A Heritage Walk through Fontainhas in Panjim, Goa

posted in: Asia, Cities, Culture, Goa, Heritage, India | 135
First Published on August 5, 2016

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. Thanks to my numerous visits to this state, I have had numerous opportunities to delve into the by-gone heritage and history of Goa. I do not just mean Old Goa but a beautiful living and breathing heritage.  I highly recommend that you trace these roots and walk through this living history of Goa with a heritage walk through Fontainhas Goa in Panjim. This is where you can experience its actual culture – a blend of Indian and Portuguese – the one that makes Goa the colorful place it is.

Fontainhas Goa - the living heritage site in Panjim

Fontainhas Goa or the Latin Quarters is right in the center of its capital city- Panjim. The first time I did this Goa heritage walk in Fontainhas, I was stunned by its colors and story. The 2nd time on the Panjim heritage walk had me dig deeper into its manner of construction and the third time in Fontainhas Goa, I found more of its hidden treasures. If I get a chance, I will walk through the lanes of Fontainhas Goa again and with the same zeal as the first time. I fear there is plenty of treasures still hidden in plain sight!

I am pretty sure that by the end of my post, you would have added this to your list of Panjim attractions for your next Goa trip. So without much ado, let’s plunge in with a brief 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 the years, Goa has seen several rulers – the Mauryans, 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 the history and culture of Portuguese Goa still live on.

Fontainhas – Heritage Colony of Goa

Fontainhas, as you may have guessed, has some connection to Fountain. In Portuguese, it actually means that. The name basically comes from the natural spring in this area called the “Fonte Phoenix” or “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 Maruti temple dedicated to the monkey God – Hanuman.

History has it that the Fontainhas area was reclaimed by a wealthy Portuguese called “Mossmikar” in the 1770s. The gentleman’s real name was Antonio Joao de Sequeira. Since he had returned with good fortune from Mozambique (East Africa), he soon earned his new nickname. The area he owned became his coconut plantations. The estate and its surroundings were occupied by the plantation workers, sailors and fishermen. The aristocratic Portuguese officers resided in Old Goa at that time.

The colorful Goan-Portuguese homes of Fontainhas Goa

In the later years, when Old Goa faced several epidemics, the Portuguese shifted their capital to Panjim. By then, following the last wishes of Mossmikar, the ownership of these plantation grounds had moved to Convent of Our Lady of Carmo at Chimbel. The Portuguese took over the land and set it up as the residential area for various administrative Portuguese officers. The area thrived from the 1840s and continues to do so today. In fact, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Colorful heritage homes of Fontainhas in Goa

What is interesting is that you can still see parts of this history here. From the vibrant heritage homes of Goa to the Fountain of Phoenix, it is all still around. I started my Fontainhas heritage tour at the Ourem Creek end and walked up to the Altinho hill. This pretty much covers the spread of this living heritage of Goa.

Here are the highlights of what you will discover through this heritage walk of the Old Latin Quarters of Panjim.

Colorful Houses of Fontainhas Goa

One of the Old Heritage homes in Fontainhas Goa

There is no way that you will not fall in love with the cute, vibrant houses of 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.

One of the colorful Goan heritage home in Fontainhas

These Goan heritage houses in Fontainhas are made of egg-shells and chunna or limestone. Most of these homes are still occupied. People either live in them or have converted them into guest homes or shops. It is said that some of these families can still trace their heritage and roots to the Portuguese who had settled here.

You are most likely to come across some popular heritage houses in Fontainhas during your Goa heritage walk. These would include –

Panjim Inn

Panjim Inn and Geetanjali Gallery in Fontainhas

This is a good option for your stay in Panjim, especially if you want to stay in Fontainhas. The heritage building is a landmark corner of the Latin Quarters of Goa. It is now a part of the Welcomgroup of hotels. It was originally built in 1880 by Francis Assis de Silviera. The great-grandchildren of the original owner continue to run and manage the property till date. They even run an art gallery right across the hotel – which incidentally is the other famous heritage landmark of Fontainhas.

Gitanjali Gallery

Right across the Panjim Inn, the red-colored building hosts an art gallery called Gallery Gitanjali. The gallery is a hot spot for award-winning artists. It is worthwhile to step in and have a look at the pretty displays of Fontainhas history and abstract art.

Velha Goa Galeria

The gallery might be new but the building is quite old. However, what makes it even better is that this is a good place to buy those Goan-Portuguese tiles that you will see during your heritage walk. For now, we will leave the tiles here and proceed with the rest of our tour of Fontainhas.

My "Tri-Colored" Chowk in Fontainhas, Panjim

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. This tradition 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? 😉

Balcoas and Tulsi Aangans in Fontainhas Goa

The cross indicates a Christian home in Fontainhas

Fontainhas in Goa is not just about Christian homes. You are likely to find a fair number of Hindu homes too. Our guide on the walking tour of Fontainhas told us is that you could easily identify a Christian home from a Hindu one. The former has a cross on it while the latter had a Tulsi plant growing in its compounds.

Balcoa in a Fontainhas home

Another interesting feature is the presence of Balcoas or red stone balconies in a Christian home. Should you go for a walk in the evening, you will find plenty of residents sitting around in this area and exchanging notes. In fact, the scene continues from its Portuguese days when this area was a hot spot for gossip. Also, notice the mosaic bench. As I understand, many of the old homes have mosaic flooring within and this is a Chinese influence that came by in the Portuguese days.

A Tulsi Aangan in a Hindu home in Fontainhas

In a Hindu home, these were replaced by Raj Aangans where the Tulsi was kept or courtyards with fewer windows (called Chowki), All these features are still there for you to see.

Plinths, Corbels and Railings in Fontainhas, Panjim

Sloping roofs and eaves are common among the heritage homes of Fontainhas

All the houses of Fontainhas have a typical sloping roof, making the entire structure akin to the stick houses that we drew as kids. These were built to ease the flow of the monsoon rains that Goa faces for at least 3 months of the year. What made some of these roofs stick out was the presence of corbels and plinths with eaves.

This aspect of the roofs became clearer to me upon my 2nd visit, especially after I had been to the Houses of Goa Museum. The museum specifically pointed out these characteristics of typical Portuguese home and even had photographs of some interesting ones around Goa. Spotting them for real during the walking tour of Goa was like finding a treasure on a trail.

The columns and verandahs of a Goan home
Railings and columns in a Goan house

The same museum explained the presence of railings and columns in a Portuguese home. These were common around the Balcoas and upper Balconies. The railings of a Fontainhas home has a very artistic appeal with its floral designs. The original ones were largely made of wood but a lot of them have now been replaced with metal.

The columns are responsible for that typical aristocratic European feel to these homes. I found one of these columned gems in my Tri-colored Chowk of Fontainhas. 😉

Pretty doors and stunning Shell windows in Fontainhas Goa

Simple but pretty door of a Goan home

The doors of the Goan heritage homes may not be as exquisite as the Havelis of Rajasthan or the mansions of Chettinad. They, however, are pretty in a simple, contemporary manner.

Windows under eaves
Shell windows of a Portuguese Home in Fontainhas, Goa

More than the doors, I fell in love with the classic Shell windows of the Fontainhas homes. These windows are made from flat oyster shells found along the riverbank of Goa. The shells are shaped and were all pasted together in narrow strips to form a translucent pane. The key reason for this decor is a little more practical than just aesthetics. The shells cool the interiors of the home and provide some respite from the warm Goan air. At the same time, they allow enough sunlight within the rooms, making them a better alternative than glass. These oyster shell windows of Goa can not just be seen in the homes of Fontainhas. They are even present in the churches of old Goa.

Azulejos of the heritage homes in Goa Fontainhas

The front entrance of a Fontainhas home with a blue-tiled name plate
An Azulejo nameplate

It is hard not to miss the blue-tiled nameplates by the pretty doors of Goan homes. These are some heritage relics left by the Portuguese in Goa. The blue and white tiles are called Azulejos and you first heard me mention those when introducing you to Velha Galeria. These tiles are hand-painted and back in those days, came straight from Portugal. Over time, the locals learned the art and one can now buy them in Goa.

Roosters on Roofs and Cops on the Walls

The cute cops- Portuguese symbols found on the Fontainhas homes
The infamous Portuguese Rooster at the Well of Fontainhas

Another vestige from the Portuguese era are figurines on the roofs and walls of the homes. The two that you can spot in Fontainhas include a rooster and a Portuguese man. I like to refer to the man as the cop for it does resemble one.;-)

Winding Streets of the Old Latin Quarters of Goa

Winding roads of Fontainhas

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 or the Rua – named after the day Portugal got independence from Spain.

Inner lanes of Fontainhas Goa

The Wishing Well in Fontainhas

The Old Portuguese Well in the Old Latin Quarters of Goa

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. 🙂

Everyone talks about this being a wishing well. However, somehow, I have never been able to figure why it is termed so.

Chapel of St. Sebastian

A prominent church that was built in the 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 make 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. The cross was earlier kept in old Goa – specifically the Palace of Inquisition. It is believed that the eyes of Jesus are open to let people know that they are being watched for their answers while being questioned by the inquisitors.

Chapel of St. Sebastian, Fontainhas, Goa

The 3 altarpieces in the church as I understand, are treasures from a church in Diu. In addition to these carved beauties, don’t miss the wooden chests that are said to have come from the same church.

Old Bakeries and Cafes in Fontainhas Goa

31st January Bakery in the old Latin Quarters

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. The place is over 70 years old and besides the goodies, you can see some of their black and white photographs.

Street Art on a Cafe in Fontainhas

Another interesting cafe was this one with some cute Street Art.

The Fountain of Phoenix in Fontainhas

Fountain of Phoenix or Fonte Phoenix in Goa

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.

Continuation of the Underground tunnel for the Spring with the Hanuman temple in the background.

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. Walking around the area, you can spot pretty colored stairs going all the way to the top of Altinho hill. I am yet to climb these to get to Altinho and maybe, the next time I will start from here.

Altinho Hill

House of the Arch Bishop at Altinho HIll, Goa

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 🙂

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church in Panjim

Technically the heritage tour of Fontainhas ended with the Altinho hill. However, here is a bonus attraction. The Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception church in Panjim . What is special about it, well, you can see it for yourself. 🙂

Our Lady of Immaculate Concession Church, Panjim, Goa

The church was first built in the 1540s for the Portuguese sailors. It was later rebuilt in the 1600s to accommodate the needs of growing residents. It was in the late 1700s that the zigzag staircases were added to the church. While that might be a striking feature of this church, what makes this Panjim attraction unique is the presence of an ancient bell. This bell is Goa’s second-largest church bell. It was installed in the year 1871 and has been the pride of this place since then.

This heritage walk through Fontainhas in Goa is bound to add a different flavor to this vibrant state. I am sure that by now, you are curious to see all this living heritage for yourself. So, go on, put it on your Goa Trip itinerary by pinning this.

How to get to Fontainhas in Goa?

  • 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.

Where to stay in Panjim, Goa?

As mentioned earlier, you can pick a heritage hotel in Fontainhas itself. I have already shared Panjim Inn for the same.

Panjim has tons of other hotels too. It would be advisable to stay around the 31st January road. There are a lot of shopping areas, cafes and restaurants in this area making it enjoyable and convenient for you. Check the booking resources below to find an option online.

Panjim is home to a lot of hostels too. These would be ideal for backpackers and students.

What is the best time to visit Fontainhas?

Goa is pleasant throughout the year. Any time of the year is the best time to visit it. However, when it comes to the heritage walk through Fontainhas, it is best to go early morning or early evening. This will give you some respite from the morning heat of Goa.

Fontainhas Festival in February is a good time to visit the Latin Quarters. This week-long fiesta is like an open art gallery. The houses display their heritage treasures. There is music and dance with artists not just from Goa, but across the world.

Travel Tips

  • Here is the official website of Goa Tourism. You can refer to this for all the general tips on Goa.
  • While you can do this walk yourself, you can also, opt for a guided tour with the various tour operators of Goa. Check the booking resources below for booking these tours online.
  • 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.

Booking Resources:

  • Consider booking your stay in Goa through Booking.com. You have options in every possible budget and also, in any area of Goa. Remember to check the traveler reviews before booking your stay.
  • Klook.com offers you the heritage tour of Fontainhas. This is a two-hour tour of the entire Latin Quarters. The same link gives you access to various other Panjim and Goa attractions – all available for booking online. 
  • You can even book a walking tour online through GetyourGuide.com. Besides the 2 hour tour, the website also, allows you to book Goan cruises, scuba diving packages and more.
  • If you are looking for travel essentials or even regular shopping for home, consider going to Amazon through this link
Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. Thank you for supporting me with this.

Thanks to Goa tourism for hosting me and guiding me through this wonderful piece of heritage that we have.

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