Following the footprints of the Portuguese in Goa

Goa Velha sounds like a name from a fado, the famous Portuguese songs of sadness and melancholy. And indeed the state of Old Goa’s precious heritage today only adds to the melancholy. Little remains of the golden era of Portuguese colonial history when Goa as referred to as ‘Ilha Illustrissima ” because of its immense riches.

In 1510, Portuguese soldiers under the leadership of Alfonso de Albuquerque conquered the city on the banks of the Mandovi River. The Portuguese army was supported fervently by the local Hindu citizens who had suffered under the then Muslim ruler Adil Shah and who were hoping for a better life under the Portuguese.

After conquering Old Goa, the Portuguese proceeded to build what would become their most important commercial and trading center outside of Portugal. And with the Portuguese soldiers came the Portuguese missionaries, who proceeded to convert as many natives to Christianity as possible. From 1540 onwards, almost all Hindu temples were destroyed and replaced by churches. In addition, Goa was also the scene of one of the most brutal Inquisitions in the Portuguese empire. 

When in 1565, the seat of the Portuguese viceroy was transferred from Fort Cochin (Kerala) to Goa, Old Goa reached its zenith. Old Goa had upto 300 000 residents and it was even said that “Whosoever has seen Goa, need not see Lissabon”. 

Fast forward to today and most witnesses to the great power of the Portuguese rulers is all but gone. All that remains are some very impressive churches and Basilica. Thanks to some careful restoration of these houses of worship, the ‘Churches and Convents of Old Goa’ is now an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the mingling of the sari and the dress, the mingling of modern Indian reality and the old Baroque and Renaissance buildings that forms such a stark contrast and attracts thousands and thousands of tourists, either in bus loads as part of a half day tour or those with backpacks and Lonely Planet’s in their hands. The women in their bright saris contrast against the dark panelled wooden doors of the Basilica and make for a great photograph. 

Old Goa has a number of Portuguese churches including the Sé Cathedral, reportedly the largest in Asia, the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Church of St Cajetan. Most famous of all though is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, also known as the Church of St Francis Xavier and home to the sarcophagus of St. Francisco Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuit order. He arrived in 1542 from Portugal and having spent a large portion of his life in Goa, finally died in China. But his body was discovered in such perfect condition that it was possible to bring his body back to Goa where it now lies. 

 Despite all its wealth, Old Goa ultimately had to surrender to its downfall. After several severe cholera epidemics (1534, 1543, 1635) had decimated the population massively (sanitary conditions were not as advanced as they are today), the seat of the Viceroy was moved to New Goa or Panaji in 1835. Most of the Portuguese families moved to the neighbourhood or Bairros de Fontainhas (home to the only fresh water fountain in Panaji) and built impressive bungalows in Portuguese style.  The last religious orders were asked to leave Old Goa and many impoverished locals tore down their houses and sold the building stones to feed their families, thereby further accelerating the decline of Old Goa. 

Although 450 years had passed from the first conquest of Goa until Goa’s independence, the withdrawal of the Portuguese from India in 1961 took a mere 48 hours. Such was the resistance of the local populace that all the Portuguese statutes were demounted and brought to safety. Today, the statue of Alfonso de Albuquerque stands at the entrance of the archaeological museum in Goa Velha, an hommage to the glorious yet turbulent history of this region. 


Goa’s colonial history rediscovered

Like with most colonial – native relationships, Goa has always seemed to have had a love – hate relationship with Portugal. Goa, once a Portuguese colony, was ruled over by Portugal for over 400 years. And in a sense, Goa’s Portuguese colonial history has made Goa what it is today. 

But as a new generation grows up in Goa today, more familiar with Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo as Portuguese heros rather than the old Portuguese rulers of Goa, Goa’s relationship with Portugal and everything Portuguese seems to be changing. Suddenly, everything described in Goa as “colonial,” “Portuguese” and “Latin” and suddently, Goa’s colonial history seems to have become an integral and intrinsic part of Goa’s “identity”. 

When compared to other colonial relationships in the region, especially “India’s” relationship with Great Britain, this is only common. The old guard – the freedom fighters who fought against the Portuguese or those Goan citizens who suffered under the 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule – are either dead or too old to retain their prominence and importance. Today, it is the youth of Goa that has grown up watching Cristiano Ronaldo or Luis Figo on television that determine what is cool and what’s not. In “colonial theory”, the longer the time gap since the end of colonial rule, the more positive the recollections of the colonial era are. There was a recent uproar in India when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking at his alma mater Oxford University, said in a speech that Britain’s rule over India was not all that bad. And although this raised quite a few heckles among some parts of the population in India, most youngsters (eager to gain a British degree or fans of Manchester United for example) tended to agree. And Goa’s youth seems to be going the same way. 

One important area where the rise of Portugal’s popularity can be seen is in its language – Portuguese. Till 1995 or so, only a few students learnt Portuguese in Goan schools. Despite the efforts of the Indo-Portuguese Friendship Society and the Fundação Oriente promoting Portuguese in schools and colleges, most young Goans saw Portuguese as a language of the past and one that was more associated with one’s grandparents rather than one’s peers. This attitude towards Portuguese has changed dramatically over the last few years with University and private Portuguese language courses springing up like mushrooms all over Goa. Despite Portugal’s poor economic state, the youth of Goa today hope that learning Portuguese will increase their career prospects, especially with the emerging Portuguese-speaking economies of Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. Brazil, one of the BRIC countries and one of the fastest growing economies in the world, is suddenly now on the lookout for talented, Portuguese and English speaking employees – a gap that Goa is happy to fill. 

Tourism seems to be another area in which Goa’s colonial history is seeing a renaissance. 

Tourist brochures are full of “old colonial houses” providing an old world experience to tourists, who are looking for more than the usual sun and sand of Goa’s world renowned beaches. 

The “Latin Quarter” of Fontainhas – home to my Mitaroy Heritage Homestay – is also experiencing a revival of sorts. As more tourists learn about Goa’s rich cultural and colonial heritage, they seem eager to experience it first hand. Unlike the regular half-day bus tours to Old Goa and the Church of Francis Xavier that resemble cattle transport rather than tourist providers, many tourists now want to spend a few days simply walking around the quaint bye lanes of Fontainhas and soaking up the Latin atmosphere, rather than competing with the throngs of tourists in Old Goa or the beaches of Anjuna – Baga. 

While there remains lots to be done in the area of Heritage Tourism Communication – the topic of my PhD thesis in Salzburg, Austria – recognising the importance of Goa’s colonial history and heritage is the first and most important step in this direction.

The enigmatic Abbe Faria

If you walk from the Panaji Secretariat along the Mandovi river, you will come across a rather strange and haunting statue in the middle of the square near the bus stop. While most locals ignore the statue, while sitting at the square or waiting for the bus, for some reason, I couldn’t take my eyes off this strange yet haunting statue. And as dusk began to fall, it gathered an even more haunting, even evil feel to it.

When I returned back to my Heritage Suite at my Mitaroy Heritage Homestay, I immediately got on the internet and did some research. The statue in question was of a priest standing tall over a woman who was lying down. The priests hands are outstretched towards the woman and the woman seems to be responding to whatever effect the man is having on her.

The priest in question is Abbe Faria (Abbe meaning priest in French). Abbe Faria is claimed to be the founder of the hypnotic sciences, even though imaginably, it wasn’t very popular in those days, hypnotism being usually connected with evil spirits and black magic. It is even conceivable that Abbe Faria might have even burned alive as a witch, if he had been a woman or had not been a priest.

Jose Custodia Faria was born to Rosa Maria de Sousa of Candolim and Caetano Vitorino Faira of Colvale. Born on May 31st, 1756 in the village of Candolim in Bardez Taluka or district, Faria spent most of his life outside Goa, dying finally in Paris on September 20, 1819.

His parent’s marriage was not a happy one and they often thought of separating. Caetano Faria, Abbe Faria’s father, had been studying to be a priest when he fell in love with Abbe Faria’s mother, Rosa Maria, who had been studying to be a nun. After they separated, Caetano Faria completed his priestly studies and Rosa Maria went off to the convent to become a nun, later becoming the Superior (Prioresa) of the Santa Monica Convent.

Abbe Faria was taken by his father to Lisboa (Lisbon) in 1771. They landed in Lisboa on November 23, 1771. The reigning Monarch at the time, Dom Jose I gave permission for Abbe Faria to go study in Rome to become a priest.

Abbe Faria was ordained a priest in Rome on March 12, 1789. After his ordination, he went to Portugal but soon returned back to Paris where he got himself involved in politics.

It was here that he began his sessions on magnetism and hypnotism, in one of the halls of Butel de Sarti’s school at 49, Rue de Clichy. The sessions were held every Thursday with an admission fee of five francs. Abbe Faria seemed to attract more women than men, who came either in the hope of finding a cure to their ailments or simply for the thrill.

Abbe Faria Statue in Panjim, Goa

While looking at Abbe Faria’s statue, I recalled his name being familiar to me for some odd reason. It was then that I realised that Abbe Faria had been immortalised by Alexandre Dumas in his world famous novel “The Count of Monte Cristo”, in which he was portrayed as The Mad Monk who was thrown into the dungeons and helped Edmund Dantes become the Count of Monte Cristo and avenge his enemies…

Houses of Goa Museum, Bardez, Goa

Goa has enjoyed a unique history as a result of both Western and Eastern influences. This unique history is especially visible in the architecture and layout of Goan Homes.

“When the Portuguese colonized Goa,” the famous Goan architect Gerald da Cunha says, “they brought in their own architectural designs and lifestyle to influence the already strong culture and architecture that prevailed here. As a result of the amalgamation, an entirely new thing emerged. What you see in Goan houses, you don’t see in Portugal, or elsewhere in the world.”

The Houses of Goa is a unique museum by Gerard da Cunha and a must see for all students and fans of unique Goan architecture from the American Ambassador and his wife to local couples who come to discover their Goan heritage. As an architect and a Goan, da Cunha felt that it was his responsibility to document the architecture as a local.

The result is a rather strange ship like structure with exposed brick that houses this museum, located kind of right in the middle of the road !

On the first floor, you have a depiction of Goa in the context of the world as well as wealth of Goan architecture.

On the second floor, Gerard da Cunha delves into the details of Goan architecture with a painstaking collection of doors, windows, a rare hat stand, old French doors from a house in Margao built in 1917 as well as rare postcards of Goa dating back to 1900, giving an exclusive picture of what Goa and its cities looked like a century ago.The panels on the walls showing important Goan monuments such as the Se Cathedral as well as other world monuments that were built at the same time in other parts of the world.

Climb the winding steps to the theatre upstairs and you can see a slide show presentation, with an adaptable screen, conducted by Da Cunha himself and taking you on an architectural tour back to the earliest mud house.

What I personally liked best about the Museum is the fact that it never seems finished, always a work in progress. The many trinkets, paintings and architectural accessoires seem to be in a permanent state of influx. I guess, what I am trying to say is that it is as if the Museum is constantly changing, evolving, like a living being. 

“Goans, who were people who were converted, were looking for a new identity, and thus embarked on the experiment in architecture, to produce something unique and unseen anywhere in the world”. 

Da Cunha’s landmark museum provides a ringside view!

Stay Romantic!


Only a 5 km drive from my Mitaroy Goa Hotel, the Houses of Goa Museum is located in Torda, Salvador-do-Mundo village of Bardez taluk in North Goa.

Please note that the Houses of Goa Museum is open from 10 AM to 7.30 PM and closed on Mondays!