History of Forte de São Marcelo or Forte do Mar in Salvador

Sao Marcelo Fort in Salvador BA
Sao Marcelo Fort in Salvador BA

The São Marcelo fort in Salvador was built on a sand crown, and because it is the only one with a circular plan. 

The history of São Marcelo Fort is full of curious episodes to say the least. In 1624, for example, about a year after it was built with the aim of protecting Salvador from invasions, the fort was taken by the Dutch who, from there, made violent attacks on the city.

But some 15 years later, it was thanks to this fort that the Dutch were kept at bay in their second invasion attempt.

Some chroniclers of the past confused the old sea fort, which was the one in Laje, closer to the mainland, with the current Fort of Nossa Senhora do Pópulo and São Marcelo, just called Forte de São Marcelo or, popularly, Forte do Mar.

In this misunderstanding, they have dragged many modern historians.

History of the Fort of São Marcelo or Forte do Mar

What the documents show, and Luiz Monteiro da Costa in part proved, is that there were two Fortes do Mar:

  • The first of them, from the beginning of the XNUMXth century, closer to the Ribeira at the time, was built as a quadrilateral redoubt on a rocky outcrop, the famous “lagem”.
  • The second, corresponding to our San Marcello, was built, with a circular part, on a sand crown.

The documents that Monteiro da Costa uses in his arguments make it clear that the fortification referred to as Forte da Laje or Forte do Mar, in the first half of the XNUMXth century, was close to the beach, and cannot correspond to the current Fort of São Marcelo.

It is worth noting that, in the description of the skirmish between the Dutch and Portuguese that took place there in 1624, Aldenburgk reported that when they took the then “Forte do Mar”, still unfinished and protected by baskets, they jammed the battery’s cannons and retreated due to of the ground fusillade.

São Marcelo Fort
São Marcelo Fort

Now, the maximum useful range of a musket of the time, according to the most credible expert, Marshal Sebastien Vauban, was 120 to 125 toesa (237,6 m to 247,5 m).

Our Fort of São Marcelo is located, in firing range, about 600 m from the lower part of the Lacerda's elevator, according to the current aerial photogrammetric survey of the city, which would put it out of the hypothesis of being the successor of the old Forte da “Lajem”.

The iconography is also very clear. The oldest image, which shows the first Forte do Mar in its square redoubt version, in the Livro that gives reason for the State of Brazil, shows a pier connecting the fort to the land.

The size of this jetty, even considering any flaw in the artist's scale, could not be a link between our current São Marcelo and the land.

Peter Netscher, XNUMXth century Dutch military and historian, also quoted by Monteiro da Costa, when reporting the epic of the invasion says,
referring to the assault on the Fort of the Sea: "Piet Heyn himself, followed by his ship's bugler, was the first to climb the enemy fortification, forcing the entire garrison to escape, either by ford or by swimming."

São Marcelo Fort
São Marcelo Fort

Let's face it, a good swimmer would cover the five hundred or so meters from the current São Marcelo to the beach at the time, but crossing the river would be totally unlikely, no matter how modified the bathymetry of our port had been.

Within this perspective of observation, relative to the shallow depth between the fort and the land, there is the following information in a caption by Aldenburgk to illustrate the text about the capture of Salvador, translated by Silva Nigra: “A battery built of hard stone, far from the land, which at high tide can be passed behind with a boat.

The statement is obvious and deserves no further comment.

There is also documentation dated 1668, signed by Francisco Barreto, Governor-General from 1657 to 1663, which is an opinion on the defensive situation of Bahia and its Recôncavo, made at the request of the Overseas Council.

Fortress of the Sea in Salvador
Fortress of the Sea in Salvador

In a certain passage, he clearly says: “I built Fort São Marcelo in the middle of Bahia, so that with Forte Real (Fort São Felipe and Santiago, successor of Forte da Laje) and Fort São Francisco, the anchorage could be defended from the ships”.

More recently, when Iphan carried out restoration and consolidation works in the Fortress of Nossa Senhora do Pópulo and São Marcelo, five internal surveys were ordered in order to know the substrate supporting the foundations.

The reports of the company Concreta demonstrate, when the drilling profiles are examined, that the building is on an artificial rockfill, with rocks of different origins, some of which are limestone.

After this stratum there is a drop in resistance, because there is no “lage” at all. It is a sand crown, as described before and, therefore, the defense erected there could not be the Forte da Laje, as some historians wanted.

The first fort called “do Mar”, built on a rocky outcrop known by the ancients as “lagem”, exhibited the shape of a non-bulwarked quadrilateral, which, in the technical language of the treatise writers, was designated as a redoubt.

The report that served as the basis for the Livro that gives reason for the State of Brazil, produced in 1612 by Diogo Moreno, already shows a map of the City of Salvador with the fortification “da laje” connected to the beach through a jetty.

In the copy of the valuable manuscript that is in the Porto Library, an interesting particularity: the Forte da Laje was added on a paper pasted in overlapping the original drawing, as if it were an update.

In addition to the passing character of the fort, the iconography shows that it had no offensive capacity in the frontal direction, as the piers were represented on the sides, and the pier continued towards the west, a side not equipped with artillery.

From the date of these records, one can imagine that the Forte da Laje was built between 1609 and 1612, that is, during the government of Diogo de Menezes.

As the defense of Cabeça do Brasil, both by land and by sea, remained precarious, and certainly at the admonition of Captain Francisco Frias da Mesquita, Engenheiromor, it was decided to improve the protection of the port during the administration of Mendonça Furtado (1621-1624), but, as usual, too late.

The authorization came through the Royal Charter of August 3, 1622, which, in a certain passage, says the following: “[…] of ships […]”.

Again by the hand of Frias da Mesquita, the stronghold of the slab receives a new project to leave the condition of “temporary fortification” and acquire the condition of “permanent”, even without great defensive pretensions.

Based on Portuguese iconography after the retaking of Salvador from the Batavians, such as the well-known Plan for the restitution of Bahia, from 1626, we will find a new quadrilateral fort, but with a kind of counterguard on the front.

This detail gave it a similar conformation, in this direction, to the Forte dos Reis Magos, in Natal, also attributed to Frias da Mesquita.

In the rear, the Potiguar fort has protection similar to a horn, a defensive element that does not seem to exist in our Forte da Laje.

In fact, the proximity of Ribeira in relation to the rear of the fortification of the “laje” makes such a defense perfectly unnecessary.

The same configuration can be observed in the engraving by the Portuguese cartographer Benedictus Mealius Lusitanus, which represents the resumption of Salvador, created to illustrate the report by Father Bartolomeu Guerreiro dated 1625, Jornada dos vassalos da Coroa de Portugal.

The Dutch engraving from 1638, which shows the City of Salvador at the time of the failed attack by Nassau, already commented, points to an identical solution for the old propugnaculum of the sea.

Also the important cadastral survey of Salvador, of 1779, that is in the Military Archive of Rio de Janeiro, shows the same configuration.

There are strong indications that this plan was created by Sergeant Major José Antônio Caldas.

As for the current Forte do Mar or Nossa Senhora do Pópulo and São Marcelo, it was born with a circular section and, even with some changes during its history, it still displays the same configuration.

This type of fortress design is not very common, however, it is not unusual. .

Luiz Monteiro da Costa attributes the plans of Forte de São Marcelo to the French Military Engineer Pedro Garcim (or Garim), who lived for some time in Salvador, in the XNUMXth century.

Carlos Ott, another student of the city's history, is less emphatic, preferring to safely attribute to this engineer only the initial execution of the construction, which is considered more judicious.

In fact, the fact that an engineer has started the work does not necessarily mean that he is the author of the project.

In the case of Forte de São Marcelo, it is more likely that the “moths” came from the Kingdom. This hypothesis is based on the fact that a circular fort with a higher central turret, constituting a high battery, had already been built in Lisbon since the end of the XNUMXth century.

This is the Fort of São Lourenço da “Cabeça Seca”, which, like São Marcelo, used the support of a crown on the bar of the Tagus.

This work, using the same rockfill technique to reinforce the base, was started by Father Engineer João Vicente Casale, who from Naples moved to Spain, in 1588, and then to Lisbon, with his nephew Alexandre Massai, known as Alexandre Italian, also Military Engineer.

Who then took care of the São Lourenço Fort, now better known as Forte do Bugio, was Leonardo Turriano, who left the construction at the time of the basement.

The information, from 1646, comes from his son, Friar João Turriano, who, like his father, was Engineer-mor of the Kingdom by appointment of D. João IV.

An examination of Turriano's drawings indicates that, if Garcim is the author of the project for the Forte de São Marcelo, which does not seem believable, he was faithfully inspired by a prototype already existing in Portugal, especially in its initial version, with a turret and high square. .

It is also worth drawing attention to the date of João Turriano’s drawings for Bugio, 1646, prior to the Royal Charter of 1650, which authorized Count Castelo Melhor to build the current Forte do Mar.

We emphasize, however, that our Forte do Mar is not a perfect circle (although some records represent it), due to construction problems, but this does not change its affiliation.

The work on the Fort of Nossa Senhora do Pópulo and São Marcelo was far from being carried out quickly. The rockfill work to give stability to its foundations took a long time.

XNUMXth century engineers were still looking to improve their defensive condition and eliminate imperfections.

The reading of some Royal Letters, after 1650, clarifies the origin of the lithic material used in the rockfill: part came from the Recôncavo (granitic rocks), another part from the vicinity (calciferous sandstones), possibly from the Preguiça or Itapagipe area and, still , from Portugal (limestone), as ballast for ships.

This information is suggested by the documentation and sampling that was done in the survey.

It can be assumed that the Forte de São Marcelo initially had the appearance of a simple tower, as the construction began, as would be logical, with the central turret. This is suggested by an engraving found in the National Library of Lisbon, also reproduced in the Essay on Iconography of Portuguese Overseas Cities, which shows, in the port of Salvador, a tower surrounded by rockfill.

Another sign is the scarce nine-piece artillery that it had in the seventies of the seventeenth century.

Twenty years had passed since the authorization for the construction of Forte do Mar and its work was still in progress when the Governor-General Afonso Furtado de Mendonça (1671-1675) asked for a technical report on the situation of the defenses of Salvador and Recôncavo.

With regard to this defensive work, the document reads: “Fortress of the Sea N. Senhora do Pópulo, is of stonework, is about to be finished, and in the form of the order of SA it is beginning to deal with its work, it is of much consideration for the safety of the ships and the Enemy Armadas not being able to easily reach the battery of the City […]”.

We enter the XNUMXth century and our fort still needs adjustments. At that time, it still featured the tallest central turret with gunboats, featuring a lower outer ring, also with gunboats, with greater artillery density.

Against this solution, which made it very similar to the Forte do Bugio, on the Tagus, the Master of the Field Miguel Pereira da Costa rose up in a report dated 1710: “Inside the beach of this city is the Forte do Mar, far from land, more than a musket shot, in a circular shape; with a high square, but this one, in addition to having little capacity, bothers the low one”.

Miguel Pereira's judicious advice would only be heeded many, many years later.

In 1758, when the then Captain José Antônio Caldas, an expert draftsman, illustrated the text of his book with records of forts, the São Marcelo Fort still had a turret and gunboats.

Such elements persist in the late 1782th or early 1801th centuries, which can be seen not only in the profile of the city drawn up by Captain José Francisco de Souza, in XNUMX, but also in Vilhena, in XNUMX.

Brigadier José Gonçalves Galeão, coordinator of a report on the fortifications of Salvador dated 1810, raises some criticisms of the high turret, trumpets and casemates, inducing to think that only after that date did the transformations that led to the disappearance of the high square and the replacement of from the doorways by a parapet to the barbeta.

The Galeão team, in charge of the report, was a Lieutenant Engineer named João Teixeira Leal, who left a collection of drawings, of very good quality, of our fortresses, with numerous reproductions and copies, both in archives in Portugal and Brazil. Apparently, the report in question was illustrated by Leal.

One of these illustrations, which he signed as Captain – therefore, after 1810 – shows the São Marcelo Fort more or less as we know it today.

One of the moments of great movement in the attempt to defend Salvador and other Brazilian cities occurred after the second French invasion of Rio de Janeiro, in 1711.

Brigadier João Massé, who was in Brazil at that time, informs that the São Marcelo Fort was not yet finished, and that he had prepared specifications for it, with the purpose of instructing the opening of competition for his works.

Massé's specifications called for a rockfill of 20 palms (4,4 m) in addition to the diameter of the plant presented, with foundations projecting up to two palms (0,44 m) above low tide and leaving a footing of 3 palms (0,66 m) climb with the wall, with a drag of 1 hand on 5 (20%).

The report of a later date on the fortifications of Salvador, signed by Massé, the Master of the Field Miguel Pereira da Costa and the Captain Gaspar de Abreu, repeats, with regard to the fortification in question, the words of Miguel Pereira in his report of June 17, 1710.

Today, our old prop, one of the most expressive examples of the fortifications of Colonial Brazil, survives with great difficulty, despite some improvements it received.

It urgently needs the foundations of its foundations and rockfill protection to continue witnessing our memory. If you don't get that little bit of care, your outer ring will crumble and, subsequently, so will the rest.

Despite not having participated in any military action in the defense of our port, it is one of the most expressive postcards of Salvador, a living testimony of our history.

History of Forte de São Marcelo or Forte do Mar in Salvador

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