Long before the flower children stormed the white sand beaches of the Indian state of Goa in the 1960s, setting off a tourist occupation that has lasted ever since, Goa drew the attention of another people. After explorer Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route to India the Portuguese colonized the state of Goa, which lasted from 1505 to 1961. While the beaches are unquestionably a major draw, your visit to Goa simply wouldn’t be complete without exploring the states colonial history.
1. Old Goa (Ela)
Old Goa served as the colonial Portuguese capital from the sixteenth century to the eighteenth century, when it was abandoned after repeated bouts of malaria and cholera wiped out much of the population. In its heyday, the city was said to be larger than London and Lisbon, making it one of the most important trading centers in Asia. Today, Old Goa is home to half a dozen old Portuguese churches and a couple of museums and monuments. Spend at least a half day exploring the ruins of Old Goa on foot to kick off your journey into the state’s colonial past.
2. Panaji (Panjim)
After Old Goa was abandoned, the Portuguese colonial capital moved to nearby Panaji. Goa’s relaxed capital city, particularly the older neighborhoods of Fontainhas and Sao Tome, has retained much of its old world charm. Explore the cobbled, meandering backstreets lined with pastel-painted mansions in Fontainhas, making sure to stop in at the Chapel of St Sebastian. Then sip on feni (cashew or coconut alcohol) in one of the tiny bars along the back streets of Sao Tome.
Goa’s coastal location made it a strategic point for both trade and military interests, and a couple of the remaining forts are well worth further exploration. Fort Aguada and its lighthouse, the most well-known of the state’s remaining forts, is also one of the best preserved. The seventeenth century fort overlooks the Arabian Sea on Sinquerim Beach, where it was once used to protect the colony against invaders. The smaller and older Reis Magos Fort once guarded the Mandovi River, and the church at the base of the fort is one of the most beautiful in Goa.
4. Religious Sites
Even though Goa is back under Indian control, the many churches, chapels and cathedrals built during the colonial period remain. One of the most important and popular is the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa where the bodily remains of Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuit order, are held. Directly across from the basilica sits the imposing white St Catherine’s Cathedral (Sé Cathedral), the largest church in Old Goa.