STRATEGICALLY LOCATED on the coast, Surat was once a prosperous port and many powers battled to control it between the 16th and 18th centuries. At various times the Portuguese, Dutch, Mughals, Marathas and British held sway here, but its importance began to wane after 1837, when it was ravaged by flood and fire. Many of Surat’s Hindu and Parsi merchants left for Bombay (Mumhai ), which then gradually overtook Surat as the premier port on the western coast. Though no longer a port of any consequence, Surat is today a major industrial centre.
The 16th-century Surat Castle, beside the Tapti Bridge, is the town’s oldest structure. Built by Khudawan Khan, an Albanian Christian who embraced Islam, the castle has 12-m (39-ft ) high battlements and (13-ft) thick walls, Iron strips were used to bind its various elements and all its joints were filled with molten lead, to make ii as impenetrable as possible. Especially noteworthy is the imposing gateway in its eastern wing, with a menacingly spiked exterior, and a delicately carved interior. Sadly, sundry offices now housed within the castle have robbed it of its historic ambience.Northeast of the castle, just beyond Kataragama Gate, arc , the English, Dutch and 9 Armenian cemeteries, that bear witness to the city’s cosmopolitan past.Though now overgrown, they are worth exploring for the intriguing personal histories recounted on the tombs’ epitaphs. Particularly impressive is the mausoleum of Sir George Oxinden, a governor of the Surat Port, and his brother, in the British cemetery. The tomb of Baron Adriaan van Reede, built in the 17th century, in the Dutch cemetery has an enormous double cupola. Modern Surat is known for its flourishing textile industry which produces the famous Ianchoi (brocade) silk.
It also specializes in jewellery and is a major diamond-cutting centre four suppliers from all over the world. During the 1980s, the city had, unfortunately, become a byword for urban squalor, and in 1994 suffered an outbreak of plague. This galvanized the city’s adman- , Istration into a massive cleanup drive, which has resulted in the revival of Surat as a prosperous commercial centre.