By NITYA BHAGAWATI
Most travellers focus on the beach when planning a trip to Goa, but this former Portuguese enclave offers more to explore than simply sea and sand. Especially interesting for history buffs and design lovers is the fusion of architectural styles present in Old Goa.
Goa’s heritage of Portuguese occupation has left the city with some examples of rich and interesting architecture.
The Portuguese Influence
The Portuguese first came to Goa in 1510, but mostly abandoned what is now known as Old Goa in the mid-1800s when a plague struck. Then, they moved the capital of their area holdings to nearby Panjim. Despite fires, modernisation and the changeover from Portuguese to Indian rule, some of the architecture from the early Portuguese period is still suitable for visiting in Old Goa. The area was controlled by Portugal until the 1960s when the Indian Army reoccupied it.
Old Goa is suitable for visiting on foot; wandering among the mix of old and new buildings and observing the meeting of cultures is a popular pastime for visitors.
One of the largest churches in Asia, the Sé Cathedral was built to honour Saint Catherine of Alexandria on whose feast day the Portuguese defeated a Muslim army to capture Goa. The building was constructed and enlarged in several stages in the 1500s.
The style of the cathedral is Portuguese-Manueline, with a Tuscan exterior and a Corinthian interior. From the front, if the cathedral seems a little asymmetrical, that’s because the twin to the bell tower collapsed in the 1700s and was never rebuilt.
Se Cathedral features prominently throughout the history of Goa; one piece of area history seen in the cathedral is the baptismal font that Saint Francis Xavier used to baptise local converts.
The Basilica do Bom Jesus
The Basilica do Bom Jesus is another Catholic site to visit on any tour of Old Goan architecture. This basilica, built in the late 1500s, is now on the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is the final resting place of Saint Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa and one of the founders of the religious order known as the Jesuits. Additionally, it’s one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in India.
Francis Xavier was born in Spain but worked as a missionary for Catholicism in Asia, especially in the Portuguese Empire. He died on a trip going to China, but his remains were placed in a silver coffin in this basilica shortly after he was made a saint. The remains are put on public display every 10 years, with the next event coming in 2014.
Inside the basilica, visitors can view the mausoleum, which was designed by a Florentine sculptor over the course of a decade. The interior of the church is mostly simple in design, with marble inlay flooring and gilded altars.
The feast day for St. Francis Xavier is Dec. 3.
St. Francis Xavier and his fellow founders of the Jesuit society also founded this house, which was later used as the archbishop’s palace. It was built in the late 1500s, and some of the original structure is still standing, though the rest of it has been renovated and replaced over the years. Fires damaged it in the 1600s and again in the 1700s. It’s now used as a retreat house for Christian students.
Fort Aguada and the Lighthouse
The Portuguese in Goa were concerned mainly with trade, religion and defence. For the latter purpose, they constructed Fort Aguada at present-day Sinquerim Beach.
Meant to guard against both a nearby enemy — the Marathas — and a faraway one, the Dutch — the fort was built in the early 1600s. The four-story lighthouse, built to guide trading ships into port, was the first of its kind in Asia.
The fort also acted as a safe haven for vessels plying the trade routes. Captains stopped here to fill up on fresh water from the spring in the fort, get news and make repairs.
Parts of the fort have been purchased by a resort and are not open to viewing, but visitors can walk along the beach and the ramparts.
Nitya Bhagawati is a travelling sales representative who enjoys visiting new locales, even when not on the job. Goa is one of her favourite places to go and unwind after a long run of business trips. She always finds cheap Goa hotels on Expedia.