When one thinks of Goa, one usually thinks of beaches overrun by hippies and other foreign tourists. But the area known as Old Goa is the center of what was a more than 400 year Portuguese stronghold and the bearer of its Catholic traditions and architecture.
Old Goa is now mainly an archaeological site and open air museum. It is hard to imagine that this once was a city of 200,000 inhabitants. A clutter of churches, chapels and convents in different European architectural styles have survived. The churches and convents of Goa, the former capital of the Portuguese Indies, illustrate the evangelization of Asia. These monuments were influential in spreading forms of Manueline, Mannerist and Baroque art in all the countries of Asia where missions were established.
The main buildings are:
The Basilica of Bom Jesus holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier who traveled across Asia as a missionary and died in 1552. In 1542 the Jesuits, who were driven by the ardour of medieval crusaders, arrived in the city and Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, rapidly became the patron saint of Goa. The churches in Old Goa aimed to awe the local population into conversion and to impress upon them the superiority of the foreign religion. The facades were accordingly made tall and lofty and the interiors were magnificent, with twisted Bernini columns, decorated pediments, profusely carved and gilded altars, and colourful wall paintings and frescoes. Once every decade his body is taken down for veneration and public viewing.
The Portuguese explorer Alfonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa in 1510 and the Portuguese ruled the territory until 1961. The current churches in Goa date mainly from the Seventeenth century having taken a long time to establish or having replaced earlier structures. The tomb of St Francis Xavier in Bom Jesus was even sculpted in Italy by Foggini and shipped out to Goa in 1698.The main exception is the fortress-like Church of Our Lady of the Rosary which was completed in 1549 on the spot where Alphonse de Albuquerque masterminded his second and successful attempt to capture Goa after his defeat of the Muslim rulers.
If you travel to Goa, be sure to explore these artifacts of India’s Portuguese colonial heritage.