While relaxing on my favorite armchair and sipping my morning tea, my eyes wandered to a dusty photo-frame adorning the wall of living room. It housed a photograph of a group of students with their professor holding a banner which read, “Trip to Bassein Fort – Class of ‘98” against the background of a towering, ancient edifice. Fond memories started trickling back of the trip that I took to Bassein fort way back in the winter of 99.
Located 68 kms from Mumbai, Bassein Fort or the Fort of St. Sebastian of Vasai derives its name from the Portuguese “Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim”. This is a large fort situated in the Vasai village of Thane district of Maharashtra, India. Being a monument of national importance, this fort is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Today, Vasai fort offers much more than historical tourism. Hailed as a favorite shooting destination for Bollywood films, famous British band Coldplay recently shot their song “Hymn for the Weekend” in this fort.
On the day of the trip, as we reached Bassein and stood at the entrance to the fort, I couldn’t help but get mesmerized by the sight that greeted me. While I was expecting only a few stand-alone dilapidated edifices, the reality was magnificent. The guide, whom we had hired to completely soak in the history, further heightened our interest by saying that besides the Cathedral, there were five convents, thirteen churches and an asylum for orphans and maidens inside the ancient property. As I entered, I felt like walking into Roman history with curved architecture all around.
Our journey inside the fort began at the Cathedral of Nossa Sonora Da Vida (Our Lady of Life). While what remained to be seen are remnants of the glorious past, the architecture inside reminded me of the churches of Old Goa.
We walked further and reached the Citadel of Sao Sebastiao, which forms the central part of the fort. At one end, there is a huge chimney, which must have been part of a kitchen area. We were told that the fort is in the shape of a decagon and the citadel is a pentagon, with a bastion in each corner.
We left the Citadel and reached the Cathedral of St. Joseph, the height of which looms above the rest of the fort and is the only visible façade from a distance. The stairway to the belfry led us to a beautiful view of the sea.
Our next stop was the Sea Gate or Porta Do Mar. Here, just outside the gate, there is an old Baobab tree, which significantly was brought to India by the Portuguese from Madagascar and planted by them wherever they lived in India.
We then moved further to the Jesuit Church & Monastery, also known as the Church of the Holy Name. This façade of this church seemed to be the most breath-taking and is associated with Saint Gonsalo Garcia, the first Indian to attain sainthood.
Our final stops at the churches of Franciscan, Augustinians, St. Anthony and Dominican filled us with immense awe, reminded us of the opulence and pomp of a bygone era and gave us a truckload of memories to be reminisced later in our lives.
As the years went by, the fort stood, timeless. I believe another visit to the great structure is due. I wonder if things have changed much since I was last there.
If you’re planning an enriching trip to Bassein, you can stay at Mumbai. For options on accommodation, visit Keys Hotels.