Fort Belgica: majestic king of the Spice Island forts
Most impressive of today’s Spice Islands forts, Belgica stands tall and proud, dominating the tiny township of Bandaneira; a superb example of tropical colonial fortress architecture.
Built under orders of Pieter Both in 1611 partly to awe the Bandanese, its main role was to fortify the hill above Fort Nassau to prevent the English doing the same. Originally constructed as a standard VOC four-bastioned quadrilateral it lay just 200m/656ft from Fort Nassau at an elevation of around 30m/98ft.
To its north lay another, higher hill, and worried that the English or Bandanese might site cannon there, the Dutch ended up also fortifying this feature with a small work.
Belgica suffered considerable damage over the years from earthquakes associated with volcanic activity from nearby Gunung Api. One quake in the late C17th led to the fortress being totally rebuilt to a new double concentric pentagonal design, with low angled outer bastions and a higher crenelated inner wall with tall round towers and extensive casemates underneath.
The reconfiguration was completed in 1672. More earthquake damage caused another rebuild in 1795, which was not, however, enough to prevent the fort and its garrison surrendering to a British fleet the next year.
Returned to Dutch hands in 1803 (after the British had transferred nutmeg seedlings to their other colonies), Fort Belgica once again came under attack by a British squadron in 1810. Attacking from small boats on a stormy night, several hundred British sailors and marines under Captain Cole first took a shore battery, then a redoubt next to Belgica, finally escalading the forts walls and securing the work in the face of minor resistance. The Dutch Governor held out with some troops in Fort Nassau which was then bombarded and heavily damaged by the guns of Belgica. This incident was possibly the only use of Belgica’s guns in anger.
Handed back to the Dutch again in 1817, Belgica’s and Banda’s days of importance were over, and they slipped off into tropical obscurity. The fort retained a military function until the 1860’s when it was abandoned. In the early C20th the fort was renovated, but it was not until the 1990’s that a full refurbishment occurred.
Today, Fort Belgica is well worth a visit. Its commanding position, stunning all-round views and fascinating layout combine for a great experience, the most imposing in the region. It has “Tentative Status” on the UNESCO World Heritage List.