Goa has always enthralled us with its gorgeous beaches – so much that not many of us realize or even explore what is beyond these beaches. We forget that it has a fabulous history – one that still lives on and adds its charm to all that we currently enjoy here. I have visited Goa on several occasions. Luckily for me, I have also, managed to delve into the by-gone heritage and history of Goa but it was during this visit that I managed to trace the roots and walk through the living history of Goa. It was during this heritage walk through Fontainhas in Panjim that I experienced its actual culture – a blend of Indian and Portuguese, that makes Goa the colorful place it is.
Before I move onto this heritage walk, let me start with a quick history of Goa.
History of Goa
Goa has a long history that goes back to the mythological tales of Lord Vishnu’s Dashavatar. It is said that it was born out of Parshurama‘s arrow. Over years, Goa has seen several rulers – the Mauryan rulers, the Chalukyas and then the Muslim rule of Adil Shah. It was during this Muslim rule that the Portuguese first discovered Goa through its famed explorer – Vasco Da Gama. Having seen it once, it was quickly captured by them and Goa became their key Portuguese colony for all trade in Asia. For over 450 years, Portuguese ruled over Goa and after a long struggle, it was surrendered to Independent India on December 19, 1961.
It is the remnants of these 450 years of Portuguese rule that you find in the Fontainhas part of Panjim. These are the parts of Goa where history and culture of Portugese Goa still lives on.
Fontainhas – Heritage Colony of Goa
Fontainhas as you may have guessed has some connection to Fountain. In Portuguese, it actually means that and the name basically comes from the natural spring in this area called the “Fountain of Phoenix“. The spring was found at the bottom of the Altinho Hill, near the Mala area of Goa. The Mala settlement was a prominent Hindu settlement and is marked by the Hanuman temple here.
History has it that the Fontainhas area was reclaimed by a wealthy Portuguese called “Mossmikar”. He used it an area for his coconut plantations. In the later years, when Old Goa faced several epidemics, the Portuguese shifted their capital to Panjim. It was then that this became a residential area for the various administrative Portuguese officers. Today this area is considered to be a World Heritage site.
What is interesting is that after having understood this history, I could so believe it as I could still see parts of it here. From the vibrant heritage homes to the Fountain of Phoenix, it is all still here. We started our tour at the Ourem Creek end and walked almost up to the base of the Altinho hill. Here are the highlights of what I discovered through this heritage walk of the Old Latin Quarters of Panjim.
Colorful Houses of Fontainhas
There is no way that you will not fall in love with the cute, vibrant house in Fontainhas. I kept remembering this game that I used to play as a kid – “Color, color, which color do you want” and once the person specified the color, we were to run and catch it before he caught us. To me, the Fontainhas area was the ideal area to play this. There was no way anyone would be ever caught. Name a color, and you will find it here.
The houses were made of egg-shells and chunna or limestone. The houses had a typical sloping roof, making the entire structure akin to the stick houses that we drew as kids. Adding to the charm were the artistic balconies and doors. I could do a completely different section on the various types that I spotted but for now, here is one of them.
There were some typical things about a Portuguese home that I noticed.
- Some of them had these typical dolls like structures near their windows
- Quite a few of them were denoted by the Portuguese rooster
- The nameplates were on tiles with blue borders
- Some of them had typical windows where sea shells were all pasted together in narrow strips to form a translucent pane.
See if you can spot them all in my pictures below 😀
Most of these homes are still occupied – people either live in them or have converted them into guest homes or shops. One interesting thing that our guide told us is that you could easily identify a Christian home from a Hindu one for the former had a cross on it while the latter had a Tulsi plant growing in its compounds. It is said that some of these families can still trace their heritage and roots to the Portuguese who had settled here.
The one thing that is bound to strike you is that all the homes seem to be painted fresh. The reason for that is a rule that was laid down by the Portuguese – every home must be painted fresh every year. A tradition that did not die and still lives in Goa. Here is a unique area where I found three different colored homes next to each other. I have nicknamed it the Tri-Colored Chowk or the Tri-Colored junction. What do you think of this name? 😉
Winding Streets of the Old Latin Quarters
In some parts of the Fontainhas area, I felt like a hamster trying to find its way through the winding passages of a maze. Really! Take a look.
Here and there you can find some old rusted bikes and cars. The most unusual thing was that quite a few streets here have been named after dates – like the 18th June Street, which was named so owing to the revolution that started in Goa on that day. Of course, today this is a major shopping area. Also, the 31st January Road, named after the day Portugal got independence from Spain.
The Wishing Well in Fontainhas
Somewhere along the twists and turns of the winding streets of Fontainhas, we reached this wide corner with a bright red well. It really stood out against the bright green backdrop and evidently told us that it was built by a Portuguese – remember the Portuguese roosters. 🙂
Somewhere later, I read about this being a wishing well. Sadly, I forgot to ask the guide and more importantly, if that being the case, I forgot to wish 🙁
Chapel of St. Sebastian
A prominent church that was built in 1800s, this one is right next to the Wishing well. As I understand, the church is still functional and the guide told us that it has several prominent artifacts inside that makes it unique. One unusual thing was a cross that was kept in Old Goa with the statue of Jesus. As I understood, what makes it even more unusual that the eyes of Jesus are open, unlike most other statues. Sadly, the church was not open when we went and hence, I could not see it for myself.
The church as I understand, also has some more treasures from a church in Diu. Someday, I will be back to find out more about this. For now, I just continued capturing this piece from the outside.
Old Bakeries and Cafes
As i had mentioned earlier, a lot of the homes are fully or partly converted to shops and lodging houses. Some of these shops are Bakeries and Cafes. Our guide took us to one of the oldest ones here – called the 31st January Bakery. A small shop with some really yummy Goan goodies – the three-layered cake called Bebinca and wedding sweets like the Bol. My fellow blogger Indrani checked on how old the bakery was and we discovered that it was over 70 years old. Epic indeed!
Another interesting cafe was this one with some cute Street Art.
The Fountain of Phoenix
Where exactly this fountain is, we did not know but the same was channelized through an underground tunnel into small tanks. We visited one of these. I could see the water gushing in from the outlet. Our guide informed us that there was a small chamber at the far end but nothing really there. The steps to the doors at the far end confirmed the same but there did not seem any way of reaching those unless you waded across. For what purpose these were used, is not clear.
The underground passage continues along the periphery of the Altinho hill and here and there, you can see the moss covered done. This one specifically made a nice picture, signing the end of the Fontainhas area and the beginning of the Mala area with the famed Hanuman temple atop.
Technically we ended the heritage walk here but as a bonus, the guide took us to one more stop before we called it a day – the area of the rich and the famous – Altinho Hill.
A short drive away from the Fontainhas area, this was home to the affluent. Right now, it is home to the Chief minister of Goa and the Arch Bishop. We stopped by the house of the Archbishop to have a quick look at it from the outside.
A drive around and you know why this area is so sought after. The spectacular views of Goa from here are of course, the topmost reason for it 🙂
We returned back to Panjim to make a quick stop over for some pictures of the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church. What is special about it, well, you can see it for yourself. 🙂
We could not go inside given that it was closed. For now, we were content with what we saw for that itself alone, was lots to absorb. This heritage walk through Fontainhas in Goa was indeed a culturally vibrant experience for me. We have always tried to know what the Royals did, for once, we were exposed to what mere mortals like us, lived in. If you are heading to Goa, this is an experience that I recommend you to make time for. What say you? Comment in and let me know.
- Goa has an airport of its own and has a fairly decent frequency of flights linking to most major cities in India.
- One can also, reach Goa by road or rail.
- Panjim is the center and capital of Goa. You can reach Panjim with any of the local transport available in the state.
- Fontainhas is quite a well-known area of Panjim. You can do this walk yourself by starting from the Panjim Post office in Fontainhas.
- Here is the official website of Goa Tourism. You can refer to this for all the general tips on Goa.
- Goa is pleasant throughout the year. Anytime of the year is the best time to visit it.
- While you can do this walk yourself, you can also, opt for a guided tour with the various tour operators of Goa.
- Flat shoes and comfortable cotton clothes are recommended. Goa is quite humid throughout the year.
- These are still living quarters of various families in Goa. Hence, please be respectful of their privacy.
- You can take a break at any of the restaurants and cafes in this region. Remember to try some of the Goan delicacies that I had mentioned earlier. One spot that I suggest is the heritage Goan bakery – 31st January bakery, 🙂
- The walk can take you anything between one and half hours to two, all depending on your interest.
- It is a good idea to visit the Houses of Goa museum either before or after this walk. It adds a lot of perspective to what you have seen,
Thanks to Goa tourism for hosting me and guiding me through this wonderful piece of heritage that we have.