The Portuguese Conquer Ormuz Island, Build Fortress

 Ormuz Fortress, Ormuz Island. (Source.)

Duarte Barbosa (Ramusio). 1515.


On coming out of the Sea and Strait of Persia, in its mouth there is a small island, in which is the city of Ormuz, which is small and very handsome, and with very pretty houses, lofty, of stone, whitewash, and mortar, covered with terraces, and because the country is very hot, they have fans made in such a manner that they make the air come from their summits to the lower part of the houses and rooms. It is a very well situated town, which has very good streets and squares. 

Outside of this city, in the island itself, there is a small mountain, which is entirely of rock salt and sulphur; this salt is in great lumps, and very white and good: they call it Indian salt, because nature produces it there; and the ships which come there from all parts take this salt as ballast, because in all other parts it is worth much money.

The inhabitants of this island and city are Persians and Arabs, and they speak Arabic and another language which they call Persian. 

They are very white, and good-looking people, of handsome bodies, both men and women; and there are amongst them black and coloured people also, who are from the country of Arabia. 

And the Persians, who are very white, are fat and luxurious people, who live very well. They are very voluptuous, and have musicians with various instruments. 

There are among them very rich merchants, and many ships, because they have a good port, and they trade in many kinds of goods, which are imported there from many parts, and exported thence to other parts of India. 

They bring there all sorts of spices, drugs, precious stones, and other goods, such as pepper, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, long pepper, aloes-wood, sandal-wood, brasil-wood, balsam, tamarinds, Indian saffron, beeswax, iron, sugar, rice, cocoa-nuts, rubies, sapphires, giagonzas, amethysts, topazes, chrysolites, hyacinths, porcelain, benzoin; and upon all these goods much money is made, and many stuffs from the kingdom of Cambay, Chaul, Dabul, and Bengala, which are called Sinabasos, Chautars, Mamonas, Dugasas, Soranatis, which are kinds of stuffs of cotton very much valued amongst them for caps and shirts, which are much made use of by the Arabs and Persians, and people of Cairo, Aden, and Alexandria.

They also bring to this city of Ormuz, quicksilver, vermillion, rose-water, brocade and silk stuffs, scarlet woollens, coarse camelots, and silk. And from China and Catuy they bring to this city by land much fine silk in skeins, and very rare musk and rhubarb; and they bring from Babilonia very fine torquoises, and some emeralds, and very fine lapis lazuli from Acar. And from Baharem and Julfar they bring much seed pearl and large pearls, and many horses from Arabia and Persia, of which they carry away to India every year as many as five or six hundred, and at times a thousand; and the ships which export these horses load much salt, dates, and raisins, and sulphur, and of the other goods which the Indians are pleased with.

These Moors of Ormuz are very well dressed, with very white, long, and fine cotton shirts, and their fine drawers of cotton, and above that, very rich silk clothes and camelots, scarlet cloth, and very rich gauzes, with which they wrap their waists, and they wear in their girdles daggers and knives, ornamented with gold and silver, and some heavy[43] short swords, all adorned with gold and silver, according to the rank of the wearers: and large round shields, richly garnished with silk, and in their hands they carry Turkish bows, painted with gold and very pretty colours, and their cords are of silk. 

These bows are of stiff wood and of buffaloes' horn; they carry very far, and these people are very good archers; their arrows are slender and well worked. Others carry in their hands iron maces, well wrought and elegant; others again, battle-axes of various patterns and of very good temper, and inlaid or enamelled.

They are very agreeable and polite people, and very civil in their mutual relations.

Their food is of very good meats, very well cooked, wheaten bread, and very good rice, and many other dishes very well prepared, and many kinds of conserves, and preserved fruits, and others fresh: that is to say, apples, pomegranates, peaches, apricots, figs, almonds, melons, radishes, salads, and all the other things which there are in Spain; dates of many kinds, and other eatables and fruits not used in our parts. 

They drink wine of grapes in secret, because their law forbids it them; and the water which they drink is flavoured with pistachio nuts, and set to cool, for which purpose they employ and seek many methods for cooling and preserving it cool. 

And all the noblemen and honourable merchants always take, wherever they go, both in the streets and public places, and on the road, a page with a bottle of water, which is covered underneath with silver, or with a silver cup, as much for state and show as for use and comfort. 

All these people possess gardens and farms, to which they go to enjoy themselves for some months of the year.

This city of Ormuz is, as has been said, very rich and well supplied with everything in the way of provisions, but everything is very dear, because it is brought by sea from the towns of Arabia and Persia, for in the island there is nothing[44] that can be made use of except salt; neither have they water to drink, for they bring it each day in boats from the mainland or other neighbouring islands. 

But for all that, the squares are full of all sorts of things, and everything is sold by weight, and with great order and regulation. And they give a very proper punishment to whoever falsifies the weights or sells above the regulation price; and they also sell cooked and roasted meat by weight, and so with all other cooked victuals; and all these so well arranged and so clean that many people do not have cooking done in their houses, but eat in the squares.

The king is always in this city of Ormuz, in which he has some beautiful palaces, and a fortress, where he has his residence, and where he keeps his treasury; and there he holds all his court, and out of it provides governors or judges for all his states and lordships. 

But it is his council that does everything; and he does not meddle with any affair, but only amuses himself, neither would it have been in his power to do otherwise; for if he wished to govern in person, and wished to be free and exempt like other kings, immediately they would put his eyes out, and would put him in a house with his wife, and maintain him there miserably; and they would raise up another son of his as king, or some one else more fitting for it, of his lineage, in order that his council may govern all his kingdoms and territories peacefully in his name. 

And with respect to all the other heirs of the kingdom, as they grow up and become persons able to command and govern, if it should appear to the council that they desire to meddle with the government, they take them and put their eyes out also, and put them also in a house; so that there are always ten or twelve of these blind men, and those who reign live with this fear before them.

They give[45] food there to them and to their wives and children. This king has many men-at-arms, and many gentlemen who guard and serve him, and they receive very good pay and rations, and are always at the court with their arms; and they send some to the frontiers on the mainland whenever they are required.

They make gold and silver money in this city; the gold coins are called Sarafin, and are worth three hundred maravedis, and most of them are halves, which are worth a hundred and fifty, a round coin like ours, and with Moorish letters on both sides, and about the size of a fanon of Calicut, with Moorish letters, and it is worth fifty-five maravedis; they call these tanga, and they are of very fine silver, and of the standard of twelve dinars. There is a large quantity of this money, both gold and silver, and much of it goes out to India, where it has much currency.

There came a Portuguese fleet to this kingdom of Ormuz, and its captain-major was Alfonso de Albuquerque, who attempted to come to an understanding with this kingdom of Ormuz, but the Moors would not agree, and on that account this captain began to make war upon the whole kingdom at all the sea-ports, and he did them much injury, and at last he came and touched at the port of Ormuz with his fleet, and there was a great battle there, with many and great ships full of many and smart well-armed men. 

And the said captain routed the fleet of the Moors, and killed many of them, and sunk many of their ships, and took and burned many which were moored in the harbour, drawn up by the wall of the city. 

And when the king and the governors of the country saw such great destruction of their people and ships, without being able to assist them, they offered peace to the before-mentioned captain, who accepted it under the condition that they should let him make a fortress at one extremity of the city; and they agreed, and this began to be done; and the work having commenced, the Moors repented again, and did not choose that more should be built; and then the Portuguese began again to make war upon them, and they did them so great damage, and slaughtered so many people, that they made them tributary to the King of Portugal to the amount of fifteen thousand serafins of gold each year.

Some years from that time the king and governors of Ormuz sent an ambassador with offers of services and letters to the King of Portugal, and the before-named captain returned with his answer and a good fleet to the city of Ormuz, and there they received him very peacefully in this[47] city, and at once gave him permission and a place in which to built the fortress, which on a former occasion the Portuguese had begun to build: and he ordered it to be built at once, very large and magnificent. 

At this time the king, who was a Moor, and very young, and in the power of the governors, and so ruined that he did not dare do anything of himself, found the means to inform the captain-major secretly of the little liberty he enjoyed, and that the governors kept him like a prisoner, and that they had forcibly taken the government which belongs to others who were accustomed to exercise it, and that it appeared that they were exchanging letters with Sheikh Ismail in order to give him the kingdom. 

The captain-major kept this very secret, and determined to have an interview with the king; and they agreed that this interview should be in some large houses near the sea. On the day on which the interview was to take place, the captain-major entered the houses with ten or fifteen captains, leaving his people well arranged, and all concerted as was most convenient. So the king and his principal governor came there with many people, and the king and the governor entered the houses with ten or twelve honourable Moors, and the door was well shut and guarded. 

Then the captain-major ordered them to kill the governor with their daggers in his presence and that of the king: and he said to the king, "Have no fear, Sir, for I do this to make you absolute king." 

However those who were without heard the noise, and began to raise a disturbance, that it to say, the relations, servants, and friends of the said governor, who were many in number, and all came armed, so that it was necessary for the captain-major[48] to take the king by the hand; they went up on to the roof, both of them armed, in order that the king might speak thence to the Moors, and might pacify them; so he spoke to them, but could do nothing with them. 

They, on the contrary, required that he should confide to them his brother and lord: and they went thence to establish themselves in the king's palace, saying they would make another king. The captain-major wished to lay hands upon them, and thus they remained a great part of the day, and the king sought how to turn them out, and the captain-major determined to kill them by force or to drive them out, as they did not choose to go out of the fortress. 

So when the Moors saw that the captain-major, with the king, was determined to attack them, they resolved to give the fortress to the king; and when they gave it up, the king commanded that they should be banished immediately, they and their families; and this was done, and they went to the mainland.

The captain-major conducted the king from these houses to the palace in triumph and honourably, and with many people, both of ours and of his, and entrusted him to the other governor who was so before. He then committed to him his palaces and the city very freely, and told the governor to serve the king very honourably, and to leave him to govern his country at his pleasure, and only give him advice, as happens with other Moorish kings: and thus he put him at liberty. 

He then left in the fortress that was built a captain and many men of Portugal, and ships, in order to favour this king, who does nothing without the advice of the captain of the fort. And he is in submission to the King of Portugal, with all his kingdoms and territories.

After the captain-major had put everything in quiet and order, and under his command, he then had banished by the public crier, and turned out of the island all the paiderastoi, with a warning that if they returned there again they would[49] be burned, at which the king showed great satisfaction. 

He likewise ordered all the blind kings who were in the city to be taken, and there were thirteen or fourteen of them, and put in a large ship, and he sent them to India, and they were landed at Goa, where he gave orders for them to be maintained at the expense of his revenues, so that they might end their days there, and not cause any disturbance in the kingdom of Ormuz, and be in peace and quietness.

(C) 2024 by Enrique of Malacca's Voyage. All rights reserved.