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More about Old Goa

More about Old Goa

Source: LPGG (Lonely Planet Guide on Goa)

"About 9km east of Panaji, a handful of posing churches and a couple of convents are all that remain of a city once so grand and so powerful it was said lo rival XXXX magnificence. Known as the Rome of the East, Old Goa is without doubt Goa's premier historical attraction and you ihould pull aside at least a morning or afternoon to explore it.

Old Goa was not only the capital of the new Portuguese colony, but also the principal city of the Portuguese eastern empire. Its rise was meteoric - over the course of the hundred years following the Portuguese arrival in Goa, the city became famed throughout the world. One Dutch visitor compared it with Amsterdam for volume of trade and wealth. Its fall, however, was just as swift, and eventually the city was completely abandoned.

Today, although some of the churches are still in use (the tomb of St Francis Xavier is in the Basilica of Bom Jesus) many of the old buildings have become museums maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. Old Goa can get very crowded on weekends and feast days. The best time to visit is weekday mornings, when you can take in Mass at the Se Cathedral or Basilica Bom Jesus and explore the rest of the site before the afternoon heat sets in.

When visiting Old Goa do not come dressed in beach wear or sleeveless shirts. As a basilica, Bom Jesus is particularly sacred to Christians. Indian tourists visiting the churches show much more respect than do many Westerners - even (unnecessarily) leaving their shoes outside as they would in a Hindu temple.

History of Old Goa

The first large-scale settlement in the area took place in the 15th century, when a port sprang up on the banks of the Mandovi near the tiny village of Ela. While the capital of the state was still officially to the south (what is known today as Goa Velha), it had started to lose importance, both because of its vulnerability (it was sacked by Muslim invaders from the north in 1312 and 1470) and because the Zuari River, Goa Velha's port, had started to silt up. Shortly after the arrival of the Muslim Bahmani sultanate in 1470 the status of capital and the name Govepuri were transferred to the new site on the north of the main island opposite Divar Island.
Within a short time the new capital was a thriving city. When the Bahmani sultanate disintegrated, and Gove came into the hands of the Muslim Bijapur sultanate, Gove was so favoured by Yussuf Adil Shah that it became his second capital.

Contemporary accounts tell of the magnificence of the city and of the grandeur of the royal palace. Over the years following his takeover, the city was enlarged, and strengthened with ramparts and a moat. It became a major trading centre, a departure point for pilgrims to Mecca and gained prominence for its shipbuilding.
In 1510, with the arrival of the Portuguese, Gove (known to the Portuguese as Goa) was the scene of not one but two takeovers. Afonso de Albuquerque managed to gain control of the entire island briefly in March, but was evicted by Yussuf Adil Shah two months later. Having ridden out the monsoon in his ships, the indomitable Albuquerque attacked again in the autumn and on 25 November, St Catherine's Day, recaptured Gove. With Gove now firmly under control, the new rulers started to build. A major impetus was the arrival of the religious orders. Although the first missionaries arrived with Albuquerque as chaplains to his fleet, the real influx began in 1542 with the arrival of (among others) the young Francis Xavier.

In the following year the city experienced its first taste of the problems that were to lead lo its eventual abandonment, when a cholera epidemic wiped out an estimated 200,000 inhabitants. Undeterred, the missionaries built churches, hospitals and seminaries, vying with each other to produce the most splendid buildings. All were modelled on European counterparts and consequently there are domes, pilasters, barrel arches and flying buttresses by the dozen.

By the late 16th century the city had ex-punded hugely; the city walls were removed
and the moat filled in to allow for the spread. Goa at this time had an estimated population of around 250,000 and was compared favourably to the great cities of the West.

Ironically it was also at this time that Goa's fortunes began to turn. By the end of the 16th century, Portuguese supremacy on the seas had been usurped by that of the British, Dutch and French. The city's decline was accelerated by another devastating cholera epidemic that struck in 1635. Bouts of disease recurred in the following years and eventually led to plans to abandon the city. In 1684, against considerable opposition, the viceroy ordered work to begin on a new capital in Mormugao. His successor abandoned the project and then restarted work when ordered to do so by Lisbon, but the plan never really got off the ground.

In 1695, however, the viceroy himself decided to move to Panelim (then a village outside Old Goa). Although Old Goa remained the capital, everybody who could afford to do so followed his example to escape the appalling health problems. In this same year the population of the city was 20,000 - less than a 10th of what it had been a century before. By 1759 Panelim too had been struck by the same problems and the viceroy again moved his residence, this time to Panjim.

Despite Old Goa's virtual abandonment, in 1777 the government in Lisbon ordered the city be rebuilt, arguing that if the water supply and drainage were thoroughly cleaned and reconstructed the city would be healthy. Work was abandoned five years later when the death toll among the workers, because of cholera and malaria, became too high to continue.

The final blow came in 1835 when the Portuguese government ordered the repression of the religious societies and most of the missionaries were shipped home. By 1846 only the convent of Santa Monica was in regular use. When that was abandoned the ruins of the great city were left all but empty.

English explorer Sir Richard Burton recorded his impressions of the city:
...a feeling not unallied to awe creeps over one when wandering down the deserted aisles, or through the crowdless cloisters. In a cathedral large enough for a first-rate city In Europe, some twenty or thirty native Christians may be seen at their devotions, and in monasteries built for hundreds of monks, a single priest Is often the only Inhabitant.

From the late 19th century until the mid-20th century, apart from the use of one or two buildings for military barracks, the city remained empty. When archaeological interest started to revive, work was done to clear the area and some buildings were returned to their former uses. For many of the buildings, which had been plundered for building materials or had simply fallen down, the reprieve came too late. The most stark reminder of this is the ruined tower of the Church of St Augustine, which can be seen from miles around.

Buildings in Old Goa

There's no tourist office, but guides are available at the main churches, or inquire at
the Archaeological Museum near the Se Cathedral, which also has copies of Old Goa by S Rajagopalan (Rs 10), an excellent booklet about the monuments.

Se Cathedral in Old Goa

At over 76m long and 55m wide, this is the largest church in Asia. The cathedral was begun in 1562 on the'orders of the king of Portugal (King Dom Sebastiao), to replace the older church of St Catherine, which had served as a cathedral up to this time. Progress was slow. Work on the building wasn't completed until 1619 and the altars weren't finished until 1652, some 90 years after the building's construction had first been ordered.

The cathedral stands on what was the the square of the city and looking east from the main entrance it's possible to visualise something of the Old Goa's former layout. The grassy area in front of the doors was the large market square, to the left was the Senate House and to the right was the notorious Palace of the Inquisition. The exterior of the cathedral is notable for Its plain style, after the Tuscan tradition and for the rather lopsided look that the loss of fine bell tower, which collapsed in 1776, has glven it. The remaining tower houses the famous Golden Bell, the largest bell in
Asia which is renowned for its rich tone. The Interior of the cathedral is also plain, and huge in its proportions. To the right as you enter is a small, locked area that contains a font made in 1532, which is said to have been used by St Francis Xavier. The two small statuettes which are inset into the main pillars are of St Francis Xavier and St Ignatius Loyola. There are four chapels on either side of the nave, two of which have screens across the entrance. Of these the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is quite outstanding, with every inch of wall and ceiling gilded and beautifully decorated - a complete contrast to the austerity of the cathedral interior.
Opposite, on the right of the nave, is the other screened chapel, the Chapel of the Cross of Miracles. The story goes that in 1619 a simple cross made by local shepherds was erected on a hillside near Old Goa. The cross grew bigger and several witnesses saw an apparition of Christ hanging on it. A church was planned on the spot where the vision had appeared and while this was being built the cross was stored nearby. When it came time to move the cross into the new church it was found that it had grown again and that the doors of the church had'to be widened to accommodate it. The cross was moved to the cathedral in 1845.

Towering above the main altar is the huge gilded reredos. Its six main panels are carved with scenes from the life of St Catherine, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. She was beheaded in Alexandria and among the images here are those showing her awaiting execution and being carried to Mt Sinai by angels. Mass takes place from Monday to Saturday at 7am and 6pm; on Sunday it's at 7.15am, 10am (High Mass) and 4pm.

Church of St Francis of Assisi in Old Goa

West of the Se Cathedral, the Church of St Francis of Assisi is one of the most interesting buildings in Old Goa. A small chapel was built on this site by eight Franciscan friars on their arrival in 1517. In 1521 it was replaced by a church consecrated to the Holy Ghost. This church was subsequently rebuilt in 1661, and only the doorway of the old building was left intact to be incorporated into the new structure. This original doorway, in ornate Manueline style, contrasts strongly with the rest of the facade, the plainness of which had by that time become the fashion.
The interior of the church is particularly beautiful - perhaps because the local artisans were given greater freedom with their skills here than elsewhere. The walls and ceiling are heavily gilded and covered with carved wood panels, and there are a number of large paintings on wood on the walls of the chancel. A huge arch that supports the choir, painted vividly with floral designs, and the intricately carved pulpit are worth looking out for. The reredos again dominates the scene, although with its deep recess for the tabernacle, it is different from others in Old Goa. The four statues in the lower part of the reredos are of the apostles and above the reredos is Christ on the Cross. The symbolism of this scene is unmistakable: Jesus has his right arm free to embrace St Francis, who is standing on the three vows of the Franciscan order - poverty, humility and obedience.

Like many other churches in Old Goa, i this church has the tombstones of many of the Portuguese gentry laid into the floor.,' The font, situated just beside the door, is made up partly of a fragment of an old pillar from a Hindu temple.

Archaeological Museum in Old Goa

The convent at the back of the Church of St Francis of Assisi is now the Archaeological Museum (admission Rs 5; open 10am-6.30pm daily). It houses fragments of sculpture from Hindu temple sites in Goa, which show Chalukyan and Hoysala influences; and stone Vetal images from the animist cult that nourished in this part of India centuries ago. Also here are two large bronze statues: that of the Portuguese poet Luis Vaz de Camoes (1524-80), which once stood in the area between the Se Cathedral and the Basilica of Horn Jesus, and that of Afonso de Albuquerque, the first governor, which stood at Miramar. Upstairs, a gallery contains portraits of the Portuguese viceroys. These paintings once hung in the official residence, and Richard Burton, who examined them while waiting for his audience with the viceroy, was unimpressed: The collection is, or rather has been, a valuable one; unfortunately some Goth, by the order of some worse than Goth, has renewed and revived many of the best and oldest pictures, till they have assumed an almost ludicrous appearance.

Chapel of St Catherine in Old Goa

About 100m to the west of the Church of St Francis stands the Chapel of St Catherine. An earlier chapel was erected on this site by Afonso de Albuquerque in 1510, to commemorate his entry into the city on St Catherine's Day. In 1534 the chapel was granted cathedral status by Pope Paul III and in 1550 it was rebuilt. The inscribed stone that was added during the rebuilding states that Afonso de Albuquerque actually entered the city at this spot, and hence it is Marcelo Mastrili, and constructed by local silversmiths in 1637.

Passing from the chapel towards the sacristy there are a couple of items relating to St Francis' remains (see IBFX) and, slightly further on, the stairs to a gallery. Even if the paintings are not to your taste, a visit to the gallery is still worthwhile, as there's a small window that looks down on the tomb of St Francis Xavier, allowing a different perspective of it.

Next door to the basilica is the Professed House of the Jesuits, a two-storey laterite building covered with lime plaster which actually predates the basilica, having been completed in 1585. It was from here that Jesuit missions to the east were organised. Part of the building burned down in 1633 and was partially rebuilt in 1783.
Mass is held in the basilica at 7am and 8am Monday to Saturday, and 8am and 9.15am on Sunday.

Church of St Cajetan in Old Goa

Modelled on the original design of St Peter's in Rome, this church was built by Italian friars of the Order of Theatines, who were sent by Pope Urban VIII to preach Christianity in the kingdom of Golconda (near Hyderabad). The friars were not permitted to work in Golconda, so they settled at Old Goa in 1640. The construction of the church began in 1655, and although it's perhaps less interesting than the other churches, it's still a beautiful building and the only truly domed church remaining in Goa. The altar is dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence, but the church is more popularly named after the founder of the Theatine order, St Cajetan, a contemporary of St Francis Xavier. Born in Vicenza, St Cajetan (1480-1547) spent all of his life in Italy, establishing the Order of Theatines in Rome in 1524. He was known for his work in hospitals and with 'incurables', and for his high moral stance in an increasingly corrupt Roman Catholic church. He was canonised in 1671.
The facade of the church is classical in design and the four niches on the front contain statues of apostles. Inside, clever use of internal buttresses and four huge pillars have turned the interior into a cruciform, above Ihc centre of which is the towering dome. The inscription around the inside of the base of the dome is u verse from St Matthew's Clonpol. The latest of the altars on the right
side of the church is dedicated to St Cajetan himself. On the left side are paintings illustrating episodes in the life of St Cajetan. In one it appears that he is being breast-fed at some distance by an angel whose aim is remarkably accurate.

Ruins of the Church of St Augustine in Old Goa

All that is really left of this church is the 46m-high tower which served as a belfry and formed part of the facade of the church. The few other remnants are choked with creepers and weeds, and access is difficult. The church was constructed in 1602 by Augus-tinian friars who arrived at Old Goa in 1587. It was abandoned in 1835 because of the repressive policies of the Portuguese government, which resulted in the eviction of many religious orders from Goa. The church fell into neglect and the vault collapsed in 1842. In 1931 the facade and half the tower fell down, followed by more sections in 1938. The tower's huge bell was moved in 1871 to the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim, where it can be seen and heard today.

Church & Convent of St Monica in Old Goa

This huge, three-storey laterite building was commenced in 1606 and completed in 1627 only to burn down nine years later. Recon-struction started the following year and it's from this time that the buildings date. One known as the Royal Monastery because o the royal patronage which it enjoyed, th building was the first nunnery in the east Like the other religious institutions, it w~ crippled by the banning of the religious or, ders, but did not immediately close, althouj it was forbidden to recruit any further. It w finally abandoned when the last sister died ' 1885. During the 1950s and 1960s the build ings housed first Portuguese and then Indi troops, before being reinstated to the churc in 1968. The building is now used by the Mater De Institute as a theological centre. Visitors i allowed in if they are reasonably dressi There are fading murals on the inside of th western walls of the chapel.

Museum of Christian Art in Old Goa

Adjacent to the Convent of St Monica, th' museum (admission Rs 10, children free; (open 9.30am-5pm daily) contains a collection of statuary, paintings and sculptures, most of it transferred here from the Rachol Seminary. Many of the works of Goan Christian art during the Portuguese era, including much of the paintings and sculptures on display here, were produced by local Hindu artists. Among the items on show are richly embroidered priests' vestments, a number of devotional paintings and carvings, and a fair amount of silverware including crucifixes, salvers and crowns.

Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Old Goa

Passing beneath the flying buttresses of the Convent of St Monica, about 250m further along the road is the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, one of the earliest churches in (ioa, which stands on the top of a high bluff. I -egend has it that Albuquerque surveyed the attack on the Muslim city from this point and vowed to build a church here in thanks for his victory.
The church, which has been beautifully re-nlored, is Manueline in style, and refreshingly dimple in design. Occupying a dramatic position, there are excellent views of the Mandovi River and Divar Island, but unfortunately the ehurch is frequently locked. On the outside of the church the only sign Of ornament are some simple rope-twist devices, which bear testimony to Portugal's re-llince on seafaring. Inside, the same is true; (he reredos is wonderfully plain after all the |0ld of those in the larger churches below, Mid the roof consists simply of a layer of Mien. In front of the altar, set into the floor, it the tombstone of Garcia de Sa, one of the
Kivernors, and set into the northern wall of 0 chancel is that of his wife, Caterina a Pifo, who was the first Portuguese woman to Ifflvc in Goa. According to legend they Wtfo married as she lay dying by St Francis Klvler himself.

Chipal of St Anthony in Old Goa

Opposite the ruins of the Church of St Augustine Ik the Chapel of St Anthony, which is In use as part of a convent. The chapel, was one of the earliest to he built in Goa, again on the directions |f Albuquerque, in order to celebrate the HMUlt on the city. Like the other institutions around it, it was abandoned in 1835, but was brought back into use at the end of the 19th century.

Viceroy's Arch in Old Goa

Perhaps the best way to arrive in the city of Old Goa is in the same way that visitors did in the city's heyday. Approaching along the river (and probably giving thanks for having made it at all), the first glimpse they would catch was of the busy wharf just in front of the entrance to the city. Although the city's fortifications were demolished to make way for new building, there was nonetheless an archway on the road up from the dock, to symbolise entry. The Viceroy's Arch was erected by Vasco da Gama's grandson, who became viceroy in 1597. On the side facing the river the arch (which was restored in 1954, having collapsed) is ornamented with the deer emblem of Vasco da Gama's coat of arms. Above it in the centre of the archway is a statue of da Gama himself. On the side facing the city is a sculpture of a European woman wielding a sword over an Indian, who is lying under her feet. No prizes for guessing what the message is here. The arch originally had a third storey with a statue of St Catherine. If you take a moment here, it's possible to imagine something of the layout of the old city. Standing on the ferry dock and looking towards the archway, the main docks at which the newly arrived ships were unloaded were to the right. The arsenal and mint were here too, although they were dismantled for building materials after the city was abandoned. To the left, the quay led into one of the busiest market areas in the city, and just to the left of the Viceroy's Arch as you face it was the Muslim ruler Yussuf Adil Shah's palace, which was eventually taken over as the viceroy's residence. All that remains of the palace now is the archway, which can be seen on the left as you approach the entrance to the Church of St Cajetan. The road running from the dock through the arch and into the city was known as the Rua Direita, and was lined with shops and businesses.

Church of Our Lady of the Mount in Old Goa

There is one other church in Old (ioa, which often gets overlooked as it is some 2km east of the central area. Approached by a long and 136 Central Goa - Divar Island
overgrown flight of steps, the hill on which the church stands commands an excellent view of the whole of Old Goa below. This is reputedly where Yussuf Adil Shah placed his artillery during the assault to recapture the city in May 1510, and again when he was defending the city in November. The church was built shortly afterwards, completed in 1519, and has been rebuilt twice since.

Special Events in Old Goa

The Procession of All Saints, on the fifth Monday in Lent, is the only procession of its sort outside Rome. Thirty statues of saints are brought out from storage and paraded around Old Goa's neighbouring villages.

The biggest festival of the year here is the Feast of St Francis Xavier on 3 December, preceded by a nine-day novena. There are lots of festivities and huge crowds here over this period, especially for the Exposition of St Francis Xavier's body, held once every 10 years - the next Expo is 2004. Accommodation in Panaji can be tight in the lead-up to the feast day.

Places to Stay & Eat in Old Goa

Most people visit Old Goa as a day trip, but there is one hotel, the GTDC Old Goa Heritage View f« 2286127; singles/doubles Rs 225/300), which has simple double rooms with private bathrooms.

Outside the basilica are two restaurants geared primarily to local tourists, where you can get full meals and cold drinks, including beer. They're raised up from the road and are a good spot to relax and take in the scene. You can also get cheap snacks (less than Rs 20) from the food stalls that line the road just north of the Old Goa Heritage View.

Getting to and from Old Goa

There are frequent buses to Old Goa from the Kadamba bus stand at Panaji; buses from Panaji to Ponda also pass through Old Goa. Buses to Panaji or Ponda from Old Goa leave when full (about every 10 minutes) from either the main roundabout or the bus stand in front of the Basilica Bom Jesus. The trip takes 25 minutes and costs Rs

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