lies the village of Usgalimal which is also called as Pansaimol in Sanguem taluka, in South Goa district. This site is ASI protected and has unique rock art on the laterite bed of the Kushavati River. This site is the oldest site of rock art in Goa.
Kajur Rock Art Caves, Quepem
While Usgalimal rock art site has more than 100 petroglyphs and is much more famous, the Kajur rock art site located in Quepem only has a few carvings and is lesser known. However, historians state that these carvings at Kajur also go back to pre-historic times. Currently the Kajur rock art site is under the protection of ASI.
Arvalem Caves, Sanquelim
The history of the Arvalem Caves in North Goa district is believed to date back to the 6th century. The caves are cut into five segments out of which three segments have a linga within them. Many believe that the caves are carved by Buddhist monks since the style is very similar to Buddhist caves. This is a popular picnic spot for tourists since the Arvalem waterfalls is also located at a distance of 1.5km from here.
Kaurati’s Caves, Candolim
Located by the beach in Candolim, these caves are popularly referred to as the Devil’s Finger Caves, owing to the namesake cliff nearby. They offer picturesque views of the Sinquerim Fort, and are a popular tourist pitstop.
Curdi Caves, Salaulim
Situated in the Sanguem taluka of Goa, the village of Curdi (or Kurdi) is said to have been submerged sometime during the 1980s, after the reservoir of the Salaulim Dam was built. However, every May, the waters recede, and the place becomes accessible. The village is where the Curdi Caves, an example of rock-cut caves, and a couple of temples are located.
Narve Caves, Naroa
Located in Naroa in Bicholim in north Goa in the heart of a forest, the Narve Caves are believed to date back to the 6th century. Several lingas belonging to the Chalukya period have been excavated here, their surfaces comprising inscriptions in Brahmi. Given that a few garbhagrihas (sanctum meant for idols) have also been found here, it is suggestive of the possibility that it housed the sculpture of a Hindu deity.