Chittagong port: Reliving the history of the oldest port in the East

The story of the seven seas

Remember Sindbad? The sword-wielding, brave, adventure loving Sindbad the sailor who sailed his ship through Africa and Asia, fighting monsters and mythical creatures? Or do you fancy about Pirates instead? The daring pirates in the sea, sailing on their ships, looting and hiding their treasures in deep jungles, destroying merchant ships in deep sea waters. What if we told you that Sindbad had probably moored his ship in Bengal or that an infamous pirate had, at some point in history, hidden his treasures in our deep enchanting jungles?

The finest port of the Eastern world

History of Chittagong sea port
Dutch Ships in Chittagong port, the 17th Century

In the 7th century, Chinese explorer Xuanzang described Chittagong as “A sleeping beauty rising from mist and water”. A 2000-year-old city, a mythical realm of hundred tribes and an exotic land where the mountains meet the ocean. As for its rich history, Chittagong area has been a recorded seaport since the 4th century BCE. In the 2nd century, the harbour appeared on Ptolemy’s map. The map mentions the harbour as one of the finest in the Eastern world.

Chittagong seaport has always been the trade hub between the East and the West. Records indicate frequent trade between private merchants of Europe and the merchants of the East during medieval times. According to the works of Fa-hien, Hieu-en tsng, lbn Battuta, the port of Chittagong mingled with the ancient civilization of the world.

Arab traders frequented Chittagong since the 9th century. The port appears in the travelogues of Chinese explorers Xuanzang and Ma Huan. The Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta and the Venetian traveller Niccolo De Conti visited the port in the 14th century. The historical port had ship trade with Africa, Europe, China and Southeast Asia.

In 1552 De Barros described Chittagong as the “most famous and wealthy city in Bengal” due to the port of Chittagong which was responsible for all trade in the region.

Turbulent times

History of Chittagong sea port
The Mughal-Arakan war in Chittagong that got the Portuguese expelled

The Portuguese settlement in Chittagong centred on the port in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Portuguese engaged in piracy, slavery and forced conversion in the region. After the Portuguese were expelled, Chittagong came under the rule of the Mughal Empire and was named Islamabad. It became an important shipbuilding centre, catering to the Mughal and Ottoman navies. After the rise of British dominance in Bengal following the Battle of Plassey, the Nawab of Bengal ceded the port to the British East India Company in 1760.

During WWII, Chittagong port was used by the allied forces in the Burma campaign.

Slave trade

History of Chittagong sea port
British slave trade

Chittagong port was also the hub of the slave trade between the East and the West during the 16t-17th Century. Slave traders would bring in African slaves to the port to sell them to local lords or transport them to the west. Often they would capture local boys and girls and ship them to Europe as slaves.

A chance to relive history

History of Chittagong sea port
Chittagong port in present times

If you’re planning a trip to Chittagong, do not forget to visit the seaport at least once. It might not look the same as before, but the touch of history is still alive. Standing on the same grounds where pirates and sailors of the seven seas once stood, you wouldn’t want to miss it for the world, would you?

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