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Found: Kerala’s lost city

This was the port where the Romans, Greeks and Persians once anchored their ships to trade in spices, especially black pepper, for the tables of the rich and powerful.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2009 23:25 IST
Ramesh Babu

This was the port where the Romans, Greeks and Persians once anchored their ships to trade in spices, especially black pepper, for the tables of the rich and powerful.

Later, they turned it into a meeting point for Judaism, Islam and Christianity. But in the 13th century, the port city of Muziris near Kodungallur, 35 km north of modern day Kochi, was submerged in a flash flood.

But some traces of life lived here — a 2,000-year-old boat made from a single piece of wood and west Asian pottery dating from 200 years before the birth of Jesus Christ to 700 years after his death — have been found recently.

Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Christ, and early Islamic missionaries are believed to have stepped onto the Kerala shore through this port that finds mention in ancient scriptures.

Now, the Kerala government is planning to develop the city as a unique heritage site.

“This is not merely a tourism project. We are planning a heritage circuit here. The first phase of the project, one of its kind in the country, will be showcased by December 2010,” state finance minister Thomas Issac, the man behind the project, told Hindustan Times.

Experts of the Archaeological Survey of India, who began excavation at the site in 2007, concluded that it was first occupied by indigenous people during the megalithic or iron age. They were followed by first the West Asians and then the Romans.

“The Mediterranean connections were very clear from the huge quantities of amphora sherds (wine jars), cameo blanks and Roman glassware fragments,” said Kerala Historical Council director P.J. Cherian, who has been involved in the excavation.

History says the Muziris merchants dealing in metals, spices and gemstones first instituted the Indo-Greek and Indo-Roman-Egyptian trade channels.

It is believed that Cheraman Perumal of the Chera dynasty that ruled south India from 250 AD till the 12th century, was moved when he witnessed some miracles with the arrival of Prophet Mohammed’s Sahaba (first companions).

Soon the king travelled to Mecca and embraced Islam. But he fell ill and died Salalah, Oman, on his return journey. Before dying, he is believed to have instructed some of his Arab fellow travellers to build a mosque in his kingdom and spread Islam.

A group led by Malik Bin Deenar arrived in Kodungallur and built the Cheraman Juma Masjid here in 629 AD. This is one of the few mosques in the state to allow the entry of non-believers.