Fort Dansborg: Sights and Secrets

This is the fourth post on Tranquebar.
Previous posts:
Tranquebar: the history missing in our history books
The First Ziegenbalg Monument
The fort that walled the tsunami

Fort Dansborg, Tranquebar is the only existing Danish Fort in India. It was built in 1620 by Danish Admiral Ove Gedde, very close to the Bay of Bengal shoreline. More about the fort can be read in the last post The fort that walled the tsunami.

P1010834-lrThe portion towards the Bay of Bengal is on two levels, extends north to south and is trapezoidal in plan. On the upper level were residences of the governor and the priests, and the church room. The space below this was used as warehouse, store room and stables for horses. The central part of the fort has four camel hump shaped domes that we couldn’t see as access was restricted.

P1010844The ramp near the entrance archway (seen at the top left corner of the pic) leads to the first floor. The original building did not have a ramp, only stairs to reach the first floor.
The ramp, it is said, was added before the visit of the Prime Minister of Denmark in 1987.

P1010848The central well was used for drinking water. Messenger pigeons used by the Danes for communication were housed on the two posts of the well.

P1010837All the openings to the rooms have neither doors nor windows in place, just openings.

P1010838When we visited in May 2014, one of the rooms had windowed grills resting inside.
We discovered that these were not the original metal grills, but made of fibre… a movie set for a movie that was finally not shot at this location.

The story goes that the Danish East India Company was so desperately in need of money that it removed whatever metal there was in the fort, to make into military equipment that it could sell.

P1010909Adjacent to the trapezoidal building is a row of rooms, east to west.
Adjoining the rampart wall, they were used as store rooms, kitchen, jail and rest area for the soldiers. Catholic symbols in the soldiers rooms indicate that many were not Protestant.

P1010840The beer and wine storage room was the first in the row of rooms, perpendicular to the residential rooms that were on the first floor of the main building.

P1010839With no direct passage between the two buildings, a small draw-bridge had been set up between them, to enable the priests to get quick and unseen access to the beer and wine!

P1010841The kitchen was built with chimneys to carry the smoke straight out.

P1010842A tunnel (now blocked) was, according to local guide Adityan, a water tunnel, to control the level of water in the moat. There is a water guard house located at one side at the end of the tunnel.

One characteristic feature of the fort and other buildings in Tranquebar is the limestone plaster used over the bricks. It is made using limestone, calcium powder, egg, nutmeg and inknut, left to ferment for 10-15 days and then enzyme calcium sulphide is added (recipe courtesy local guide Adityan). The result is a rustic smooth finish, that is also a temperature control – it keeps the walls cool when it is hot and warm when it is cold.

The fort was partially renovated in 2002. Details of the way the plaster restoration has been done at the fort can be seen on the Nagapattinam District website here. It was done in three layers, using cement, lime, sand (first layer), lime, sand, juice of gallnut, jaggery, juice of agave leaf (second layer) and white of egg, red oxide powder, synthetic iron oxide powder (third layer).

QDSCN0154 View fm first flr of fort-001


Views from the roof of the ramparts.

QDSCN0148-001The River Uppanar in the back ground.


P1010904Bibbie aunty’s research team.

P1010907The first floor of the fort, where the museum and office is located.

The museum was set up in 1979, to bring out the political, social, trade and cultural contacts between India and Denmark. It has been upgraded over the years.

P1010860A copy of the treaty between Denmark and the King of Thanjavur,
on the assignment of Tranquebar in 1620.

P1010879Short cannons were used very effectively by the Danish. Small and light compared to standard cannons, they were easy to move and fire into the sea.  

P1010868Water pots were made with removable spouts. The Danish people had low resistance to viruses, and illness was quick to spread. So to combat this, each person carried his/her own spout to use for drinking from common water pots.

P1010870-001A model of a Danish ship that reached Indian shores.

There are many more interesting treasures at Fort Dansborg and the museum. Open 10:30 am to 5 pm, closed on Fridays. Entry fee Rs 5/- (children below 12 free), Camera fee Rs 30/-.

Pics: taken at Tranquebar, May 18-19, 2014
Information sources: Local guide Adithyan, signs and displays at the fort/ museum 


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