It’s built quite strategically -- on a hilltop -- so that someone approaching could be identified clearly from the structure’s two towers.
Legend has it, the 200-year-old building was constructed by Portuguese pirates. There was a tunnel from the building that connected Karnaphuli river through which they would frequent secretly. From the towers, guards would conduct surveillance all around.
As a homage to that legend, locals still call it “Portuguese Fort”.
Experts, however, say the myth does not have any historic evidence. Instead, it is a British colonial building that was used as the first court of Chattogram. Hence, its name is “Darul Adalat”.
Although built by the British during their rule, the name -- Darul Adalat -- is a Persian word which means “court building”. This is because soon after the British took over the rule from Mir Kashim in 1760, they continued to use Persian as their official language till 1837, according to historians.
Pirate fort or first court, this historic building has been left in a dilapidated condition for years, due to a lack of initiative by the authorities concerned.
This British colonial structure, belonging to Government Hazi Muhammad Mohsin College, was declared risky by the college authorities in 2002. Prior to that, it used to house a library, said college sources. They said the building was also being used as the office of the college division of Bangladesh National Cadet Core.
In 2003, Department of Archeology (DoA) visited the site and wrote to its director general for the building’s preservation and declare it a heritage site, but to no avail.
“The building was constructed by the British and was being used as the first court in Chattogram,” said Shamsul Hossain, antiquity researcher and former curator of Chittagong University Museum. There is no historic evidence to support the myth, he added.
Historian Abdul Haque Chowdhury in his book “Bandar Sahar Chattogram” (Port City Chattogram) said the building was constructed soon after the British took over in 1761.
“During the early period of British rule, they constructed the building to establish their court. There are two towers in the two-storey building built in Mughal and western traits. There is a dome on top of each tower from which watchmen used to observe the movement of ships in Karnaphuli river,” said Chowdhury.
The building was used as a court until the British rulers shifted it to Lalkuthi (Red Building) beside Laldighi around 1857, he added.
During a recent visit, this correspondent saw that the rooms and entrance to the staircases of the building were sealed off. In many places, plasters have been replaced by moss and weed.
Despite its derelict condition, the myth surrounding Darul Adalat still intrigues people.
This correspondent met a group of students from Premier University Chattogram, who were frustrated to see its present condition.
“I’m shocked to see the battered state of this heritage site,” said Tanjina Sultana. “I wanted to climb up the spiral stairs and go to the tower, but it’s sealed off.”
Her classmate Arpan Barua echoed her.
Students of Mohsin college also urged authorities to protect the building.
Despite the frustrating experience, they seemed to know about the structure quite well. Its three feet wide walls are made of lime mortars. There are 16 rooms in total and two towers in the north-east and north-west corners with spiral staircases, they said.
No tunnel was found in the building area of 0.775 acres, said college sources.
Prof Anjan Kumar Nandi, principal of the college, said, “In 2013, DoA wrote a letter to the college authorities, showing interest in conserving the building.”
“DoA asked to transfer the land ownership to it but the college authorities cannot do so as it is a government land,” he said. “After we mentioned that, the officials did not contact us again. We are ready to hand over the building to DoA for conservation,” he added.
“We couldn’t do it ourselves due to financial constraint. Besides DoA, if any private organisation shows interest, we will gladly welcome that,” the principal said.
Contacted, Muhammed Shohrab Uddin, assistant professor of archeology at Cumilla University, said, “DoA is the custodian of all heritage sites. They should change rules that bar them from taking over any heritage site without getting land ownership.”
Dr Md Ataur Rahman, regional director of DoA, said he will go over the issue with high-ups for a solution. “We will contact college authorities soon,” he said.
“There is no divisional museum in Chattogram. We can convert Darul Adalat into one,” the director added.