Calvetti Canal is one of the important landmarks in Kochi. At one end, Calvetti Canal meets the magnificent Vembanad Lake, where the river Periyar merges with the Arabian Sea. This canal effectively separates Fort Kochi, the erstwhile colonial Fort area, from Mattancherry, the international spice trading center. Calvetti Bridge, the bridge over Calvetti Canal, which was built by the British in 1939, connects Fort Kochi and Mattancherry.
N.K.A. Latheef, a local historian opines that the name ‘Calvetti’ has its origins in the Arab word khalvath which means open or vacant space. Kochi evolved as a port after a massive flooding of the Periyar river in 1341 changed the geography of this coastline. As a result, the banks of the Calvetti Canal became, for centuries, the hub of Kerala’s spice trade. Traders from various parts of the world, especially Arabs who held a monopoly over this trade in the Arabian Sea, anchored their ships near Calvetti to conduct their business in Kochi. The Arabs were followed by traders from China and Portugal, and from the seventeenth century onwards the Dutch and the British.
River Periyar played an important role in making Kerala, especially Kochi, a centre for spice trade. Centuries ago, when waterways were the major mode of transport, spices grown in different parts of Kerala, especially in the Western Ghats, were brought to Kochi through the Periyar. Goods were brought in traditional wooden boats (vallom or vanchi in Malayalam). They would reach Vembanad Lake and then navigate through the Calvetti Canal to get to the appropriate warehouse to offload their wares. Goods would come to Calvetti by country boats and were stocked in various godowns and warehouses built on the banks of Calvetti Canal. The remnants of some of these godowns may still be observed if one walks around the canal. From Calvetti, spices were transported to different parts of the world by ships. Kalvathiyude Katha, a Malayalam book on local history by K.L.Bernard traces the history of this trade and the central role of the Calvetti Canal in its development.
The canal merges with the Vembanad lake near the present Fort Kochi boat jetty. Here, the 15 meter long Calvetti Bridge serves as the all-important connection between Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. Historically, this bridge used to connect what was then British Kochi (since it was directly under British control) with the native state under the control of King of Kochi. The canal was used by traders until the 1970s, and now remains the chief waterway through which fishermen access the lake to bring in their catch for the day.