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 defence against the attacks of the invaders seems to have been forgotten from the minds of the present generation. The Ahmedabad king Sultan Mahmood-III (1538-1554), who was very much annoyed by these frequent destructions of Surat, ordered for building a very strong castle and entrusted the work to Safi Agha, a Turkish soldier who had been ennobled with the title of Khudawand Khan. The work of building the castle was completed in 1546. After the capture of Surat by the emperor Akbar (1573) the fortress remained in the charge of commandants appointed from Delhi till it was seized by the Sidhi admiral of the Mugal fleet in 1751. The Sidhi did not hold the castle for long period, as it was captured by the English in 1759 with rest of the city. Though from the first practically independent, the English held the castle nominally under the Mugal. In token of this divided command, two flags waved from the castle walls, the English ensign on the south-west, and the Moorish standard on the south-east bastion. This practice was continued till, in 1842, on the death of the last of the nawabs of Surat, the English fleet was removed from the Tapi, and the Moorish standard taken down from the castle walls. Though, as a defence against any well-equipped enemy, they have long been useless, the castle buildings initially were being kept in repair, and until the year 1862, were garrisoned by a small body of European and native troops. In that year, as no longer required, the force was withdrawn, and the vacated rooms were made over for the accommodation of the various offices connected with the revenue and police departments, in whose occupation the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.
Though in context of the identity of Surat in mediaeval times many views have been expressed by different historians, in all the historical narratives Surat has emerged as one of the major port of international importance on the map of the world trade. A Portuguese traveller named Barbosa during his visit to Gujarat in 1514 has described Surat as a city of great trade in all classes of merchandise, a very important seaport yielding a large revenue to the king, and frequented by many ships from Malabar and many other ports.
Shortly before Barbosa was in Gujarat, Surat is said to have been burnt by the Portuguese in 1512. Surat reportedly suffered from a wholly unprovoked, and piratical raid, in 1530, a second time by the Portuguese under the leadership of Antonio da Silvaria. Though the assailants were opposed by a guard of 300 horses and 10000 foot, but at the first charge the defenders fled, and the town was taken and burnt. As they were still at the war with the Gujarat King, the Portuguese again burnt Surat in the next year, 1531. The Ahmedabad king Sultan Mahmood-III (1538-1554), who was very much annoyed by these frequent destructions of Surat, ordered for building a very strong castle and entrusted the work to Safi Agha, a Turkish soldier who had been ennobled with the title of Khudawand Khan. He was provided with substantial budget and was ordered to plan and build a very strong castle. Khudawand Khan initially selected three alternative sites for building the castle
- Village Tunki where presently a tomb of Marjan Shami is existing.
- 'Pani ni Bhit' area
- The bank of the river
out of which the last alternative i.e. bank of the river was selected and finalised by the king. It has been reported that during construction stage the Portuguese made several attempts to prevent Khudawand Khan from completing the work both by bribery as well as by force failing which, they came to attack with several vessels armed with cannons, but could not succeed in preventing him from building the castle. He completed the construction of this castle in the year 1546.
This historical castle which was planned and built between 1540 and 1546 by Khudawand Khan, is one of the chief ancient monuments of Surat. Built on the bank of river Tapi on a land plot of about one acre as shown in the following figure, it is an irregular square in plan with its short wing facing west and, one of the oblique wing facing the north-west being washed by the river.
At each corner there is a large round tower about 12.2m in height, the walls curtains rising nearly as high as the towers with the thickness of walls being 4.1 m. The top portions of the bastions are treated in the Portuguese style. When all their attempts to prevent the construction of the castle were failed they at last tried to persuade Khudawand Khan for not accomplishing this Portuguese style of the bastions, but it was the firm determination of Khudawand Khan which led to accomplish the entire work exactly as per his original planning.
It has been reported that in order to counteract the attacks of the Portuguese, Khudawand made adequate defence arrangements for installing the cannons which were brought by him from Junagadh (Some other historical accounts quote that he had brought the cannons from Diu, which were left there by Suleman Pasha who ran away from the battle field for Eden). Since the king wanted to build a very strong castle, all the component units of the masonry were bonded or fastened together with iron strips and the joints were filled-in by pouring the melted lead.
Similarly the highest degree of safety from defense point of view is conspicuously incorporated in the construction of its entrance gate also. This magnificent gateway on the eastern wing of the castle is so designed as to provide a massive structure having strong door shutters furnished with protruding spikes at the exterior facade, and a decorative architectural treatment at the interior Facade.
In his eulogy for the castle, Mulla Mohammed Ashrawadi has written that 'the castle's remarkable and impressive splendour, and beauty would have been an impossible feat without the grace of the Almighty' and expressed at the end that 'this castle would bravely withstand like a mountain against the Portuguese attacks'. After building-up of this fortification by Khudawand Khan, the Portuguese never dared to raid Surat except some stray incidences of small encounters.
On comparing the original documentary evidences with the present condition of this castle it appears that many modifications have been incorporated into it. The main among these original features are the moat or a ditch 18.30m wide on its landward sides and the curtain, 18.30m high. The moat was lined with bricks and stones in lime mortar and was connected with river in such a manner as to remain automatically filled-up with water.
In the original structure there were two entrance gates, one facing the East and opening on to the Chowk Bazar side and another of comparatively smaller size facing the West - towards the river side and serving as a gateway from the harbour and as a facility for the direct entry of goods etc. from ships. At the main entrance gate there was another distinct feature - a 'draw-bridge' over the moat. This draw-bridge was reportedly being noticed up to the end of 17th century by many of the European and other travellers. Surprisingly none of these features are traceable at present. The entrance gate facing the river, and the curtain are no longer existing and the moat is also filled up with earth.
As far as has been ascertained, the only change since the castle was built by Khudawand Khan was in 1760 when, on the eastern side, opposite the entrance, the English added a work and gateway on the outer bank of the moat.