Still one of the better cities in India, also chosen to be developed as a smart city, Panaji’s history isn’t just to do with fine Indo-Portuguese architecture, but is also about being a strategic location, that also saw law and administration being optimised along with trade and rapid urbanisation.
NT NETWORK traces the history and roots of how Panaji attained the glory of being Goa’s capital city
Danuska Da Gama | NT NETWORK
Panaji is ever changing. It has been evolving ever since it was first invaded by Kadambas, Bahmanis and then during the Portuguese regime, and continues to witness changes- physically, politically, even culturally. About the history of its name, an inscription of the Kadamba King Vijayaditya I, dated February 7, 1107 refers to Panajim as Pahajani Khali. The other version is that Panji or Ponji means the ‘land that never gets flooded’, while the third version is that it is a variation of Pancha Yma Afsumgary or the five castles where the Muslim King Ismail Adil Shah and his wives used to live. “Panji was a fisherman’s cove also dotted with a few temples like Ravalnath. During the Adilshahi era around 1498 King Yusuf Adilshah built a palace fortress on the Mandovi banks around circa 1500,” says historian Prajal Sakhardande
The name was later changed to Panjim by the Portuguese and when Old Goa collapsed in the 19th century, and it was given the status of a city in March 1843 and was renamed ‘Nova Goa’.
The Early Years:Trade In Panaji
We have not heard much about the city in the period prior to 1500, but sources tell us of a time when a Greek ship with Buddhist monks on board is said to have touched Panaji and sank. A Roman mooring stone at St Ines tells us of Roman trade voyages too. Historian, former director of Education, Government of Goa and author of seven books including two on Panaji – Anatomy of a Colonial Capital: Panjim (2016) and Colonial Panjim: Its Governance, Its People (2017) – Celsa Pinto says: “These instances perhaps indicate that for more than a thousand years Panaji served as a trading centre and that its history should not just be traced to the coming of the Muslims of Bijapur or of the Portuguese.”
In the eleventh century Panaji was a part of the Kadamba Empire. “Drawn to the serene waters of the River Mandovi, Adil Shah chose to erect a summer palace at Panji, despite the fact that the latter was then a humble settlement, a fishing locality and a ward of Taleigão. In 1500 the island-palace became a place for the Adil Shah and his retinue to relax and beat the summer heat. The cool and calm waters of the Mandovi made life pleasant,” says Pinto.
After the conquest by the Portuguese in 1510, Panaji was selected as an important military station, where all the ships that arrived at Goa were thoroughly inspected and had to compulsorily obtain licences. As the River Mandovi was narrow, they could not escape this.
Panaji came to be the place of embarkation for troops or for fitting out expeditions to other parts of the East. “The city and its environs also served as a seasonal and temporary residence for the viceroys/governors on their arrival and departure to Portugal. It was customary for the viceroy arriving from Portugal prior to his solemn entry and taking charge at the capital Cidade de Goa (Old Goa) to wait at the palace in Panaji, for never would two viceroys remain at the same time in the City of Goa,” narrates Pinto.
During the first forty years of Christianisation, the Portuguese set up three main religious structures in the area of Taleigão. From a hermitage set up on Conceição Hill (1541), arose the present church Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição in 1600. In Taleigão its Church was constructed in 1544. At St Ines a hermitage was built in 1584 which was raised to the status of a church in 1605. It was at this stage that Panaji and St Ines were detached and formed separate parishes.
The fort of Gaspar Dias was constructed in 1598. Marques de Pombal had ordered for its demoli. Instead, years later, it was expanded and utilised as a military barracks and still later in 1835 was the location for one of the bloodiest episodes in the history of Goa.
Pinto points out that in the seventeenth century Panaji was still dominated by fishermen and poor citizens. In 1635 it has been recorded that Panaji had 50 houses (ground and first floor) some quite large and fine, belonging to the Portuguese and others who made it their base or abode with orchards and coconut groves as a source of income. “Thus manorial estate houses built by the fidalgos dotted Panjim’s horizon. Well-known travellers of the seventeenth century Pietro Della Valle and Pyrard testify to this,” she says.
The shift: Old Goa to Panaji
Speaking about how Panaji was chosen as the capital city by the Portuguese Pinto tells us: “Years were spent in the seventeenth century deliberating upon the transfer of the capital Cidade de Goa to the safe and healthy port of Mormugão. But a deliberate effort was made in this regard in the 1680s by Viceroy Conde de Alvor citing reasons for the urgent need to shift because the existing capital was not well-fortified for hostile attack. It had narrowly escaped falling into the hands of Sambhaji in 1683 and that that the city was struck by pestilence and was unhealthy for its inhabitants.”
While the next choice was Mormugao that besides being a natural harbor, it was far off from mainland attack, the work on the project was in progress for years together. The only viceroy to shift there, albeit for a few four months was Caetano de Mello e Castro in 1708. By an order issued in 1712, the project of the transfer was given up.
Again the thought of shifting the capital came up in 1739 when Marathas attacked Goa. Ultimately it shifted to Panaji in 1759.
Pinto says, “It is clear to us that the Portuguese authorities were by 1759 certain that Panaji alone could provide them the basis of their future seat of administration and new capital. Panjim occupied a strategic location with a river front and a beach which had scope for land expansion and use. There was scope for a road network that would help connectivity. Besides, the surrounding villages were capable of taking the urban spread.”
Panaji acted as a shield for a port which provided both a safe anchorage and a physical barrier to any aggressor from the Indian mainland. “Also since in 1632-34 Portuguese built the causeway linking Old Goa with Panaji, it was a preferred choice to shift base,” explains Sakhardande.
Panaji was the unofficial capital for about 84 years (1759 – 1843). While the earliest urban plan for the city was drawn up in 1776, transformation in its true sense can only be traced to the viceroyalty of Dom Manoel de Portugal e Castro (1825 – 1835) to whom we owe the St Ines Creek and five bridges including Ponte Minerva and Ponte de Portugal, the lovely place of recreation that is today’s Campal, Fountain of Boca de Vacca, the Customs House, the Public Jail (now the Military Hospital) and above all, the massive Quartel Militar.
From around 1780 settlements grew at the fort of the Conceição Hill. “It needs to be noted that around 200 houses could be seen in Panaji by the first quarter of the nineteenth century, residences of the well-to-do, the public servants and the poor,” says Pinto.
It is a landmark structure right in the centre of the city- the largest building housing the Police Headquarters, the Collector’s Office, the Old Central Library, Institute Menezes Bragança and other governmental offices.
Sakhardande points out that there was a steady rise and growth in Panaji, 1760 onwards when palaces such as the Maquineze, Fazenda and then Escola Medica came up, followed by the beautification of Panaji at Campal, rise of Fontainhas and the Mahalaxmi temple which was built in 1819.
Rise of the capital: Early urban infrastructure
From 1759, Palacio de Pangim was the heart of the city and became the symbol of Portuguese authority. It was from this citadel that the Portuguese ruled over Goa for over 200 years. It was an integral part of the story and growth of Panaji as a capital city. Together with the area around, it formed Zona Central (Central Zone).
Pinto highlights that originally this area was characterised by just two structures, the Palace and the Conceição Church, but the scenario was different with the transference of the seat of Government to Panaji. One was able to witness the gradual emergence of a row of public and private buildings along the main road. In the second and third decades of the nineteenth century, we see the shift of governmental offices like the Customs House (1811), the Accounts House and the High Court (1818). For these purposes, edifices were either acquired or taken on lease. For instance, the High Court or Relação de Goa was installed in the house of João Baptista Goethals. Likewise the Junta da Fazenda building was purchased from Vitorino da Cunha Gusmão.
These makeshift arrangements continued even after the 1820s. A little away from the Contadoria Geral or the Fazenda, one found the jail. Still further one found the Estanco de Tabaco (today’s Head Post Office) and the Mint House (Casa da Moeda) which was shifted from Panelim in 1832 to the house of João Baptista Goethals.
Pinto says that the houses and properties of the two leading and rival merchants of Goa of the early nineteenth century, Mhamai Camotins and João Baptista Goethals, located in strategic points near the Palace, were initially a preferred choice for governmental offices.
In 1842 the Hospital Militar was shifted from Panelim to Panaji and installed in the houses of Diogo da Costa de Ataide e Tieve (Conde de Maquinez). The residence of the Archbishop was transferred to St Ines in the palace belonging to Canon Francisco da Cunha Souto Maior. During 1844 – 49 the Archbishop Dom José da Silva Torres resided in a house of J B Goethals.
“Cidade de Nova Goa was formally declared as the second capital of Portuguese India, comprising of three zones – Pangim (Panjim), Ribandar and Velha Goa (Old Goa), in March 1843. The Portuguese did not want to let go of Cidade de Goa which once upon a time brought them international fame and glory,” explains Celsa who goes on to say that the story of the making of the capital is one of land acquisition, landfill and land use. “On March 22, 1843 Portugal’s reigning Queen Dona Maria II officially declared Panaji as the Capital of Portuguese Goa with the nomenclature Panaji,” states Sakhardande.
The core works began between 1875 and 1885 with the Corte de Oiteiro, the landfill and embankment along the River Mandovi and the Fontainhas and St Ines Creeks, the construction of municipal structures like the market, slaughter house and St Ines cemetery. The filling of pools, swamps and marshes in Central Zone, with mud from the cutting of Conceição Hill and the levelling of palm groves, gave rise to a network of roads, named in 1903, that we still see in the city with minor changes. This gave rise to land use, to set up of public and residential structures. Land sale for housing first began in Fontainhas in the 1880s while urban infrastructure like drainage system, water supply, electricity, street lighting, arborisation, etc, were all part of the physical growth and development of the capital city.
While Pinto states that stop gap arrangements might have continued for a large part of the nineteenth century, the steps towards new constructions can be attributed to the tenure of Viceroy Dom Manoel de Portugal e Castro.
The capital was built in just 130 years from the times of Dom Manoel de Porgual e Castro to 1961. “The locality until the early nineteenth century was viewed by many a chronicler and foreign traveller as a humble and unhealthy ward of Taleigão. From a fishing village and an occasional docking area prior to 1759, from a land full of palm groves – Palmar Ponte, Palmar Japão, Palmar Miguel José, Palmar Arecal, Palmar Maquinez, Palmar Gaspar Dias and marshlands, during the nineteenth century, there emerged the capital city Nova Goa – quite phenomenal and transformational,” says Pinto.