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Old Goa – Walk amongst Heritage!

Sanjeev V Sardesai
Old Goa of today, vis-a-vis Velha Goa of the yesteryears, wears an altered characterisation! What was once a seat of absolute western power today lies haplessly seeking assistance, for its own survival.
Every time my steps lead me to visit Old Goa, the recollection of a conversation with the prominent architect (late) Lucio Miranda, more famously know for his rendition of the everlasting song, ‘Those were the days, my friend’, strummed on the strings of his guitar, and always holds me in awe. He said, “That between the walls of the city of Old Goa, there existed a resident population of more than a 1.5 lakh people.” A visitor, privy to these comments, can only be awed as to the then prevalent architectural potpourri and the daily lives of the people here. Today, on these very, once inhabited areas, elucidated by late Miranda, one can perceive an expanse of open, green, well manicured lawns, maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
Old Goa has the pride of being the only World Heritage Site in Goa, and earnestly calls for a hands-on experience through a heritage walk. Though one cannot compare the architectural beauty to other European and Italian ecclesiastical structures, it has a very unique aspect of its own— like no other, elsewhere in the world. Every major Order of the Christian faith has had its religious edifice, professing the faith, educating the masses, engineering various aspects, and involved in other humanitarian line of work.
But a single Royal Order from the Portuguese Throne, in 1835, saw an exodus of all these orders, from Goa, in ‘royal’ haste. Consequently, the edifices under these Orders’ fell to ruin or vanished completely, in the sands of time. A few bold masonry crosses, mark a few sites of these, once upon a time magnificent structures.
The expansive lawns seen between the Bom Jesus Basilica and the Se Cathedral / St Francis of Assisi Churches, was once a site to behold. It had a flourishing market place, with traders from all over the Mediterranean, African and European countries, rubbing shoulders and selling their wares ranging from slaves to gold and silk.
The entire precinct of Old Goa stretches roughly from the impressive ruins of the Convent of the Augustinians, towards the West, identified by the surviving Bell Tower, that helplessly points skyward, on the Old Goa horizon, to the scenic and fortress like Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount sitting atop the small hillock towards the east, commanding the view of the strategic Divar Island and the Konkan railways’— Karmali Railway Station.
For those sincere in appreciation of the architectural wealth of Old Goa and nurturing a wish to enjoy a hands-on experience of its gorgeous past, one must spare at least four to five hours, if not a full day, to understand the many nuances of the many majestic edifices here.
What is highly recommended is a walk— a heritage walk, amidst the golden leaves of Goa’s rich, yet tumultuous history. Though this article does claim to offer detailed historical aspects, I have made every attempt to offer information from authentic and reliable sources, to customise them for tourist usage. It is advisable to commence the tour—walking or by vehicle, from the majestic ruins of the Augustinian Convent towards the West, through the ecclesiastical edifices of Old Goa, ending the tour at the scintillating Church of the Mount, towards the East.
Old Goa, once known as Ellapuri, was the third choice destination of the Kadamb Dynasty— the longest reigning Hindu dynasty, in Konkan Goa,— after Chandrapur (Chandor) and then Gopakapattan (Goa Velha). Though their tenure in this region was short lived, it was the Bahamani sway and later the Adilshahi sovereignty that took over and prevailed over these island regions for almost four to five decades.
On the fateful day of November 25, 1510, invited by Thimayya (Timoja), a disgruntled bureaucrat of the Vijayanagar kingdom, the well equipped, and heavily armed forces of Afonso da Albuquerque sailed down the River Mandovi in massive galleons—chaos reigned in Old Goa. The walled city, fortified by the Adilshahi regime themselves, fell to the Portuguese forces, paying a very heavy price with their lives!
In just a couple of days, any traces of the Goan capital of the Adilshahi domain, were totally obliterated. The flag of another foreign dynasty had been implanted on Goan soil, to reside here for the next four and a half centuries; a reign more than all the other consolidated regimes over the Indian sub-continent!
The Holy Hill
This is the area, towards the West of Old Goa, where one can identify with the tall ruin of a bell tower; and the expanse around it, is known as the Holy Hill. It would take a visitor at least about an hour or two to walk around here and lay eyes on the splendour that it offers.
It is on this hill that one can visit many historical structures of many religious Orders. All in a walking distance, one can view the Franciscan Hospitaliers— serving the elderly; the ruins of the Augustinian Convent, which once held concealed the relics of the Georgian Queen Ketavin and brought the concept of bell towers in Goa; the Chapel of St Anthony with its exquisite interiors to the north of the Tower ruins; the once upon a time largest nunnery in Asia—Santa Monica, with its Chapel and the Weeping Cross; the one and only Museum of Christian Art and the Historic Our Lady of Rosary Chapel.
The walking tour of Old Goa can be the most fascinating experience to any first time visitor and leave others in awe. It is advisable to start the tour of Old Goa…. as the sun creeps over the Sahayadri ranges— to be in tune with the weather and the day time temperatures!

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