Built by the British in 1758, Fort William in Kolkata stands today as one of the most magnificent European forts in the East. India was under British rule for more than 300 years and the European rulers had left behind a number of buildings, structures and landmarks that inspire locals and travelers today. One of the most important structures is Fort William, which stands proudly on the Eastern banks of Hooghly River.
Designed by Captain John Brohier, the roughly octagon-shaped fort has six principal gates and completely built using bricks and mortar. The six gates are the Chowringhee, Plassey, Calcutta, Water Gate, St. Georges, and Treasury Gate. From above, it resembles a star with five of its sides facing land and three facing the river. It took 13 long years to complete this fortification, amassing a staggering construction cost of about 2 million pounds. Construction was completed by Archibald Campbell.
Modeled after the 17th-century Vauban defense concept, the fort is surrounded by a moat that is 9-meter deep and 15-meter wide. The moat may be flooded as a form of defense but originally intended for flanking fire against any forms of outside attack. To defend the fort, a garrison of 15,000 men was needed.
There is so much history to this important British landmark.
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It was named after King William III of England. What stands today is not the original fort that was built in 1706 with two stories, two wings and a guard room. In 1756, the old fort was captured and occupied by the Indians led by Siraj Ud Daulah, the last independent ruler of Bengal. The Indians converted the guard room into a dungeon for British soldiers and was later referred to as the “Black Hole of Calcutta”.
The Indians renamed the fort as “Alinagar”, forcing the British to construct the new Fort William along the Hooghly River. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, a 3-km area was cleared as constructions began for the new fort in 1758. The structure was finished in 1781. In 1766, the original fort was repaired and made to function as a customs house. In 1826, St. Peter’s Church was built within the fort complex to serve as the chaplaincy center for the British living in Calcutta.
After its construction, nothing much happened to and with the new fort. It was never used in battle. It holds the dubious distinction as the only military fort in the world that did not fire a single shot. Today, it is occupied by the Indian Army as headquarters for its Eastern Command. It accommodates 10,000 military personnel and is now flanked by modern amenities on the Maidan, which used to be a wide open area that was part of the fort.
The lush green Maidan has now been converted into an urban park, the largest in Kolkata. It is equipped with a shopping mall, swimming pool, cinema hall, playground, laundry, restaurants and a post office.
Fort William now serves as a leading tourist attraction. It has remained unchanged and undamaged through the years, although St. Peter’s Church has now been converted into a library. In addition to enjoying the modern conveniences of Maidan, tourists may check out the barrack buildings, which are long, three-storey block areas following classical European style.