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Journeying from the new capital to the old – The Ribandar Causeway

Sanjeev Sardesai
In this episode, let us travel a short distance of approximately 11 kilometres from Panaji, on the old highway along the meandering River Mandovi, and be acquainted with a few lesser known aspects on way to the World Heritage Site in Goa – The Precinct of Old Goa.
Goa, in the years gone by, has carved out a niche for itself through the eyes of dynasties that have glorified themselves in this land. Similar to the multitude of tourists visiting Goa annually, from all over the world, they too travelled here to expose themselves to its glitter.
Every span of length that one travels on this route brings forth some amazing artistic edifices and architectural creations, which define the futuristic contributions made by some of the rulers here.
History informs us that unplanned sanitary infrastructure in Old Goa (Velha Goa), the then capital of Portuguese Goa, known the world over by sea roving traders and travellers as ‘The Rome of the Orient’, led to repeated catastrophic plagues. These recurring plagues, due to unavailability of medical facilities led to extermination of a huge section of its citizenry.
To counter these epidemics, it was felt necessary to shift the capital from Old Goa to Panaji – a very strategic region, situated on the south bank of River Mandovi, from where it meets the Arabian Sea. The process of shifting started somewhere in the mid 1700’s, when the local populace moved residence to what is now popularly known as the Latin Quarters of Panaji: Fontainhas. This is a ‘must-see’ heritage precinct in Goa which can be experienced through a leisurely walk in the locality.
Fontainhas, locally known as “Mala”, has some gorgeous, old style Indo-Portuguese architecture with houses painted in the traditional ochre, indigo, light green and burgundy and adorned with quaint sea shell encased windows. The area got is name because of a hill-based spring, named ‘Fonte Phoenix’, from where it got localised to ‘Fontainhas’. It has a tunnel that runs under the road, to the seven springs. A heritage walk is highly recommended!
When one travels from Panaji to Old Goa, along the Ribandar Causeway, we are actually travelling on an architectural marvel, which on completion was considered as the longest causeway in Asia, with a travelling distance of 3,026 metres. The credit of this project goes to the 4th Count of Linhares (Conde de Linhares) Miguel de Noronha, who was then the 23rd Viceroy of Portuguese Goa.
Initially, Panaji was not connected to the mainland Ribandar Village. The expanse between Ribandar and Panaji was a very marshy, tidal area, locally known as a ‘khazan land’. Towards the beginning of 1600’s, a very avant-garde project was considered by the Portuguese Administration to improve connectivity between Ribandar to Panaji, and to facilitate transfer of construction materials and other defence resources.
The services of the Jesuit Priests were requisitioned and work commenced in the year around 1632. The loose, marshy soil, parallel to the River Mandovi was strengthened by piling (embedding) tree barks, belonging to the ‘jambho tree’. It was over this strengthened soil, that a massive masonry causeway was constructed.
There were a total of 40 arches along this causeway, mostly restricted towards the Panaji side. The main arm of the causeway, between Ribandar to Panaji has only three openings, or ‘manos’, to allow sea water to enter the ‘khazan’ lands for fish trapping and most importantly for ‘sea salt making’.
As your vehicle travels along the Ribandar Causeway, parallel to the River Mandovi, it seems that we are travelling along a linear route; however the causeway is built in arrow shape. It was so since the mounting tidal and monsoon waters of River Mandovi would be directed, sideways, towards the two rivulets at either end, possibly reducing the load on the main arm of the causeway. There are two small culvert bridges at either end of the causeway, over the Rua de Ourem Creek towards Panaji, while another spans the Ribandar creek.
On the southern side of the Ribandar Causeway, one must stop over (parking off the main road) and watch the arduous process of sea-salt making in salt pans, especially arranged in the low-lying fields, within the reach of the tidal salt waters. One can purchase fresh sea salt, directly from the salt pans, between February and April every year.
Initially built for the use of bullock carts and horse-carriages, today, even after 385 years, this causeway caters to carrying an immense load of heavy modern traffic; and till a few decades, allowed heavy 12-14 wheeled trailers over it. The most amazing factor of this Ribandar Causeway or Ponte de Conde de Linhares is that it is a contemporary of the Taj Mahal at Agra. The Ribandar Causeway was completed between 1632 and 1634. While the construction of Taj Mahal, the pride of India and one of the Wonders of the World, commenced in 1632, soon after the death of Mumtaz Mahal, the favourite of three Queens of the Mughal King Shah Jahan. Both stand as proud testimony of the artisans of yesteryears. Both these marvellous edifices are located along the banks of famous rivers – the River Mandovi in Goa and River Yamuna in Agra.
Ribandar is a very historic village with a place of pride during the Portuguese era. It was known for its highly acclaimed carpenters and artisans who created the woodwork in most of the Churches in Old Goa.
It was in the bay opposite this village, that the huge sail boats or galleons, sailing from Portugal for almost 28 days, would drop anchor, allowing the Portuguese Viceroy or Governor General, arriving to take charge of the Portuguese Goan administration, to disembark and acclimatise or rest for a day or two, in the Palace of the Count of Ribandar or Conde de Ribandar, before proceeding to Old Goa to take official charge. The Palace, opposite the Chorao ferry, now a private residence, is a mute witness to the glory of Ribandar … that was!

(To be continued)

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