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. 

IFFI International Film Festival Goa Hotel Package

Photo Credit: http://movies.ndtv.com/images/showbiz/iffi.jpgThe International Film Festival of India, Goa ( more commonly known as IFFI Goa) was first held in 1952 and is one of the most important and significant film festivals in Asia. Held each year in Goa, the IFFI International Film Festival Goa provides a stage for world cinema to be showcased to the local public. In addition to Goan film critics, tourists and film buffs from all across India, Europe, UK and the rest of Asia come to Goa to attend the Film Festival. 

The Mitaroy, Goa – my mother’s ancestral heritage home and now a Heritage Homestay – in Fontainhas, Panjim is a mere 5 minute drive to the IFFI Goa Venues and is hence a popular choice for film buffs to base themselves. During the IFFI Film Festival, it is not uncommon to find guests sitting together on the balcao and discussing the merits of the latest film over a glass of hand pressed Goan wine. 

In our special IFFI Goa Hotel Package, we offer you a 4 day 3 night package that includes complimentary transfers to and from the IFFI Goa Venues, in addition to a complimentary Full Goa Buffet Breakfast as well as complimentary Goan Beer and Wine throughout your stay with us. I do suggest, however, that you book well in advance since we are a small Heritage Homestay. 

IFFI Goa Hotel Package

  • Complimentary Transfer to and from the IFFI Goa Venues
  • Complimentary Full Goan Buffet Breakfast 
  • Complimentary Beer and Wine throughout your stay
  • Complimentary Late Check Out till 5 pm, subject to availability
  • Complimentary selection of daily Goan Newspapers
  • Complimentary Bottled Mineral Water throughout your stay
  • Complimentary Hand made Sustainable Bath Amenities
  • Complimentary Welcome Cocktail on Arrival

4 days 3 nights in a Heritage Suite : £ 219 / € 266 / Rs. 18,999

Please make your reservations well in advance since we are a small Homestay and are often booked out quite early during the International Film Festival Goa.
Call
+91 94480 87708 (India) 
+43 680 2303682 (Europe)
or use the Reservation Form below:

Braganca House in Chandor, Goa – Goa’s Heritage

In the centre of the small, sleepy village of Chandor in south Goa lies a 450 year old sprawling Portuguese mansion named Braganca House. Built in the 16th century by the two Braganca brothers, they divided the large mansion into two parts where the brothers lived with their families. The west wing became the property of the Menezies Bragancas and the east wing of the Pereira Bragancas.

For anyone looking for a peek into the lives of the landed gentry of the Portuguese era, the Braganca House is probably your best bet. From the ceiling tiles hand-painted by Chinese artists, to the oyster shell windows and the exquisite porcelain plates from Macau adorning the walls.

One of the first things that struck me about the interiors was the handcrafted furniture in rose & teakwood. Over 2 centuries ago, Goan carpenters who would come to Braganca House daily to carve, chip and chistle. Their handcrafted work includes intricately carved four-poster beds adorned with the family’s initials and dining chairs that are the exact replica of those, which are now used by Queen Elizabeth in the Buckingham Palace !

While you are in the West Wing of the Braganca House, don’t miss what is widely regarded as the single largest private library in the whole of Goa. 5000 (!!!) books sit on rows and rows of book shelves running alongside the walls. There are Portuguese, English, French and Latin tomes. Shakespeare and Tolstoy sit side by side with the great Classics of Portuguese literature. It is like having the world’s authors next to each other in a single room.

The entire Braganca House has an eerie sense of the melancholic. I later learn that it was in 1962, a year after Goa’s liberation, that the landed Braganca family lost all their lands in the new Goan land reforms. With no compensation from the government, the Braganca family was forced to open the legacy of the Braganca House to the public. Under the contemptuous gaze of the solemn looking ancestral portraits, one gets the feeling that this is not a decision that the Braganca ancestors are completely in agreement with. But then again, maybe it’s just the lack of air that causes my thoughts to wander…

In the East end of the Braganca House, the age of the house and the ravages of time are more apparent. In the ballroom, with its Italian alabaster marble flooring and crystal chandeliers from Venice, the ceiling is damp and peeling in large chunks. But it only requires a little bit of imagination to take me back to the days when the aristocracy of old Portuguese Goa glided elegantly across the marble floor.

Today, the Braganca House serves more as a storage space for old family relics than as a memoir to the Old Portuguese way of life. In the corridor, sit a pair of ancient tombstones belonging to the Braganca ancestors. Dating back to the 1800s, they were suffering damage in the open graveyard and are now protected indoors. In the corridor also lies a palanquin, that was used by the Braganca ancestors as a common mode of transport. The family chapel also houses what is believed to be a single fingernail of the Jesuit saint and patron saint of Goa, St Francis Xavier.

The atmosphere of the Braganca House is one of saudade, the Portuguese word for a feeling of longing for something dear that is now gone. Braganca House represents the last of Goa’s golden era of prosperity.

Perhaps, some day Braganca House will come to represent the future of Goa, where tourist and locals alike will be drawn toward the heritage of Old Portuguese Goa once again…

While there is no charge for visiting the Braganca House, a donation of Rs 100 is a welcome contribution towards it’s upkeep.

Stay Romantic!

Mihir