After the fall of Vijayanagara Empire in 1565 AD, Bellary region came under the rule of Hanumappa Nayaka, a local chieftain who strengthened its defence. In 1775 AD it was annexed by Haiderali and his son Tippu Sultan held upto 1792. Haiderali built upper and lower forts as they are now. After a short stint of Nizam rule, the fort was taken over by the East India Company in 1800 AD.
The fort is located towards north-east of the town over a mass of granatoid hills at a height of 1976 feet, above the mean sea level. It is around 3.5 miles in circumference. The fort roughly triangular in shape is built of cyclopean masonry in granite and set in lime mortar has a coping of brick and lime with musket holes. It has circular and semi circular bastions at regular intervals. The lower fort has a moat about 18 feet deep and 30 to 40 feet wide. The main arched entrance leads to open courtyard, having a couple of secular structures and temples. On the peak of the hillock are a few ponds. A huge natural pond of irregular shape is at the foot of the hillock known as Naalacheruvu.
The Bellary Fort is an impressive and unique fort in Karnataka built on a monolithic rock hill. Yet it is like an orphan. Despite its history and grandeur it attracts only stray tourists.
The Fort was built on top of a hill called the ‘Ballari Gudda’ or the Fort Hill. The fort walls have been constructed using granite stones and mud. It was built in two parts namely, the Upper Fort and the Lower Fort. The Upper Fort was built by Hanumappa Nayaka, a feudatory of Vijayanagar Empire in the 16th century.
With the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire in 1565, the area witnessed political upheaval. The region subsequently came under the control of the Bijapur Sultans. Shivaji, who during one of his campaigns was passing through the fort seized it in 1678, as some of his advance scouting parties were ambushed by the garrison stationed in the fort. He later restored the fort on condition of a tribute payment.
Under force, in 1761, the fort came under the control of Basalat Jung of Adoni. The Nayaka chieftain of the fort quarrelled with Basalat Jung and refused to pay the tribute money. The Nayaka sought the help of Hyder Ali of Mysore to attack the Adonis. Hyder Ali convincingly defeated the Adonis. He surprised the forces sent by the Nizam under the military command of a Frenchman named M de Lally. Subsequently Hyder Ali himself usurped the fort and the region in 1769. It was during his time that the Upper Fort was restored and the Lower Fort was newly constructed. He employed a French engineer to renovate the fort. The lower fort was added by Hyder Ali around the eastern half of the hill.
Case of unknown French engineer
Legend has it that Hyder Ali had the French engineer hanged. It seems that he had overlooked the fact that the neighbouring Kumbara Gudda was taller than Ballari Gudda, thus compromising the secrecy and command of the fort. The French engineer’s grave, dated 1769 (inscribed as unknown French engineer), is located at the east gate of the fort and has been preserved because of the efforts of local Muslims who also claim that it was the tomb that belonged to a Muslim saint.
But after the defeat of Tipu Sultan, Hyder Ali’s son, at the hands of the British during the Third Anglo-Mysore War, the territory was divided and the Bellary district with the fort was given to the then Nizam Salabat Jang. The fort was classified as first class by the British administration. This fort gave Bellary its importance, and led to its selection by the British rulers as the site of a cantonment. Muzzaffar Khan, the Nawab of Kurnool, was confined here from 1823 to 1864 for the murder of his wife.
The fort has a commanding view of the plains of the present day Bellary town. The hill is semi-elliptical in shape. The rock formations consist of a mixture of granite with feldspar. The reflection of the sun’s rays is cause for warm climatic conditions in the fort. It is advisable to visit the fort early in the morning or in the evening.
The upper fort houses the citadel. It can be accessed only through a winding rocky path amongst scattered boulders, which was once considered impregnable. On the top, outside the citadel is a small temple and the remains of some cells. Within the citadel there are several well-constructed buildings. It contains several cisterns, which have been excavated in the rocks to provide for water storage.
The lower fort is located at the eastern base of the rock. The fort structure is encircled by ramparts with numerous bastions surrounded by a deep ditch. The lower fort has two entrance gates; one on the western end and the other on the eastern side. Just outside the eastern gate of the lower fort is a temple dedicated to Hanuman, the Kote Anjaneya Temple.
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