The history of Cochin, or Kochi, is a fascinating one, as it reflects the influence of various cultures and civilizations that came into contact with this port city in Kerala. The history of Cochin can be divided into the following periods:
- Prehistory: There is not much evidence of prehistoric habitation in Cochin, except for a menhir found in Tripunithura. Cochin forms the central part of the Megalithic belt of Kerala.
- Ancient Period: The region was known as Muziris, a centre of global trade that was visited by the Jews, Arabs, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese since ancient times. Muziris was destroyed by a massive flooding of the Periyar river in 1341 CE.
- Medieval Period: Cochin emerged as a prominent trading port after the collapse of Muziris. The Perumpadappu Swaroopam, or the Kingdom of Cochin, was established in 1102 CE by the rulers who fled from Ponnani after the invasion of the Zamorin of Calicut. Cochin was visited by many travellers and traders, such as Ma Huan, Niccolò Da Conti, and Ibn Battuta.
- Colonial Period: Cochin was the first Indian city to be colonized by the Europeans, starting with the Portuguese in 1500 CE. The Portuguese built the Fort Emmanuel and the Mattancherry Palace, and introduced Catholicism to Cochin. The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch, who captured Cochin in 1663 CE and established the first municipality in the Indian subcontinent. The Dutch were followed by the British, who took over Cochin in 1814 CE and made it a part of the Madras Presidency. Cochin also faced the attacks of the Mysore ruler, Tipu Sultan, and the Travancore King, Marthanda Varma.
- Modern Period: Cochin became a part of the Indian Union in 1947, after India gained independence from the British rule. Cochin merged with Travancore to form the United State of Travancore and Cochin in 1949, which later became a part of the State of Kerala in 1956. Cochin developed into a major commercial and industrial centre, as well as a tourist destination. Cochin also witnessed the growth of various ethnic and religious groups, such as the Jews, the Konkanis, the Kutchi Memons, the Kashmiri Muslims, and the Syrian Christians.
The prominent rulers of the kingdom of Cochin, also known as Perumpadappu Swarupam, were as follows:
- Unni Rama Koil I: He was the ruler of Cochin in 1500, when the Portuguese naval commander, Cabral, reached Cochin. He was the first to establish contact with the Europeans.
- Unni Rama Koil II: He was the ruler of Cochin in 1505, when India’s first Portuguese Viceroy, Francisco De Almeida, reached Cochin. He granted permission to the Portuguese to build a fort in Cochin.
- Veera Kerala Varma I: He was the ruler of Cochin from 1537 to 1565. He was a brave and popular king who resisted the Portuguese aggression and expansion. He also defeated the Zamorin of Calicut in several battles. The Portuguese built the Mattancherry Palace in 1555 and presented it to him.
- Kesava Rama Varma: He was the ruler of Cochin from 1565 to 1601. He was the most popular ruler of Cochin, who welcomed the Jews, the Konkanis, and other communities to settle in Cochin. He also encouraged trade and commerce with the Europeans and the Arabs. He built the Jew Town and the synagogue in Cochin.
- Veera Kerala Varma II: He was the ruler of Cochin from 1601 to 1615. He was the first to establish contact with the British, who arrived in Cochin in 1609. He also maintained friendly relations with the Dutch, who helped him to fight against the Portuguese.
- Goda Varma II: He was the ruler of Cochin from 1637 to 1645. He was the last king to rule from Mattancherry Palace, as the Dutch captured Cochin Fort in 1663. He also faced the invasion of the Mysore ruler, Tipu Sultan, who attacked Cochin in 1644.
- Gangadhara Lakshmi: She was the only woman ruler of Cochin, who came to power in 1656. She was crowned by the Portuguese, who supported her against the Zamorin of Calicut. She ruled for only two years, and died in 1658.
- Rama Varma V: He was the ruler of Cochin from 1790 to 1805. He was better known as Sakthan Thampuran, which means the powerful ruler. He was a strong administrator and diplomat, who modernized Cochin and ended the feudal era. He also allied with the British against Tipu Sultan and the Travancore king. He is considered as the founder of modern Cochin.
- Rama Varma XIII: He was the ruler of Cochin from 1895 to 1914. He was a progressive and reformist king, who initiated many developmental projects in Cochin. He completed the expansion of the Cochin Harbour and opened the High Court in Cochin. He also patronized education, arts, and culture.
- Parikshith Thampuran: He was the last ruler of Cochin, who ruled from 1948 to 1949. He was a scholar and a writer, who authored many books on history, culture, and literature. He also supported the Indian independence movement and the social reform movements in Kerala. He merged Cochin with Travancore to form the United State of Travancore and Cochin in 1949.