My favourite Spice Islands fort

Even in its ruined state, today Fort Tohula is a very impressive fortress.  Spain’s greatest stronghold on Tidore, it was commenced in 1610, but the difficult site delayed completion until 1615. For nearly 50 years it remained the principal Spanish fort on the island.

Looking west past the round "sea-bastion" to Halmahera

Looking west past the round “sea-bastion” to Halmahera

It’s unusual and compact layout, dictated by the hilltop contours, set it apart from all other Spice Islands forts. The 10m wide entry section sat between two unusually high triangular bastions, with 14m/46ft and 22m/72ft frontages. These formed the land-facing defences.  Fifty metres/164ft away facing east, towards 10km distant Halmahera, was a high circular gun tower of 10m/32ft radius. Perhaps a 24 pounder sat up here, commanding the sea to west and north, from its 50m/164ft height able to threaten any vessel approaching Soa Siu, Tidore’s main town.

Alone among important Spice Islands forts, Tohula was never stormed, never beaten.  Kastella surrendered, Malayo was taken twice, as was Ambon’s Fort Victoria. Belgica  surrendered once and was stormed once. Kota Janji, Tolukko, Kayu Merah, Nassau, the forts on Makian, Motir, Halmahera and Bacan all changed hands, often several times.

But Tohula was a tough nut to crack, and after a failed attack in June 1614, the Dutch knew better than to try again. With its near-vertical approaches, massive ramparts and towering bastions it was an intimidating and invincible work. Too high for shipboard guns to elevate, and too steep to ascend in any organised formation, its defences stood the test of time.

Today the crumbling remains are both picturesque and potent. The rugged terrain of Halmahera curves down from north to south across the sweep of the channel, and Tidore’s volcano towers over it to the west. A few hundred steps bring you up to the landscaped grounds, and the bastions, foundations of internal buildings, powder stores, well, “sea-bastion” and entry section all remain, though a degree of imagination is required to visualise it.