Portugal’s Goa Dourada was once a vast city, inhabited by more than 30,000 people. In the 16th century, it attracted missionaries and soldiers, merchants and horse-traders, and its elegant palaces and mansions were much praised by the contemporary visitors. However, by the mid-18th century, a series of epidemics and the silting up of the Mandovi River forced the viceroy to move his residence downstream to Panaji. Thereafter, decline set in and by the 19th century, the city was finally abandoned and its houses demolished. Today, Old Goa is a mere shadow of its former self, but the few churches and cathedrals that remain are considered to be among Goa’s most significant monuments.
A magnificent complex of cathedrals, churches and monasteries, spread along the 1.5 km stretch, marks the site of Old Goa, the Portuguese capital until the mid-18th century. A walk through this area, now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, takes us to one of Goa’s most important religious monuments, the Basilica de Bom Jesus and the Grand Se Cathedral, and ends on Holy Hill, where some of Goa’s oldest churches are located. Most of these buildings, designed by Italian or Portuguese architects, encompasses a wide range of European styles, from the sober Renaissance to the exuberant Baroque of Portuguese Manueline.
How to Reach
Air: 29 kms away from Panaji the capital of Goa, is Dabolim, the airport. This is the adjacent airport.
Road: Road transport to Old Goa is effortless; one can choose taxi, auto rickshaw or bus to reach different sites here.
Rail: Karmali Railway Station is the closest one.
Places to Visit in Old Goa
Royal Chapel of At Anthony: St. Antony, Portugal’s national saint, is also considered as the captain of the army.
Out Lady of the Rosary: Alfonso de Albuquerque built this monument on the top of the Holy hill in 1526. He watched Yusuf Adil Shah’s defeat in 1510 from this very spot and vowed to build a church here.
With its castle-like turrets and a simple altar painted with baskets of flowers, it is one of Goa’s earliest Manueline-style churches. The tomb of Dona Catarina, the wife of Garcia de Sa and the first Portuguese woman to migrate to Goa, lies here.
Se Cathedral: This is thought to be Asia’s largest church. The gilded high altar has six splendid panels depicting the life of St Catherine of Alexandria.
When ordered by the government in Portugal to build a Church worthy of their mighty empire, Francis Countinho envisaged a magnificent cathedral that would be the largest in Asia. The result is the Renaissance style Se Cathedral, designed in the 16th century by Julio simao and Ambrosio Argueiro, it took nearly 80 years to build it. Its 30-m high Tuscan-style façade was flanked by two square bell towers, only one of which survives now. In it hangs the Golden Bell, known for its melodic tones, which rang out during the dreaded auto da fe trials, held in the cathedral’s front square.
The interior, with intricate Corinthian detailing, has a 249 ft long central nave. Nearly 15 altars graces the interior, but the piece de resistance is the gilded high altar, dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, whose panel paintings depicts scenes from her life, in two of the eight chapels. The Blessed Sacrament and the cross of Miracles, has delicate filigree work on its screens. The font used by St Francis Xavier to baptize converts, is seen near the entrance. The sacred relics of his body, kept in the Basilica de Bom Jesus are brought to the cathedral during the expositions held every ten years.
Church and Convent of St John of God: This convent was built in 1685 by the order of the Hospitallers of St John of God, to tend the sick. It was rebuilt in 1953.
The Chapel of St Catherine: It was built to celebrate Albuquerque’s victory in 1510, and served as Goa’s only cathedral until the Se Cathedral was built.
Church and Monastery of St Augustine: The 151 ft high laterite belfry dominates the remains of what was once India’s largest church. A grand five-storied facade, the St Augustine’s monuments now lie in ruins. Erected by the Augustinian order in 1512, the Gothic-style church was abandoned in 1835, and its roof caved in seven years later, excavations begun in 1989 revealed eight chapels, four altars, wall sculptures and more than 100 splendid granite tombstones. According to contemporary descriptions, the church also had grand staircases and galleries, and a library that rivaled the one at Oxford, in the 17th century. Today, all that remains of St Augustine’s is its soaring bell tower.
Gateway of Adil Shah’s Palace: The gate, comprising a lintel and basalt pillars, is all that survives of Adil Sha’s palace, also used as the viceroy’s residence from 1554 to 1695.
Viceroy’s Arch: Over 1000 ships brought new arrivals to Goa in an year during the 17 the century. They passed under this laterite archway, built by Francisco da Gama.
Basilica de Bom Jesus: The Basilica de Bom Jesus is revered by Roman Catholics all over the world since it houses the mortal remains of Goa’s patron saint, Francis Xavier. It was the first church in South Asia to be granted the status of a Minor Basilica, by Pope Pius XII in 1946. Built by the Jesuits in 1594, this grand Baroque structure blends Corinthian, Doric, Ionic and composite styles in its magnificent three-tiered facade. The Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III donated the elaborate tomb of St. Francis in exchange for the pillow that lay under the saint’s head The tomb took the Florentine sculptor Giovanni Foggini ten years to build; it was finally assembled in 1698. The adjoining Professed House was used as the priests’ quarters until a fire damaged it in 1633.
Pilar: Set on a Hilltop, Pilar seminary was originally built by the Capuchins in 1613, on the site of an Old Hindu temple. Abandoned in 1835, when all religious orders were disbanded, it was reopened by the Carmelites in 1858. In 1890, the society of Pilar set up a mission college here, and classes are still held in the old seminary building. The adjoining church of Our Lady of Pilar has an elaborately carved stone doorway with a figure of St. Francis of Assisi above it. Inside it is a statue of Our Lady of Pilar, brought here from Spain. The tomb of Agnelo D’souza lies adjacent to the Church. The New seminary built in 1946, standing close to its museum displays fragments from an Original temple, Christian art, Portuguese coins and a stone lion and symbols from the Kadamba dynasty.
Arts & Culture in Old Goa
Archaeological Museum: Once Goa’s largest monastery, the convent of St Francis of Assisi built in 1517 now houses the Archaeological Museum, established in 1964. A huge bronze statue of Alfonso de Albuquerque, moved from Panaji, dominates the entrance hall. Among the objects of interest are a finely carved image of Vishnu and a Surya statue, dating to the Kadamba period and stone inscriptions on Marathi and Persian, relics of earlier ruling dynasties. Other exhibits include Hindu sati stones, a model of Sao Gabriel – the ship in which Vasco da Gama sailed to India in 1498 and a bronze statue of St. Catherine in the courtyard. The Portrait Gallery on the first floor has 60 paintings of Goa’s viceroys and governors.
Convent of St Monica: This is 17th century building, which houses Asia’s first Museum of Christian Art. Currently it is being relocated from Rachol.
Church of St Francis of Assisi: Built by the Franciscan friars in 1521 and rebuilt in 1661, this church has a beautifully carved doorway. This is a rare example of the Portuguese Manueline style, which uses many nautical motifs and was developed during the reign of King Dom Manuel. A pair of navigator’s globes and a Greek cross embellishes the door. The superb Baroque interior has floral frescoes on the walls and the ceiling, and the floor is paved with the sculpted tombstones of the Portuguese nobility. The gilded altar has figures of St Francis and Christ. Other noteworthy features are the pulpit, which is carved in floral designs and the painted panels in the chancel, which depicts various scenes from the saints’ lives.
Church of St Cajetan: Built by Italian friars in 1651 this church is renowned for its exuberant woodcarvings on its high altar and pulpit.
In the 17 the century, Pope Urban III sent Italian priests from the Theatine order to Golconda. When refused entry, they settled in Old Goa. Here, in 1651, they erected a church dedicated to their founder, St. Cajetan, designed along the lines of St Peter’s in Rome. The distinctive dome and interior, laid out in the shape of a Greek cross, embodies the majesty of Italian Baroque.