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Country: India
Member: Muziris Heritage Project

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The Dutch in Muziris

Ancient Kerala, renowned as the spice coast of India, was a major hub in the early spice trade between South East Asia, Africa, Arab States and Europe. Since the 3rd century the ancient port of Muziris was at the center of this trade connecting the hinterland with the trans-oceanic trade network. Muziris was located north of Cochin between North Paravur and Kodungallur.

The Dutch East India Company (VOC) first established themselves in Kerala in 1661, by capturing Quilon from the Portuguese. In 1663, the Dutch captured Cochin, the main Portuguese trading base in Kerala. They succeeded because they took the Cranganore Fort (Now known as Kottappuram Fort in Muziris) earlier. After the capturing Kottappuram Fort, the Dutch rebuild the fort and used as a trading post to control the spice trade through the river Periyar, north of Cochin. After almost 130 years the fort was sold to the Kingdom of Travancore in 1789. The last other Dutch strongholds in Kerala like Fort Cochin were ceded to the British in 1795.

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Trading Goods

The Dutch possessed military posts at many places in Kerala with Cochin as the headquarters of the VOC on the Malabar coast. Pepper was by far the most important article of trade and the VOC had good contacts with local producers and tried to monopolize the pepper trade in the region for a considerable period of time. Other spices included cardamom and ginger.

The chief imported article sold by the company in Kerala was opium. Furthermore, they sold sugar, tin, lead, resin, iron, cloth, silk, camphor, vermilion and quicksilver in the local markets.  They also minted money in local coinage. Trying to monopolize the pepper trade, they built their own warehouses and forts along the Malabar Coast which also often functioned as way stations.

They introduced indigo plantations, scientific farming and aided salt manufacturing and the production of coconut oil and coir. The Dutch also introduced several new varieties of fruits, animals and birds in Kerala.

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Remaining Heritage in Muziris

Dutch left behind important monuments as the vestiges of their occupation in Kerala. These monuments include Fort Cochin, David Hall, Mattancherry Palace and Bolgatty Palace in Cochin as well as Cannanore Fort and others further along the coast in Kerala.

In particular, there are several important historical heritage buildings with Dutch architectural influences in the Muziris area, north of Cochin, which are administered by the Muziris Heritage Project, pioneering a sustainable model for heritage development. Paliam Dutch Palace was the home of the Paliathachans, the prime ministers to the Kings of Kochi and was built by the Dutch as a reward for their services. It is a hybrid of Kerala and Dutch architectural styles.

Kottappuram Fort was originally built by the Portuguese but was rebuilt after the Dutch took it in 1663. Excavations and conservation efforts have been done and the fort is open to visitors. Other heritage related to the Dutch trade can be visited in Muziris such as the Toll Huys, Pallippuram Fort and the Paravur and Chendamangalam Synagogues.

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