Sion Fort is situated on a hill within a nondescript garden in the middle of the bustling suburb of Sion, that you would normally pass by without noticing. But in the 18th century, Sion Fort was one of the most strategically located fort for the island of Bombay which was separated from the “mainland” island of Salsette, and was used to guard the only point of entry into Bombay – the Sion Causeway.
As this map recreated from an old 17th-18th century map of north Bombay island indicates, Sion Fort was located at the tip of the Bombay island, close to the Sion Causeway. It was built between 1669 and 1677 by the second British governor of Bombay, Gerard Aungier (c1635-1677), on top of a conical hillock, and it marked the northeast boundary between the British-held Parel Island and Portuguese-held Salsette Island
Today, the gap between Salsette island and the island of Bombay is no more – with mangroves of Mahim creek on one end and the mangroves of Mankhurd on the other end being the only sign of the old water body. The causeway has been taken over by the Eastern Express Highway. Sion fort is now located in a garden just off the highway, in a lane near the junction of the highway and the Sion Bandra link road leading to Sion Station.
Last weekend, I joined a group of cyclists who were riding to Palm Beach Road. It was a pleasant morning, and after a nice ride and a hearty South Indian breakfast, I left the group and went ahead to visit Sion Fort
The fort and the garden around it is now maintained by the Archeological Society of India, and opens at 6 am to 12 pm and between 4 pm to 8:30 pm
The garden was thankfully quite clean, with security guards at various places. There were a lot of students all around, busy poring into their books
In the center of the garden is the main fort on top of the hill, accessible via these stone steps
As you climb the steps, you begin to see the structure of the fort at the top of the hill, with its square windows presumably having cannons to dissuade any possible mal-intentioned visitor
The steps lead up to an open platform near the base of the fort, from where one can get a clear view of the surroundings. Another interesting fact that I came to know later, thanks to a cyclist friend Nitin Mainthia who lives just behind the fort – what you see in the foreground covered by trees and bushes is an old well, next to which is the entrance to an underground tunnel that used to lead all the way to Riwa Fort!
James Wales’ 1791-92 depiction of the view from Sion Fort shows the contrast with the present day view from the fort
The fort itself is in quite a ruined state. There are steps leading up to the structure at the top. These steps can also be seen in James Wales picture above.
As you climb the stairs, there is a watch tower in the foreground, and behind it is the main structure of the fort at a highest level
I parked my cycle inside the watch tower, which has two doors and three windows remaining, but the rest of the tower has completely disintegrated
After a look through a window in the tower, you can climb around it and take a look at the sole remaining cannon in the fort
The structure at the top is quite nondescript, with only walls remaining with doors leading from one room to another
On one side of the building is a broad verandah from where one can get a clear view of the city around
On the way back, I picked up the cycle from the watch tower, and noticed this structure opposite that looked like a bastion of sorts, but the door on the right leading into the brushes on the hill side somehow did not make sense
If you peep through the port hole on the left, you see this beautiful view of another bastion uphill, with a magnificent tree next to it. And if you look carefully in James Wales painting, you can see this tree, though it was not as big as it is now! Imagine what this tree must have witnessed in its lifetime!
I would have loved to explore the fort especially from the back side, but it was getting close to noon, and the security guards were shooing everyone out. But I managed to ride my trusty mountain bike down these steps… what a thrill!
Hounded by the security guards to leave, I made a quick tour around the garden
Sitting quietly on a bench in one corner of the garden was this dog, who warily looked at me wondering if I was intending to usurp his throne
As I was about to exit the garden, my cycle got the envious and curious looks of these kids. I wish all kids were encouraged to do more cycling…
Before I head back home, I took a break at the tea stall just outside the garden, and chatted with this happy barber who told me about how this place has transformed from a dump yard into a place frequented by local residents to relax and for students to study in peace
All in all, it was a visit well worth the time, even though I would have liked to spend some more time… so another visit is surely on the cards. Look out for a blog on three other forts close by – Worli Fort, Mahim Fort and Bandra Fort… coming soon!