Old Goa. Town in Goa, India

Old Goa

Town in Goa, India

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Old Goa

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Old Goa in the western state of Goa, in India, is a place that is steeped in six centuries of history. It is today known by several names. The documents of the local governing body, the village panchayat refers to it as “Se-Old Goa” whereas the Archaeological Survey of India refers to it as “Velha Goa” (Velha means “old” in Portuguese). The locals call it “Vodlem Goem” in the Konkani dialect. Old Goa is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 - Old Goa
Old Goa Panorama. . Photo by Madan kumaraswamy


Founded as a port city by the Sultans of Bijapur (Wikipedia Article) in the 15th century, the Portuguese captured it in 1510 and called it Velha Goa, then made it their capital city for their Empire in the East. It was to remain so had the epidemics of cholera and malaria not reduced the population of the city from a robust 200,000 in 1543 to a meager 1,500 in 1775. The Portuguese Viceroy shifted to the nearby city of Panjim, today the capital city of Goa, and occupied the former palace of the Adil Shah of Bijapur, a remarkable building which was used till recently as the state assembly by the Government of Goa.

The Portuguese capital city was shifted to Panjim (Nova Goa as it was known to the Portuguese and Ponje to the local populace) in 1843. However, Old Goa played a big role in the propagation of Christianity in Asia for a much longer period. The Archdiocese of Goa was opened in 1534 and the missionaries of the Society of Jesus followed. St. Francis Xavier (Wikipedia
	Article), the co-founder of the order and now the patron Saint of Goa, was the first Jesuit missionary to arrive in Goa in 1542. Rice donations, medical assistance, and the offer of a good position in the Portuguese administrative service probably played a bigger part in the conversion of the locals to Christianity than did the gospel. But Christianity was here to stay and Old Goa literally became the Rome of the East.

Churches in Old Goa

There are believed to have been 60 churches in Old Goa in the 18th century, of which only 7 have survived, some of them in partial ruins. The churches were built of laterite and basalt stones and the lime plaster was invariably painted white. At the time, there was an edict that no house could be painted entirely white. The churches were built in grandiose style in a bid to impress the locals of the newly arrived religion and induce them into conversion.

The Basilica of Bom Jesus

Basilica of Bom
Basilica of Bom Jesus
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is unique with its bare laterite brickwork and is the most famous among all the churches in Old Goa because it contains the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. The façade is rendered in Doric and Ionic designs with Corinthian style columns. At the top of the façade is the emblem of the Society of Jesus. The floor inside the church is made of marble, inlaid with precious stones. The reredos (Wikipedia Article) behind the altar, richly gilded in gold, contrast strikingly with a plain interior layout. On the main altar is a statue of St. Ignatius holding the infant Jesus (Bom Jesus) in his arms and looking up at a gilded sun with HIS, the emblem of the Society of Jesus marked on it. The tomb of St. Francis Xavier, donated by the Duke of Tuscany in gratitude of the gift of the pillow on which the saints head rested. Designed by the famed Italian sculptor, Giovanni Foggini, it is made of jasper and marble with floral decorations and bronze plaques depicting the life of the Saint. The silver casket, in which the Saint’s mortal remains lie, is made of silver and was made by local craftsmen.

Se Cathedral
Se Cathedral

Se Cathedral

The Se Cathedral, dedicated to St. Catherine is a must see for its Tuscan exterior and Corinthian interior architecture. The construction of the cathedral started in 1562 on an earlier structure, and was completed in 1619 and it was consecrated in 1640. It was dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria to commemorate the victory of the Portuguese over the Muslims on the 25th of November 1510, which is the day of the feast of the Saint. The main altar is dedicated to St. Catherine and is flanked by several paintings done on wooden boards and fixed between panels with floral designs. On the right is the chapel of the Cross of Miracles. In the church is also a baptismal font used by St. Francis Xavier to baptize local converts which was built in 1532. Only one of the two original towers survived on which is a huge bell, the largest in Goa. It is called the ‘golden bell’ and its rich tone is considered to be one of the best in the world.

The Chapel of St. Catherine

The Chapel of St. Catherine is small but is an elegant structure which is virtually lost among the grandiose churches. It is however, the first canonical structure erected in Goa. Upon entering the city on the 25th of November, Alfonso de Albuquerque ordered the demolition of an existing mosque and the chapel was built with mud walls and palm fronds on the site on a war footing. Renovated in 1550 by the then Portuguese governor, it was reconstructed using laterite bricks in 1952.

The Church of St. Francis
	of Assisi
The Church of St. Francis of Assisi

The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi

The Church of Saint Francis of Assisi was built in 1521 on what was originally a small chapel and was consecrated in 1602. The present day structure was constructed in 1661 with a Tuscan exterior and a Corinthian interior, rich in Baroque, just like the Se Cathedral. There are two octagonal towers on either side of the façade and a niche in between in which is placed the statue of Our Lady of Miracles, brought from Jaffna in Sri Lanka. The main altar is above a tabernacle, supported by the statues of four evangelists, and on it, the figure of St. Francis and the crucified Christ. Statues, frescoes, and paintings of the life of the Saint adorn the interior. The convent attached to the church is now an archaeological museum.

The Church of Our Lady of Rosary

The Church of Our Lady of Rosary is constructed on a small hillock from which Alfonso de Albuquerque supervised the rout of the Muslims. Two rounded towers flank the two-tiered portico. Inside are two chapels and three altars with the main altar dedicated to Our Lady of Rosary. The interior and exterior of the church exhibit the influence of the Manuline and Gothic style of architecture.

The Church of St.
The Church of St. Cajetan

The Church of St. Cajetan

The Church of St. Cajetan, located on the banks of the Mandovi river though smaller, is perhaps the most beautiful of all the churches in the city. Built on the lines of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, it was built in the 17th century and the façade has a distinct Tuscanic flavor with Corinthian pillars. Two towers serve as belfry and the niches below have the figures of the apostles. Inside, a huge dome is supported by Corinthian columns. Of the four altars, the main altar is dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence. The smaller three altars have statues of Our Lady of Piety, St. Cajetan, and the Holy Family.

The Tower of St. Augustine

The Tower of St. Augustine is an awe-inspiring 46 meters high, four-storeyed belfry which was a part of a colossal church built in 1602. Among the ruins is evidence of the four altars and eight chapels that were inside the church. The ruins also include that of a large convent which was first built in 1572. The church was abandoned with the expulsion of the friars of the Order of St. Augustine in 1835, and the church was ordered to be destroyed by the Portuguese Government. The bell from the belfry is now at the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception at Panjim.

Transportation and Accommodation

A curious visitor will perhaps find, one day too short, a time to explore the city. There are however, many places of interest not far from Old Goa. Just south, about 20 kilometers away, are a plethora of Hindu temples, some of which are centuries old and are excellent exhibits of architecture.

The city is well connected from Panjim and other places by public transport. There are operators that conduct one day tours in coaches. Old Goa comes in the South Goa package. Non metered taxis are available and one can expect to be charge $ 3.00 USD per 10 kilometers.

The city is well policed and security is not a concern, tourists will be well advised to beware of pick pockets, especially on the festive days and avoid buying souvenirs from vendors. The same souvenirs are available in shops around the place, some of which are run by nuns.

Goa being a favorite tourist destination, accommodation is easily available for all budgets but booking accommodation in advance during the summer months is advisable. Fish and rice is the staple diet for Goans, but restaurants cater to all comers and there is a wide variety of choice for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

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Author: jackmartis. Last updated: Aug 06, 2014


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