Historical Sites in India – Central Kerala

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(Photo from: http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/kochi-rolls-out-the-red-carpet-for-royal-couple/article5340145.ece)

History of Kerala can be traced back to 4000 B.C., when Proto Australoid and Negrito race inhabited the land. Microlithic artefacts dating back to 4000 B.C. have been recovered near Calicut. Megalithic monuments like various kinds of burial stones and urns and some man-made underground chambers have also been found. By around 3000 B.C.

Kerala had trade relation with Sindhu Valley Civilization and its spices and commodities like Sandalwood, Ivory and Teakwood among other things were exported to many countries of the west. Kerala held a considerable position in the commercial map of the ancient world. It is believed that the Peacocks, Monkeys, Ivory and spices which King Solomon received, were exported from Kerala. The teak found in the ruins of Ur must certainly have come from the Malabar Coast. This means trade flourished around 3000 BC.

Cotton from this region was a favourite in Egypt, the Phoenicians visited the coast of Malabar around the same time to trade in ivory, sandalwood and spices. King Solomon is said to have sent his commercial fleet to Ophir which is said to be somewhere in Southern Kerala.

Muziris (Kodungalloor or Cranganore) is reputed to be the ancient world's greatest trading centre in India for such highly prized possessions as pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and other spices. Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, a lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome), is said to have lamented the fact that trade with the East was draining the treasury of Rome.

By common consent among the historians, the earliest inhabitants of Kerala were the Pulayas, Kuravas and Vetas. It is at a much later time that migratory populations from the north subjugated them and ultimately enslaved them, a state to which they were in until the abolition of untouchability in the recent past.

Today we look at the historical monuments in the Central districts of the state. Central Kerala includes the districts of Palakkad, Thrissur, Ernakulam and Travancore.

Here are some of the most important places in this region.


Palakkad Fort, Palakkad

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Palakkad Fort also known as Tipu's Fort is an old fort situated in the heart of Palakkad town of Kerala state, southern India. It was built by Haider Ali in 1766 AD and remains one of the best preserved forts in Kerala.

One of the well preserved forts in south India, Tipu's Fort is today a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India. The sober majesty of the laterite walls of the fort reminds one of the old tales of valour and courage.

The fort was built by Haider Ali (1717 - 1782), the emperor of Mysore province, supposedly to facilitate communication between both sides of the Western Ghats. He had captured the Malabar and Kochi regions which come under the West Coast area.

In 1784, after an eleven-day siege, the fort was captured by the British under Colonel Fullerton. Though it later fell into the hands of the troops of the Kozhikode Zamorin, it was recaptured by the British in 1790.


Shakthan Thampuran Palace, Thrissur

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Shakthan Thampuran Palace is situated in City of Thrissur. It is named as Vadakkekara Palace, was reconstructed in Kerala-Dutch style in 1795 by Ramavarma Thampuran of the erstwhile Princely State of Cochin. It is preserved by Archaeological Department. The palace was converted into a museum in 2005 by State.

The main structure of the palace has a two-storeyed building and a traditional Kerala style N?lukettu. High roofs, extra thick walls, spacious rooms and floors paved with finely smoothened Italian marbles are some of the structural specialities of this palace. The interiors of the palace, because of its unique construction offer comfortable and pleasant staying conditions irrespective of the prevailing weather conditions.

The Sakthan Thampuran palace also has a very ancient Serpent Grove, which is a place for worshipping the serpents. Located on the southern side of the Shakthan Palace is the Heritage Garden, set up recently to exhibit and preserve some of the indigenous varieties of plants and trees of Kerala. The archaeological garden, situated in the north-eastern part of the palace, has collections from the Stone Age recovered from the outskirts of Thrissur.

The museum displays Bronze Gallery where one can find bronze statues belonging to the period between the 12th and the 18th centuries, Sculpture gallery displaying granite statues from the 9th century to the 17th century.

The numismatic section have coins used in Kerala from the 5th century B.C. Roman gold coins (from the Eeyyal hoard) and Travancore native coins (in silver), Veerarayans (gold coins) Otta Puthan and Iratta Puthan issued by the kings of Cochin are displayed.


Hill Palace Museum, Ernakulam

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Hill Palace Museum at Tripunithura, 12kilometres southeast of Ernakulam, was formerly the residence of the Kochi royal family and is an impressive 49-building palace complex. It now houses the collections of the royal families, as well as 19th-century oil paintings, old coins, sculptures and paintings, jewellery and temple models.

Hill Palace was built in 1865 by the Maharaja of Cochin and is now the largest archaeological museum in Kerala.


Synagogue at Mattanchery, Kochi

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The Paradesi Synagogue is the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations. Constructed in 1567, it is one of seven synagogues of the Malabar Yehudan or Yehudan Mappila people or Cochin Jewish community in the Kingdom of Cochin.

Paradesi is a word used in several Indian languages, and the literal meaning of the term is "foreigners". The synagogue was built by Sephardic or Spanish-speaking Jews, some of them from families exiled in Aleppo, Safed and other West Asian localities. It is also referred to as the Cochin Jewish Synagogue or the Mattanchery Synagogue.


Dutch Palace, Kochi

(Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mattancherry_Palace)

During the early decades of the 16th century, the Portuguese had plundered many temples in Kochi. In 1555, they built the palace and presented it to King Veera Kerala Varma with the hope of establishing trading relations with the kingdom. When the Dutch arrived in Kochi much later, they renovated the building.

However, neither the Portuguese nor the Dutch have used the palace. The palace was used by the rulers of Kochi as their Royal House and important ceremonies related to the coronation were conducted there.

The palace is a two-storeyed structure, built in traditional Kerala naalukettu (quadrangular) model with four separate wings opening into a central courtyard. While the central courtyard houses a temple of the royal deity Pazhayannur Bhagavathi, the two other temples situated on either side of the palace are dedicated to Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva.


Pierce Leslie Bungalow, Fort Kochi 

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A very charming mansion of Fort Kochi in the state of Kerala, Pierce Leslie Bungalow is an ancient mansion built in the year 1862. Earlier it was the office of Pierce Leslie & Company, a popular group of coffee merchants in India.

A representative of the Fort Kochi colonial bungalow, this building reflects Portuguese, Dutch and local influences. Characteristic features are wood panels that form the roof of the ground floor, arched doorways, carved doors and sprawling rooms. Waterfront verandahs are an added attraction. 


Bastion Bungalow, Kochi

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Bastion Bungalow is an architectural splendour, which was built in 1667 in the Indo - European style. It was constructed on what has been considered the Dutch Stromberg Bastion.

The Portuguese built Fort Immanuel during the early decades of the 16th century. When the Dutch captured Kochi in 1663, they started destroying the fort and reduced it to almost one third its size.  Originally, the fort had seven bastions. Of these, the Stromberg bastion was later converted to the Bastion Bungalow.


Bishops House Fort, Kochi

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Built in 1506 as the residence of the Portuguese Governor, the Bishop's House stands on a little hillock near the Parade Ground in Fort Kochi. The facade of the House is characterised by large Gothic arches and has a circular garden path winding up to the main entrance.

The building was acquired by Dom Jos Gomes Ferreira, the 27th Bishop of the Diocese of Kochi whose jurisdiction extended over Burma, Malaya and Ceylon, in addition to India. Adjacent to the Bishop's House is the Indo-Portuguese Museum which houses precious artefacts collected from various churches under the Cochin diocese.


Bolgatty Palace Ernakulam, Kochi

(Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolgatty_Palace)

Amid this picturesque island of Bolgatty is the beautiful Bolgatty Palace, built in 1744 by the Dutch and later taken over by the British. Today, it is a premium hotel run by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) Hotels & Resorts, with a small golf course and special honeymoon cottages.

India’s only international marina, Kochi International Marina, is situated in Bolgatty. The marina provides berthing facility for 34 yachts and also offers services like water, electricity and sewage pump-outs.


Maritime Museum, Kochi

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India is reckoned as one of the top ten naval powers in the world and owes its credit to the dedication and selfless services rendered by the brave men of India's formidable naval force.

It is of significance for civilians to understand the value of existence of such a force, which plays a crucial role in safeguarding territorial waters of India. The Maritime Museum, located at INS Dronacharya in Kochi throws light on the genesis, history, evolution and landmarks of the Indian Navy


Pallipuram Fort, Kochi

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The Pallipuram Fort was built by the Portuguese in 1503 and is the oldest existing European fort in India. The Dutch captured the fort in 1661 and sold it to the Kingdom of Travancore in 1789. The fort is situated in the northern extremity of Vypeen Island and is hexagonal in shape, a form popularly known as ayikkotta or alikotta.

The architecture of the fort is quite fascinating with a hexagonal outpost and the lowest floor raised to a height of five feet. Laterite, mortar and wood are used for the construction. The layout enables to mount as many guns as possible commanding all quarters round the fort.


Vasco House, Kochi

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Believed to have been the residence of Vasco da Gama, Vasco House is one of the oldest Portuguese residences in Fort Kochi. Built in the early sixteenth century, Vasco House sports the typical European glass paned windows and balcony cum verandahs characteristic of those times.