This at least a century old building at Madrasa Pahar in Chittagong used to be the first court building of Chittagong. It used to be called Darul Adalat but locals call it the Portuguese Bhaban. Some say that Portuguese pirates used to use this building as a fort in the 16th century. The building is not going to be restored or preserved. Mohsin College, which now owns it, has decided to tear it down. Photo: Prabir Das
A college authority in Chittagong waits for the education ministry's nod to demolish the Darul Adalat, a centuries-old building that needs to be protected as a historical monument.
Abdul Gofran, principal of Government Mohsin College and the owner of the building, said the college abandoned the building in 2002 as it had long been in a state of disrepair.
“We sent a proposal to the education ministry in 2009. If the ministry approves the proposal, we will demolish the building and build a library there,” said the principal, without referring to the historical significance of the structure.
“The ministry last week sent an engineer to the site to inspect the edifice and report on it,” said Abdun Noor, who works at the zoology department of the college.
The two-storied building, popularly known as “Portuguese fort”, is situated near the college on top of a hill in Chittagong city.
In his book Shahar Chattagramer Itikotha (History of Chittagong city), history researcher Abdul Haque Chowdhury, said Darul Adalat was built by British rulers soon after taking over the city around 1761.
A unique feature of the building, he said, is that it has both Mughal and Western architectural traits.
The Department of Archaeology (DoA) is so short of manpower and funds that it is unable take its own initiative to protect such structures across the country.
DoA Director General Shirin Akhtar told The Daily Star that whenever someone formally informs her office about an antique, it sends an expert to assess it. Sometimes her office initiates action based on newspaper reports, she added.
“On the basis of a report from the expert, we proceed to get the site officially listed and protected,” she said, adding that her office was yet to receive any information on the building.
The building has three staircases, including a spiral one, and 20 rooms. On the roof are two small domes with little chambers where, according to legend, sentinels would stand guard.
The plaster on the walls is crumbling, with weeds and moss growing on the roof, walls and floors. Cracks are appearing on the walls. Darkness prevails inside the building even at midday as light cannot enter through the small windows.
A signboard posted outside the building reads, “This building is abandoned and risky; it is unsafe to enter.”
The monument was used as the first court in Chittagong during the early British colonial period, which explains its name, “Darul Adalat.”
According to local myths, however, Portuguese pirates built it in the 16th century.
Government Mohsin College, the then New Scheme Madrasa, bought the building along with the hill for Tk 30,000 in 1879 from the British government, according to college documents.
There is considerable disagreement about who built the edifice and when. Historians believe the building was erected by the British.
History researcher Shamsul Hossain, who has studied Chittagong's antiquities, said it is the first colonial building built by the British in the mid-19th century.
The Antiquities Act, 1968, (amended in 1976) states that any ancient (minimum 100 years old) product of human civilisation, illustrative of architecture, warfare, politics, or culture, can be called an article of antiquity.
According to the law, the government can declare any antiquity protected. If the government fears that any protected historical site is in danger of being destroyed, it can acquire the land of the site.
Ironically, the DoA is still in the dark about Darul Adalat.
Shamsul Hossain said many antiquities of Chittagong have already been destroyed. If the DoA continues to shirk its responsibilities, the rest will also be lost.