It sounds like a cliche, but Old Goa is really a gem for an architecture lover – it’s a place with a large concentration of art objects and lots of things to see, to touch and to experience. I kept my expectations high when planning my Old Goa visit, and teh city didn’t disappoint. The impact was very strong.
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How to get to Old Goa?
Old Goa is only 14 km from Panjim, so it hardly takes half an hour to get there on a local bus. The journey was very scenic, and the changing views kept me glued to the window all the way from Panjim – lush greenery, quaint houses, ferryboats and sparkling water surface make a very picturesque combination.
A Historical Note
Old Goa used to be a capital of Portuguese State of India, and all the headquarters of the Portuguese government were situated in this city of 200,000 people from the 16th to 18th century. During its thrive Old Goa was often described as “the Rome of the East”, but in the 18th century it was abandoned due to severe outbreaks of plague. The remnants of Old Goa serve as bright examples of colonial Baroque architecture and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Distinctive features of Baroque architecture
Characteristics of Baroque architecture vary from country to country, but the most distinguishing features include:
~ a large oval-shaped nave;
~ sophisticated play of light and shadows;
~ predominance of complex forms and curved lines;
~ extensive use of color and decorative elements (gilded wooden figures, marble finishing, and stucco);
~ alternation of concave and convex lines and planes;
~ expansive ceiling frescoes and subtle blend of painting and architectural elements in order to create an optical illusion of three-dimensional objects;
~ strong emphasis on a facade’s central projection.
Lots of these features can be observed in the churches of Old Goa.There are several Baroque structures in other parts of India as well – St. Francis Church in Kochi and St. Paul’s Church in Diu just to name a couple.
The brightest examples of European Baroque architecture include the church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza and Basilica di Superga in Italy, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and Royal Palace of La Granja in Spain, Mafra National Palace in Portugal, Versailles and Chateau de Maisons in France, Castle Howard in England, St. Charles’s Church in Austria, Saints Peter and Paul Church in Poland, Saint Andrew’s Church and St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Ukraine, Winter Palace in Russia and so on.
Due to colonization, the Baroque architectural style is vastly represented in the counties of Latin America (Catedral Metropolitana in Mexico, monastery of San Francisco in Peru etc.)
Churches and Cathedrals of Old Goa
Basilica of Bom Jesus
The iconic structure of OLd Goa and its most recognized landmark is The Basilica of Bom Jesus. Built in the beginning of the 17th century, this world heritage monument contains the the body of St. Francis Xavier. I found the basilica’s exterior much more spectacular than the hall with its gilded altar, marble floor and traditional elements of Christian places of worship, but that’s only a matter of personal preference.
Needless the say, the place was very touristy and crowded, but that didn’t influence my perception. The grandeur of the place makes up for all the distractions and things of minor importance.
There was also a lovely courtyard and a nativity scene.
Church of St. Francis of Assisi
The Church of St. Francis of Assisi is a massive structure built in the second half of the 17th century. Scenes from the life of St Francis of Assisi are depicted on the panels of the church.
The arch with floral design near the entrance was a rather unexpected architectural element and I loved it – it completely changes the perspective as one enters the church.
The doors of Goan churches were a huge source of an aesthetic pleasure for me – massive, ornamental, heavy and reliable, each of them had thousands stories to tell. The emotional impact was so strong that I felt like my whole body was electrified when I touched these doors, as if they really could take me back to a bygone era.
Chapel of St. Catherine
The Chapel of St. Catherine was built in 1510 by Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese governor. He dedicated the structure to Saint Catherine since he reconquered Goa from Adhil Shah on her feast day. The chapel was peaceful and quiet, and I took my time walking around and feeling the power of the ancient stone.
Other churches of Old Goa
Other churches of Old Goa include:
Church of Saint Cajetao
Saint Anne’s Church
Royal Chapel of St. Anthony
Church of Saint John of God
The Archaeological Museum, Old Goa
The exhibits of the Archeological museums are displayed in 8 galleries housed in the convent of the The Church of St. Francis of Assisi. The entrance fee is only 10 Rs for both the Indian and foreign visitors, but the photography in the museum is strictly prohibited. It was a pity since there were lots of interesting antiquities I would gladly share with my readers – wooden and ivory sculptures, fragments of pillars, stonework, paintings, Arabic calligraphy, Portuguese weaponry and what not. I only took a couple of pictures outside the museum:
Although it’s a touristic place, it’s always possible to find a quiet corner in Old Goa and take a break.
It’s rather important for an introverted traveler like me who gets easily overwhelmed with impressions 🙂
Have you visited Old Goa? Would you like to?
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