Yes! Yes! I know everyone goes to Goa to laze on the beaches and enjoy the seafood along with copious amounts of Fenny or Beer. But Goa has such a great architectural heritage that you haven’t really experienced Goa till you have wandered inside its awe-inspiring churches, demure convents and intimidating seminaries. The Portuguese influence is apparent everywhere in Goa – in the cuisine, in the architectural style and in the way of life itself. In fact, it was the Portuguese who brought Christianity to Goa and built magnificent Churches and Cathedrals which stand today as a testament to their zeal to spread Christianity and the wealth they made.
Old Goa or Velha Goa which was the capital of Portuguese Goa is the area having the largest concentration of religious monuments built by the Portuguese. Located on the banks of River Mandovi, Old Goa is 10km from the present capital of Goa, Panaji. The monuments in Old Goa were mostly built in the 16th and 17th centuries. Old Goa is a World Heritage Site and is also a religious site for many Christians because the Basilica of Bom Jesus houses the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier.
Built by the Jesuits in 1605, The Basilica of Bom Jesus is perhaps the most visited among the various monuments in Old Goa. Built with locally available laterite, the façade of the Basilica is large and imposing. The interior is richly decorated with paintings, carved wood ornaments and the altar is gilded in gold. Above the altar is a large statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola who is the founder of the Jesuit Order. There is a separate chapel in which relics of the body of St. Francis Xavier are kept within a silver casket. Even this chapel is richly decorated. Attached to the Basilica is the Professed House which is a two storeyed laterite building. There is also a Belfry behind the building.
Just across the road from the Basilica of Bom Jesus towards the north are Se Cathedral, The Archaeological Museum and Portrait Gallery and the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. These three almost appear to be connected. The most important of these is Se Cathedral which is the largest church in Old Goa. It is also built of laterite but is covered with lime-plaster unlike the Basilica of Bom Jesus. There is a bell tower which houses the largest church-bell in and referred to as the ‘golden bell’ owing to its rich sound.
Opposite Se Cathedral, beyond the road is the beautiful Church of St. Cajetan also built of laterite blocks and plastered with lime. The main altar is dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence. What is interesting about this church is that it is modelled after the original design of St. Peter’s Church in Rome. The church was built by Italian Friars of the Order of Theatines in the 17th century.
The main road in front of the Church of St. Cajetan leads to the River Mandovi through an archway known as the Viceroy’s Arch. Though restored completely in 1954, the arch was built when the Portuguese first conquered Goa. It was rebuilt by Francisco Da Gama in the memory of his grandfather Vasco Da Gama whose statue is still present on the arch.
Another interesting monument or rather ruins of a monument is the Tower of the Church of St. Augustine. Nearly 46 metres high, the tower served as a belfry. The tower and the church (completely ruined) were built in 1602 by Augustinian Friars who deserted it in 1835 after which it fell into neglect. The bell housed in the tower can now be seen and heard in the famous Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Panaji.
One of the widely recognised landmarks of Goa (thanks to Bollywood movies) is the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church located in the heart of Panaji city. It is a Baroque style church built in 1541.But it was only in the 18th century that the iconic symmetrical zigzag stairways were added to the church.
For the adventurous traveller, Rachol Seminary in South Goa is a must visit. Swami Vivekananda has visited this Seminary and referred to some of the books in its library. The sprawling quadrangular building was built by the Jesuits in 1610. The Seminary was a multipurpose institution – a hospital, an orphanage, a catechetical school for catechumens, a primary school (in Portuguese), a Konkani school for European missionaries, moral theology school, and a printing press. After the Jesuits were expelled from Goa, it became an Archdiocesan Seminary. Today it is a theological college. Visitors are shown around the seminary and the church. There are beautiful paintings, furniture and artefacts all along the corridors.
If you are interested to learn more about Goan culture and heritage, do visit Ancestral Goa. It is in Loutolim, South Goa. Just opposite to Ancestral Goa is Casa Araujo Alvares, a well-preserved 250 year old Portuguese Mansion. Housed in it are household items and furniture dating back to when the house was first built. This mansion has served as a location for many Bollywood movies too!
There’s more to Goa than its sun-kissed beaches, nightlife and flea markets. The next time you’re there, do visit the churches and convents. I’m sure you’ll end up falling in love with Goa more than ever.