The streets of Goa are lined with architectural gems that often don’t get a second look. As an erstwhile Portuguese colony, the local landmarks, homes and churches are often touted by real estate brokers and popular narratives as influences and construction of the Portuguese. While some structures may hold true to that sentiments, ‘Goan architecture’ is truly and uniquely Goan, standing as icons of a culturally and religiously syncretic Goan identity and aesthetic – a hybrid of the elements of Portuguese constructions, Mughal, and native, indigenous crafts.
More than the beaches and tourist experiences, Goa is a treat for lovers of architecture. From the reclaimed homes that have been turned into boutiques and restaurants with its pillared porches and hanging balconies to the forts that dot the coastline whose walls speak of the darker colonial past of the region.
We’ve put together a guide to some of the state’s iconic architectural spots, each with its own histories and Goan style. So the next time you are headed to the ‘sunshine state’ make sure you keep this list handy and take in some of the cultural legacies of Goa as well.
I. Churches of Old Goa
Dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, the beautiful Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina is known as the largest church in Asia as well as a UNESCO heritage site in Goa. A mix of Gothic and Portuguese architecture with a Corinthian core and a Tuscan exterior, the splendid 16th-century church has drawn crowds for years. The 15 alters of the church has intricate carvings, dedicated to Our Lady of Three Needs, Our Lady of Hope or Our Lady of Anguish.
There were originally two towers on either side of the façade but the south tower collapsed in 1776 and wasn’t rebuilt. The loss of the bell tower has given the structure a unique look and it continues to serve as a landmark with its famous ‘Golden Bell’.
Basilica of Bom Jesus
Among the most famous and beautiful churches of the country is the architectural marvel that is the Basilica of Bom Jesus. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was consecrated in 1605 and the Mosaic-Corinthian style structure is home to the moral remains of St. Francis Xavier. The church’s paintings showcase the life of the saint and the mausoleum is said to have been designed in Florence by sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini.
The Baroque architecture and golden altar are incredibly memorable and the remarkable church’s beauty lies in its simplicity. The beautiful Basilica has drawn crowds from around the world and even has an art gallery now attached to it. It is a place of peace and tranquillity not just for the believers but all visitors alike. Words rarely do justice to the wonders of the structure and it really needs to be seen to be believed.
Church of St. Francis of Assisi
Nestled in the heart of historic old Goa is the unassuming lime-bleached church of St. Francis of Assisi. An architectural puzzle in itself, the outer structure is built in the classic Tuscan style, the entrance Manuelin, and the insides a rich mix of Baroque and Corinthian stylistic features. The carved and gilded main altar contains detailed statues of St. Francis and crucified Christ. Statues of the four Evangelists support the ornamented tabernacle below.
The interior walls of the church, as well as the buttresses that separate its chapels and galleries, are lavishly decorated with wooden carvings and paintings depicting stories from the life of St. Francis along with floral frescos and miniature sculptures. Initially, a humble chapel built by eight Franciscan friars from Portugal in 1521, it expanded to its current size by 1661. Flocked in numbers by the faithful, it also most definitely holds something for the historically curious, with its blend of various art and architectural forms and it’s old world charm. Plus, there is an attached museum that houses various paintings, scriptures and artefacts.
Church of St. Cajetan
About half a kilometre away from Se Cathedral lies the Church of St. Cajetan which is said to have been structurally modelled after the original design of the Basilica of St. Peter in Vatican City. This reflects in the Corinthian architecture and the rich Baroque style carvings of the Church, which itself is built of lime-plastered laterite blocks.
Completed in 1661 and built by Italian friars of the Order of Theatines, it is said to be the last Church built on such a monumental scale in Old Goa. The church structure has a large dome with Latin inscriptions from the Gospel of Matthew and seven altars, with the most prominent one being dedicated to Our Lady of Providence. With three altars on the sides of the entrance, the one to the right is to Saint Cajetan. The beautiful pulpit has on its front face depictions of saints Peter and Paul as well as a bishop, St. Cajetan and a priest.
These are just some of the beautiful churches across Goa that need to be visited and experiences, other include Church of Our Lady of the Mount, Mae De Deus Church and Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception.
II. The Lanes of Fontainhas
Known popularly as the Goa’s Latin Quarter, Fontainhas in Panjim AKA Panaji is best explored on foot to fully take in the architecture, colours and ambience of the cobbled streets. This Heritage Zone is mostly a residential area of older homes but now also has boutique hotels, cafes and heritage home stays interspersed among them. Originally a plantation area, in the 1800s the Portuguese government shifted base to Panjim, converting this area into a residential zone. The name, as you may have guessed, is said to have been coined after the Fountain of Phoenix, a small natural spring that lies at the end of Fontainhas.
Among the most popular attractions is the Chapel of St. Sebastian, a 19th-century structure in stark white which contrasts heavily with the colourful hues of the homes and cottages that surround it. The over-hanging balcões, roosters atop the famous red wishing well, soldier statues denoting homes of freedom fighters and high plinths with grand staircases all speak of tales of the regions past. While the Gallery Gitanjali is a must-visit, Fontainhas is truly a work of art in itself and it’s worth taking a heritage walk among the winding lanes of Fontainhas.
III. Braganza-Pereira House
Built in the 17th century, the infamous Braganza House is a massive mansion situated along one side of the Chandor village square. Now split into two wings with a common entrance, the entire home has become a heritage property of sorts in Goa. Over 350-years-old the home serves as a museum of grand chandeliers, porcelain, period furniture, ornate interiors and paintings that hark to the glamour of the landed gentry of Goa. The palatial heritage mansion even houses the nail of St. Francis Xavier at the Petite chapel that is still used by the family who reside at the property. It is said that the land was gifted to the family head AFS Braganza Pereira by the King of Portugal while he served under the Portuguese government as a vice consul general in Spain.
The house is open to visitors from 9 AM to 5 PM with no entry fees.
IV. Forts of Goa
Located in Bardez, the fort rises high about the Chapora River with a view covering all directions, and yes, this is the ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ fort.. The previous fort in this location changed hands a few times and the present structure was built in 1717. Many rulers have used this fort for its strategic importance, mainly fought over by the Marathas and Portuguese for control. It fell victim to a number of raiders during the 17th century before it was ultimately deserted in 1892. The fort today is a popular tourist attraction but mostly lies in ruins although you can see remnants of two tunnels that served as supply routes.
Perhaps the best-preserved stronghold of the Portuguese in Goa, Fort Aguada was built in 1609-12, named after a freshwater spring within the fort itself. One still has to cross a deep dry moat inside the structure to get inside and the heart of the fort was is said to have been protected by two hundred canons and heavy battlements. It’s situated strategically at the estuary of the Mandovi river as a Portuguese watch post against invasions from the Marathas and the Dutch. A notable feature of the fort is the four-storey Portuguese lighthouse built in 1864, said to be the oldest of its kind in Asia.
V. The Viceroy’s Arch
Originally built in 1599 by Viceroy Francisco da Gama (great grand son of Vasco Da Gama), the Viceroy’s Arch was once the main street entrance to Old Goa along the Mandovi river. Previously there was another gate in the location that served as an entrance to Adil Shah’s palace. What you see currently hosted a sculpture of St. Catherine and now the figure of Vasco da Gama and ornamented with the deer emblem from his coat of arms and what is reported as an “European woman wielding a sword over an Indian, who is lying under her feet,” the meaning of which is pretty obvious.
VI. Shri Shantadurga Temple
The Shri Shantadurga Temple complex that we see today is a private temple complex quite unlike what you’re used to seeing. The current temple was built during the period from 1713 AD to 1738 AD by Naroram Rege Mantri during the reign of Maratha ruler Chattrapati Shahu Maharaj of Satara, whereas the original at Quelossim (Keloshi) was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1566.
The pyramidical shape of the temple makes it easy to recognise as a place of Hindu worship but this temple stands apart from other Indian temples for its unique architecture and spaciousness, roman-arched windows which even have stained-glass window panes, chandeliers, gate posts and even the exteriors coloured paint.