The city of Thiruvananthapuram revolves around the Padmanabha Swamy Koil, both in name and fame. ‘Thiruvananthapuram’ can be split as thiru-anantha-puram, which means 'the abode of Anantha', the sacred serpent on which Lord Vishnu reclines. The presiding deity is the Lord Ananthapadmanabha.
The temple is surrounded by a fortress, construction of which began in 1747, under the reign of H.H Marthanda Varma Maharaja. Undergoing many alterations by subsequent generations, this construction was completed in 1787 A.D, under the reign of H.H Karthika Thirunal Dharma Raja.
The Thiruvananthapuram Fort, built in the shape of a quadrilateral surrounding the temple and adjacent areas, was designed by Thaikkad Vishnurathran Namboothiri, a renowned architect of the time. The fort was built to protect the temple of the presiding deity and its nearby areas from invasion. The surrounding temples such as the Sreevaraham Koil and the Sreekandeswaram Koil, and the associated residential areas termed Agraharams (Brahmin settlements) are also guarded within the fort walls.
The walls of the fort are about 15 ft high with a thickness of 5 ft.
Bastions are an important feature of the fort walls. About 5796 ft of the wall is built with granite and about 2919 ft is built with mud (which does not exist).
The fort measures about 11320 ft in all, and is constructed using an interesting mix of material, which include granite, mud and laterite. The mud walls (Virukuparai Kotta which extended along Sreekanteswaram) have long since succumbed to age and lack of maintenance.
The fort has four important gateways:
- Kizhakke Kotta (East Fort)
- Padinjaare Kotta (West Fort)
- Thekke Kotta (South Fort)
- Vadakke Kotta (North Fort)
Additional gateways include:
- Vettimuricha Kota (the Cut-Open fort)
- Simha Kotta (Lion Fort)
- Virukuparai Kotta (which no longer exists)
- Azhee Kotta
- Aashupathri Kotta (Hospital Fort)
The East fort or the Kizhakke Kotta, is now the city centre. The East Fort Bus depot is owned by KSRTC and has buses plying to all parts of Thiruvananthapuram, such as Kovalam, Shangumugam, Palayam, Kazhakootam, Pappanamcode, etc. It also has another prominent significance, as the gateway leading to the main temple entrance, and is thus called the Sannidhi vaasal.
(Kizhakke Kotta) (Vettimuricha Kotta)
The eastern side also has two other gateways: the Vettimuricha Kotta, and the Pazhavangadi Kotta.
Lore has it that the Maharaja Visakham Tirunal wanted to check the credibility of a greatly acclaimed astrologer. He asked the astrologer to predict the gate by which he would leave that evening. The astrologer recorded his prediction on a palm leaf and locked it in a box, and the key was handed over to the ministers. In a sudden twist of inspiration that evening, the Maharaja ordered that an opening be cut in the fort wall and decided to use it for his evening outing.
That night the astrologer was summoned, and the box was opened. To the bewilderment of everyone, the palm leaf correctly predicted that the Maharaja would cut open a gate to leave for his evening outing. Thus, the opening in the fort wall was rebuilt as the Vettimuricha Kotta or the Cut-open Fort.
(Padinjaare Kotta) (Vadakke Kotta)
The Pazhavangadi Kotta is adjacent to the Pazhavangadi Ganapathy Koil.
The Simha Kotta enabled easy access to the Sreevaraham Koil.
The Thekke Kotta (South Fort) is located at the end of the Thamman Theruvu, while the Vadakku Kota (North Fort) is located at the end of the Ramaswamy Koil Theruvu.
The Azhee Kotta is situated quarter of a kilometre away from the Padinjaare Kotta, while the Aashupathri Kotta is near the Government Fort Hospital.
The fort walls envelop age-old tradition and culture, with the agraharams being centres of learning. These areas have houses adjacent to each other, with common walls and slanting roofs, and have representative red and white vertical stripes painted in the front of each house.
But the agraharams are slowly making way for modern multi-storeyed houses and offices.
Because of the architectural importance of the fort and its gates, they were declared as protected monuments in 1985, while the areas within the fort walls have long since been declared Heritage sites to preserve the cultural identity and the unique architecture of the times.