Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim

A land without ruins is a land without memories – a land without memories is a land without history.

The remnants of battles won and lost, are etched into the ruins. The tree roots grip the walls in a parasitic embrace. They have been standing strong bearing this weight over the centuries.

Historically recognized for its grandeur and impregnable strength, the Fort of Saint Sebastian of Vasai is a keeper of many secrets.

Vasai is located at the shores of the Arabian Sea near Mumbai. Earlier known as Baçaim, traders from the Middle East, Europe and even the Venetian merchant and explorer Marco Polo made this town their port of call.

The Portuguese had colonized the coast from Gujarat to Goa and Baçaim was a significant port of trade, second only to the Goan colony.

Its strategic location near the sea, incited the Portuguese to construct the Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim or Fort of Saint Sebastian of Vasai in 1536.

Baçaim was not an ordinary town. There were several power struggles between the Portuguese, Marathas and the British to gain control over it.

Overtime, Baçaim got localized to Bassein and today it is known as Vasai. The fort is now managed by the Archeological Survey of India, and they have tried to restore some parts of the fort.

Bassein fort was more than just a line of defense. A bustling city lived within the premises. Men of knowledge and power made frequent visits to the fort. A hospital, a prison, a town hall, colleges and churches were part of the fort complex.

The fort has 2 entrances one from the land and the other from the sea. These entrances have a peculiar feature.

Everyone has to go through 2 gates in order to enter the fort. When anyone enters the main gate, they are immediately confronted with a wall. It was deliberately done to confuse the enemies. The second gate is at a bend which leads to the inner areas of the fort.

Coldplay’s opening act in the song – ‘Hymn For The Weekend’ zooms into the seaside entrance of the fort. The fort is a popular location for photo shoots and has been a backdrop for many films and songs.

The citadel of St Sebastian is considered to be a fort within the fort. It has been named St Sebastian, as the foundation was possibly laid on his feast day.

The Portuguese coat of arms are visible at top of the entrance – with the arrows, the Cross and the Sphere at its sides. The shell shaped design above is typical of Portuguese seaside architecture and could have housed a statue; however, it cannot be confirmed.

There are 7 churches in various stages of ruins within the fort.

A church dedicated to St. Joseph, had the status of a cathedral and was visited by several bishops from Goa. It has a baptistery and a bell tower.

The pigments of white and red are clearly visible in the baptistery dome. St. Gonsalo Garcia, the patron saint of Vasai is believed to have been baptized here.

A stone staircase spirals upwards, leading up to a view point. A single stone pillar supports this. On reaching the top, the panoramic view of the Vasai creek is breath taking. Legend goes that the stones from the surrounding mountains and the wood from the forest nearby was used to build the fort.

Arches are found to be a dominant feature of the fort.

St. Anthony’s church has an independent standing archway, an architectural accomplishment difficult to achieve even today. It is a testament of the aptitude and knowledge of the builders.

The Church of Gonsalo Garcia or Holy Name Church, is the only church where Mass is celebrated till this day. The construction of this church is similar to the Bom Jesus Church in Goa; however, the surprising fact is, this was built before Bom Jesus.

The engravings at the Jesuit College next to the Church are well preserved and detailed. St. Francis Xavier visited this college several times.

The fort, earlier was a thriving place, now has fallen silent. Its architecture and buildings were once popular conversation starters at galas and dinners. They are now are a canvas for doodlers and graffiti artistes.

Some more interesting facts

Spices, wood, sugar and even slaves were traded at the marketplace within the fort premises. The area is in ruins and cannot be recognized. It would have been a bustling place where money and people changed hands.

A secret tunnel was built under the commander’s house which opened outside. The low ceiling had pointed stones coated in poison to kill the enemy.

The sunlight streams through its crumbling arches and corridors which were once filled with people going about their day. The architecture displays a pattern of balance and symmetry. It was a well-planned fort, its vastness embracing the sea and the shore, the people and the land.

Travel Essentials

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Covid 19 Advisory – Please check local government regulations before planning your travel. Stay safe.

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The fun way is to take a Mumbai local train going towards Virar and get off at Vasai Station.

Strike a deal with anyone of the several autos waiting on the west side of the station to take you to the fort. Autos are available at the nearby village to return back to the station.

Vasai is also accessible by road.

It is best to go with a group of friends as most parts of the fort are deserted and densely vegetated.

You can contact Pascal Lopes or Sunil D’mello who are experts on the history of the fort and if lucky you can arrange a private tour with them.

You can also contact Swadesee if you are ok to go with a group. They curate such walks and give you an authentic experience –  https://swadesee.com/vasai-fort-heritage-walk-tour/

The walk around the fort should take around 3 hours and it is best explored early morning.

Try the lemonade juice or shaved ice popsicles after you finish your tour.

There are no restrooms in the fort vicinity. Light snacks may be available at the nearby village.

Carry water. Wear cottons and good walking shoes.

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