THE CITY – HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

full name / name of organization: 
Sagar Desai
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sagardesai80887@yahoo.com

THE CITY – HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The growth of any urban situation has been majorly attributed to a few dynamics which almost
invariably later on develop as key elements of the overall system. It is apparent that many of the world’s
towns and cities weren’t originally planned – they “grew” out of necessity and choice – and were simply
termed as developments of an organic nature. Quite a few of the Indian cities are distinct examples of
the said case. We’ve gone through myriad examples in the previously delineated case studies and
literature studies for both the aforementioned areas of concentration, viz. global cities and those in the
Indian context. Gaining an understanding of these various riverside conurbations, one tends to question
their basic fundamental differences, especially those witnessed in the Indian context. So how does one
differentiate between them? Well, what renders them apart is the layering of myriad functions over the
course of time. This factor, and needless to mention the geography, help make apparent the
distinctiveness, even further aiding in acquiring a pellucid understanding of the role of waterfronts in
making these systems emerge in different time periods.
At this point in the study, it has become crucial to understand the growth and development history of the
city that is to be realized in this thesis as having potential for waterfront amelioration possibilities – the
historic port-city of Surat. Regarded as a major progenitor in history, this remarkable city, materializing
as a small fishing and agriculture settlement in the 3rd century, went on to become one of the most
important trade centers in the country in the 17th and 18th centuries1. However, the most intriguing aspect
of the city is its growth and how the location of the river Tapti became seemingly both providential as
well as detrimental to its history and its current state of affairs. The succeeding paragraphs will shed
some light on the development of Surat, simultaneously citing facts and interpretations of the
involvement of water bodies in the same.
5.1 EVOLUTION OF THE CITY – HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE
The basic settlement of any town or city in history always has a certain push factor which primarily
conceives a rough growth pattern. If we start citing instances for the same, we will end up with
numerous cases of such settlements; some that are located on “interchange points” and develop later as
market towns, others that generate on the banks of rivers or near the sea1, and still more that are flanked
by mountain ranges and forests. The city of Surat falls in the second category, flanked by the Tapti River
internally and reaching out to sea on the Southwest. It has been one of the most important trading
centers of India, and a great port city, as is evident from the excerpt below:
“Surat, Bandur Mubarak or the auspicious port of the Great Mughals, was the premier port of
India in the seventeenth century. Traders from European, African and Asian countries brought goods
(mostly gold and silver) and carried away commodities purchased here or in its hinterland to distant
lands. The wealth thus earned inspired the poet to call the city Surat Sonani Murat (Surat – the idol of
gold).
Surat was truly a cosmopolitan city; Arabs, Turks, Iranians, Africans, Southeast Asians, Jews,
Armenians, Europeans of different countries flocked here. Outsiders were never able to swamp Surat;
the core remained indigenous. The local traders competed in entrepreneurship and business skills with
the immigrants.”2
FIG. 1 – A PAINTING OF THE FORT BUILT BY KHUDAVAND KHAN ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER TAPTI
1 RAVINDRA S JOSHI, “CHANGING TOWNSCAPE OF SURAT CITY”, SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE, AHMEDABAD, DECEMBER 17, 1977
2 RUBY MALONI, FOREWORD – “SURAT – PORT OF THE MUGHAL EMPIRE”, HIMALAYA PUBLISHING HOUSE, MUMBAI, 2003
FIG. 2 & 3 – A BRITISH ENGRAVING AND A FRENCH PAINTING OF THE RIVER TAPTI AND THE OVERLOOKING FORT
The above account is just one of many appraising the city of Surat as a major port and a very historic
settlement of the country during after the Mughal period. The rise in its status can mainly be attributed
to its excellent geographical setting, as well as natural events that exhorted foreigners to begin trading of
its port, the most important being the silting up of the port of Cambay in the 17th century. The then
development of the Magdalla port was an event that enhanced the city’s importance further. Further, the
resultant multi-ethnicity aided development, if not directly, then passively. Surat has been governed by
various ruling powers throughout its history, namely the Rajputs, then the Muslims, followed by the
Mughals, and eventually falling under the reign of foreign powers – the Portuguese (for a brief period)
and the British. Each of these governing authorities has left some indelible marks on the city, both in the
form of architecture as well as trade and commerce.
FIG. 4 – THE GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION FIG. 5 – THE PRESENT SCENARIO
OF THE CITY
The prosperity that is so increasingly linked to the city had its inception point in the late 15th century,
1496 to be precise, by the arrival of the rich Hindu trader Gopi. This man is generally credited to have
contributed single-handedly to the development of Surat from 1496 to 1521, in many sectors; most
notably the foundation of the Gopipura quarter in the walled city, and the enlargement of a small pond,
which later came to be known as the Gopi Talav. However, because of this opulence of the city, it was
subject to a lot of incursions. They were initiated by the Portuguese, who looted and burnt the city thrice
between 1512 & 1533, followed by the Ahmedabad King’s order to build a castle, which was completed
in 1546. After the building of the fort, the size of the city grew very quickly3. However, in 1573, the
great Mughal king Akbar marched on to the city and took over the reign of Surat from the Muslim
rulers.
Following the incorporation of the city in the Mughal Sultanate, there followed a 160-year period of
Mughal rule over the city, marked by affluence and harmony, as well as by adversity. The first 85 years
3 PG. 7, 1.1.0 HISTORY OF SURAT – “STUDY OF SURAT CITY”, GROUP REPORT, CEPT, AHMEDABAD
were marked by the former under the reigns of Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Nonetheless, the next
49 years were marked by a period of frequent hassles under the rule of Aurangzeb – the frequent raids
carried out by the Maratha ruler Shivaji over the city between 1664 and 1685, as well as the growth in
significance of Bombay as a port, acquired by the British as part of the dowry of the Catherine of
Braganza from the Portuguese. The last 27 years of the Mughal rule were majorly tumultuous in nature,
with massive unrest and Surat governors being subject to the court of Delhi only on a nominal basis.
In the latter half of the 18th century, the British took control over the city, by taking over the Surat fort in
1759. But nevertheless, the governors of the city, though answerable to the British, still held a position
of “nominal independence”3. This system was eventually overthrown in the beginning of the 19th
century, when the British took complete control of the administration of the city. In 1853, the Surat
Municipality came into existence, followed by rail links to Bombay and Ahmedabad in 18544.
Furthermore, in 1877 a bridge was constructed over the Tapti, connecting the two banks of the river for
pedestrian and motor vehicle movement. The above mentioned supplementations in the city gave way to
better industrialization prospects, eventually making way for the numerous textile mills. The other
industries that continued even after this period were the “jari” industry (the weaving of gold and silver
threads) and the diamond cutting industry. These industries have even prevailed today, so much so that
the city itself is identified through them.
5.2 IMPORTANT EVENTS IN HISTORY
A city is shaped through not just the architecture and the geography, but also through human acts and
deeds. These actions define a premise of what is to come or unfetter the long chain of events preceding
their time. Surat, too, has seen a lot of activities in the various decades of its existence and is
quintessentially marked by many of them. An explicated chronological order of these important points
in time follows:
• In 3rd century A.D., Surat, then known as “Suryapur”, came into existence on the banks of the river
Tapti, for purposes of fishing and agriculture5.
• This settlement was ruined in the 11th century due to heavy floods in the river5.
• Later, in the 12th century, it started getting inhabited by fishermen, sailors & “kolis”6.
• Forces of the Tughlaq dynasty plundered Surat by the end of the 13th century7.
• In the 14th century, the town started developing as a sea port5.
• In 1373, a small fortress was built by Feroz Shah on the banks of the Tapti River7.
• From 1496 to 1512, Gopi, the famous merchant, improved the city and built the “Gopi Talav”8.
• In 1514, the Portuguese traveler Barbosa arrived in the city8.
• In 1573, the Mughal emperor Akbar conquered the city8.
• 1612 – The British establish a Kothi9.
• 1614 – Sir Tomarso came to Surat. He met the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and obtained the rights for
commerce for the British East India Company9.
• 1664 – Shivaji looted Surat for the first time9.
• 1658 to 1707 – Population of Surat nearly 200,000 persons10.
• 1707 to 1759 – The population reached nearly 300,000 persons10.
• 1774 – The population ranged from 400,000 to 500,000 people, out of which approximately threequarters
were Hindus10.
• 1797 – The population of the city reached its highest pre-independent point of 800,00010.
• 1800 – The British's took possession of the whole of Surat during the era of the Nawab Nasiruddin.
4 PG. 8, 1.1.0 HISTORY OF SURAT – “STUDY OF SURAT CITY”, GROUP REPORT, CEPT, AHMEDABAD
5 RAVINDRA S JOSHI, PG. 5, “CHANGING TOWNSCAPE OF SURAT CITY”, SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE, AHMEDABAD, DECEMBER 17,
1977
6 AN ETHNIC GROUP FOUND THROUGHOUT INDIA – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolis
7 PG. 9, 1.1.1 EVOLUTION OF THE CITY – “STUDY OF SURAT CITY”, GROUP REPORT, CEPT, AHMEDABAD
8 PG. 10, 1.1.1 EVOLUTION OF THE CITY – “STUDY OF SURAT CITY”, GROUP REPORT, CEPT, AHMEDABAD
9 SNEHAL SHAH, PLATE NO: 6, “A RIVER IN A CITY…IDENTIFYING ITS CONTEMPORARY ROLE – A CASE OF SURAT”, POSTGRADUATE
THESIS, P.G. PROGRAMME IN URBAN DESIGN, CEPT, AHMEDABAD, 2000-2001
10 RAVINDRA S JOSHI, PGS. 26, 31, 36, 37, 39, “CHANGING TOWNSCAPE OF SURAT CITY”, SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE, AHMEDABAD,
DECEMBER 17, 1977
• 1825 – The kothis – big campuses established by the Portuguese in 1847 – were closed on arrival of
the Validness9.
• 1826 – The government started Gujarati schools9.
• 1842 – The first English School started in the city9.
• 1847 – The city’s population reduced to a mere 80,000 due to varying natural and man-made
disasters, including fires, plundering and floods10.
• 1850 – The first press was established by the Surat literary society9.
• 1.7.1850 – The “Andrews’ library” began functioning9.
• 15.8.1852 – The first meeting of the municipality. The municipality came into existence legally9.
• 1852 – In Gopipura, a girls' school, named “Raichand Deepchand Primary Girls’ school”, was
established9.
• 1857 – Telegraph communication began in Surat11.
• 1860 – The Railway station was constructed11.
• 1863 – “Surat Mitra” was started by Dinshah Ardeshar Taliyarkhan. It was renamed “Gujarat
Mitra” on 1.9.186411.
• 1865 – Survey of the city was conducted. Road connecting the Chowk Bazaar to the railway station
was constructed11.
• 1867 – Municipalities office was brought in the existing building11.
• 1870 – Clock tower was established on the station road. For protection against the floods, a bridge
over Makkai Bridge with sluice gates was constructed11.
• 1870 – Ranibaug (Gandhi baug at present) was introduced by the municipality11.
• 1871 – Registration of death and birth was introduced by the municipality11.
• 1.5.1877 – Inauguration of the “Hope Bridge” 11.
• 1883-84 – Saturday bazaar (Shaniwari) commenced in the Killa maidan. For the first time, election
process was introduced in the municipality and 12 members from twelve wards were elected11.
• 1855 – Municipality was entrusted administration of primary schools11.
• 1.1.1898 – Water distribution begun through water works constructed by municipality11.
• 1898-99 – Water taps were connected into the city11.
• 1.4.1899 – Varachha water work was entrusted to the municipality11.
• By the end of the 19th century, the population of the city was around 110,000 persons12.
• 1901 – New act of municipality came into force11.
• 190911:

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cultural_studies_and_historical_approaches