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Fort Tolukko

The colonial history of South and Southeast Asia is highly intriguing owing to local forts. Not only do they serve as evidence of the colonial heritage intertwined with indigenous architectural styles, but also talk about the interesting period of power struggles between the local powers and the colonists. Nestled on a picturesque island in the middle of beautiful nature, Fort Tolukko (Benteng Tolukko) is a recollection of past unrest between the locals and the colonial powers, being one of the most important outposts erected to control trade of spices from the East Indies, especially the Maluku Islands. Just as the history of today’s Indonesia is incomplete without its colonial past, the history of spice trade in Southeast Asia would be incomplete without the stories reverberating around the Fort of Tolukko.

History of the Fort Tolukko

After the arrival of Islam and the decline of the Majapahit Empire, the government of North Maluku changed to a Sultanate by the fifteenth century, when the first Europeans arrived. As the power of a Muslim kingdom by the name of Ternate strengthened in the area, a close cooperation was established with the Europeans traders in the early days, who were bestowed with a considerable amount of land and subsidies so that they could build trade relations with the outside world, ending the economic isolation and making commerce flourish. Until the 18th century, cloves grew only on a few islands in the Moluccas, including Ternate. Trading cloves and other spices from the Moluccas brought an immense wealth to the authorities and the European colonial powers competed to control it. It was during this period that the Portuguese gained access to the court of the Sultan of Ternate and received the Sultan’s consent to build a trading outpost in Ternate. Fort Tolukko was originally a Portuguese-made structure which controlled almost all of the spice trade in Ternate Island and the surroundings in the 16th century. A Portuguese army commander named Francisco Serrao built a small but strong fort by the name of St. Lucas in 1512 AD as a defense outpost, as well as a storage center for Ternate's broad variety of original spices. It is often mistaken for a Spanish outpost because soon after, the Portuguese and the Spanish united to form the Iberian Union for a brief period and the colonial outposts were briefly controlled by Spain.

In November 1511, the Portuguese sent an expedition led by António de Abreu to find the Spice Islands. They arrived in early 1512, with Abreu going to Ambon while deputy commander Francisco Serrao set off for Ternate. The Portuguese explorer was welcomed in Ternate by the Ternate Sultan, partly because the Portuguese promised to help the Ternatese in their fight against their rival the Sultanate of Tidore, which had allied with the Spanish. The Ternate Sultanate allowed the Portuguese to build several forts around Ternate. One of the first fortified structures built was Fort Tolukko. Nonetheless, soon it became clear to the Ternatese that the Portuguese intention was not merely to establish a trading post, but to monopolize the spice trade. This was formalized in a treaty which obliged the Ternatese to sell the spices at lowest prices possible to the Portuguese. In 1533, the Ternatese, led by Dajalo, tried to capture the Portuguese forts, but failed. António Galvao managed to calm the situation and preserve peace in Ternate, allowing the Portuguese to maintain their monopoly over the spice trade in the Maluku Islands. Their position was strengthened under a new treaty concluded in 1570 between Governor of the Moluccas Lopez de Mesquita and the Sultan of Ternate Khairun Jamil. (more in the History section)

The Fort as seen today

Fort Tolukko is located in the village of Duga Duga on the edge of Ternate City on the island of Ternate, one of the Maluku Islands in the modern Indonesia. It is a 6-metre tall stone structure sitting on a cape about 10.5 metres above the sea level. Fort Tolukko's unusual phallic layout is a function of the immediate topography. Its small narrow layout with two bulwarks is distinctively Portuguese, different with the Dutch built Fort Oranje and Fort Kalamata. Its primary function was to dominate a rare coral reef.

From the top of this small fort a tourist can have a great view on Ternate city, the ocean, to Tidore and Halmahera islands with their volcanoes.

Tourist Information

The fort is open between 8 am and 5 pm throughout the week with no entry fee required. The nearest airport is on Ternate Island; international flights require getting to the Jakarta airport.

Text by Sammik C Basuu