This text was originally written by the coordinator of the respective volume for the print edition as an introduction to the geographic area in question; the possibility of updating it was left to each author’s discretion. It should be interpreted together with the general introductory text from the respective volume.


Goa is the name of the 25th (1987) and smallest state in the Indian Union. It was once the name of a city, some of whose main religious buildings have survived to this day, along with many ruins and architectural vestiges. That site is nowadays known as Old Goa/Velha Goa, as opposed to New Goa, a designation the Portuguese were unable to make prevail over the age-old name of Panaji when they made it the official capital in 1843. The respective people and property had already relocated there some time beforehand, except for the religious orders, meanwhile abolished in all Portuguese territories (1834). But there is also the site of Goa Velha [distinct from Old Goa/Velha Goa], the center of the territory before Old Goa, whose surest landmark is the Pilar Seminary built over the earlier temple of Sri Goveshvar.

To a certain extent, those three places tell the history and outline the Island of Tiswadi (or Tissuary), a littoral territorial unit marked by enhanced geographic instability due to the intense silting action of the two rivers around it: the Mandovi to the North and the Zuari to the south. They are linked by the flood system of the Cambarjuem Canal, which separates Tiswadi from the mainland and makes it an island that can only be accessed via eight passages, some of them riverine (Panaji, Naroa, Passoseco, Benastarim, Ribandar, Daugim, Carambolim and Agassaim). The two rivers descend from the lengthy Ghats range marking the edge of the Deccan, India’s central plateau or tableland, and carry sedimentary and organic material down to Tiswadi’s dense water network and alluvial fields during the rainy or monsoon season (June to September). Over thousands of years this geological process formed the orographic amphitheater which opened onto the Indian Ocean midway up the west coast of Hindustan – the heart of Goa’s territory. This situation and landscape is repeated along the length of Konkan, the band of territory running from Mangalore north to Mumbai with Goa in the middle.

This low and central territorial cluster comprises three mainland territorial units besides Tiswadi. In the north is an area with soft and relatively dry topographic variations – the province of Bardez, bounded on the north by the Chapora River. South is the elevated peninsula of Mormugao, which includes that island and continues along a verdant and almost flat coastal strip – Salcette province. In the interior Bardez and Salcette are partly bounded by the courses of the Mandovi and Zuari Rivers and their respective tributaries. Together they form what is nowadays designated as the Old Conquests, as opposed to the New Conquests which surrounded them entirely, i.e., from the coast to the Ghats. The natural boundaries of today’s state of Goa were thereby added to the whole.

For centuries Goa’s history has been set down countless times in various ways. The first foreign travelers, the first reports commissioned by the Portuguese crown, the first historians of the expansion, the first historians of the Goan identity, along with the most recent ones, had and still have much to tell. It is impossible to consider the Portuguese or European presence in Asia without referring to parts of that history. Even here, in the initial text, it inevitably had to be done. Even more will come in the following entries, namely those concerning the capitals Goa and Panaji. Repetition is thus impossible to avoid, as is consideration of the most noteworthy aspects. It is also not feasible to provide an idea of the wellspring of knowledge already produced regarding the most diverse aspects of Goa’s history and culture; the bibliography at the end of this text is only a grounded outline of what has most directly been used for this text. In the brief geographic references contained the above paragraphs, some elements of that same history were indicated, which will now serve to guide us through this short and broad-ranging contextualization.

As we have seen, Goa’s conquest on 25 November 1510 by Governor Afonso de Albuquerque took place amid the process of forming the network of maritime poles supporting trade set up during the early years of the Portuguese presence in Asia, although an understanding of all that was there and how it functioned was then barely discernible. Goa was at the time a prosperous port and the second city of the Sultanate of Bijapur, which had integrated it after the Sultanate of Bahmani, which in 1469 had conquered it, along with is respective territories from the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire. The city was then moved from the north bank of the Zuari River estuary to the south bank of the Mandovi River, where it was when the Portuguese captured it. The change moved it farther inland than the original site, where it was harder to reach by boat – a situation that would only worsen. For the Zuari actually has a deeper and more open estuary than the Mandovi. Its bar is also better sheltered from high winds and over time has been less affected by silting. The above information is vital for a more thorough understanding of the territory’s historic process.

Goa’s initial conquest only resulted in permanent dominion over Tiswadi Island. But this was just an opening act, as up to that point the Portuguese had only held sway over small spaces, very often adjacent to the sovereign entities which had granted them due authorization. In Goa they enjoyed for the first time sovereignty over a slice of territory resulting from conquest, not concession. This circumstance may have determined or resulted from the search for a place where they could set up a power hub, a capital. Until then the center of Portuguese power in Asia had functioned rather unstably in Kochi [Cochim]. The governors and viceroys actually spent more time at sea than on land and they were hence known as ‘floating viceroys’.

The next step occurred during a second cycle, a second threshold, now involving formation of an empire, which corresponded to the rise of the Estado da Índia. For example, parallel to the extraordinary action carried out during the longest term of a Portuguese governor/viceroy of India, that of Nuno da Cunha from 1529 to 1538, the first territorial colonial occupation plan was being implemented in Brazil by dividing up territory and granting captaincies. It was also understood that in Asia it was crucial to obtain rule over some territories. This led not only to the conquest and formation of the Província do Norte but also to the annexation of Bardez, Mormugao and Salcette, a feat achieved in 1543. Those territories had changed hands several times since Goa was captured, but now agreement was reached to cede them to Goa definitively. These actions were preceded by moving Portugal’s decision-making center in Asia from Kochi to Goa in 1530, which was followed in 1534 by creation of the respective diocese, the first in Asia. The apparatus of the embryonic Estado da India then began to swell. In short: even though the term and concept were not yet clearly delineated, the truth is that Goa then became the capital of Portuguese Asia.

The operative management of Bardez and Salcette ended up by being handed over respectively to the Franciscans and the Jesuits, for the Society of Jesus had been recognized by the Pope in 1540. They were respectively centered in the market-cities of Mapusa and Margao, the latter more aristocratic (Brahmin and Chardo) than the former. The ordenance of Goa territory is essentially due to missionary action, which despite exponential growth, mass immigration and the resulting disfiguration in recent decades, is still clearly perceivable when surveying the territory. The same cannot be said about the New Conquests area, diverse in geographic terms, but which was not objectively subject to that action during the period of most intense missionary activity.

Just a few decades after those new territories were integrated in Goa, the religious orders were banned from all Portuguese space – a measure already applied to the Jesuits in 1759. On the other hand, in 1755 some rights with respect to religious freedom had been established, namely the construction of temples by other faiths and, in 1761 (as a prelude the 1774 Pombaline reform of the Estado da Índia) the natives were granted the same rights as citizens who were Portuguese or of Portuguese origin. The Portuguese action in this new Goan territorial area thus had a new context right from the start, a new paradigm in which even cultural proselytism was weakened. A local, Goan identity was them flourishing.

As we have seen, the New Conquests basically derived from two factors, two necessities: to balance under the most diverse aspects the Estado da Índia after the Província do Norte’s loss in 1740; and to push the territory’s natural borders back to the natural defence line, the Ghats, thereby undermining the possibility of overland attacks, until then an increasingly frequent occurrence. Both goals were fully achieved with the action launched by Viceroy Pedro Miguel de Almeida e Portugal (gov. 1744-1750), Count of Assumar, Marquis of Castlo Novo and Marquis of Alorna, the latter one of the most important titles he earned due to the successful campaign waged on orders from the government of King João V.

Amidst this process (decrees of 16 January and 10 February 1774, plans dated 1774 and 1777, sanitation projects and construction of about 200 houses by the end of the decade), the Pombaline attempt to improve the city of Goa was under way, in the scope of the abovementioned reform process for Restoration of the Estado da Índia – one of the expressions used was to “restore it and found it anew”. All was summarized in six “instructions”, each with a corresponding set of “remedies”. This aim was frustrated, overall by the British and locally by the Goans, who were otherwise already restructuring, without planning and with excessive spontaneity, a new capital in Panaji. This is described in the respective entries for the cities of Goa and Panaji. But this turns our attention back to a matter which there can only be indicated (and in somewhat more detail in the entry on the Mormugao fortification), which consists of Goa’s poor suitability for the urban requirements of a capital.

Besides the growing defence difficulties, the Mandovi River silted to the point that for much of the year long-haul ships, precisely the ones with the deepest draughts, could not travel the nearly 10 kilometres separating the bar in front of Panaji from Old Goa, because the bar was closed during the monsoon months. Added to this was the unhealthy air and water, for the site was one of the most humid, hot and least windswept in the territory. Epidemics were frequent and with high mortality rates, which led to an early search for alternatives, namely toward the bar, first considering Panelim and then Ribandar, before Panaji’s emergence was boosted by construction of the Linhares causeway in the 1630s. Among those seeking such respite were archbishops and even viceroys, who built a magnificent palace in Panelim that was later converted into a military hospital but no longer exists. The principal Goan families made Ribandar a true suburb of palaces, which have left no trace. They were joined by churches, a convent and the Misericórdia Hospital.

In sum: the sultan who in the 15th century chose the site of what is now Old Goa to reinstall the territory’s capital made a bad choice, if viewed in light of standards from the Portuguese. The truth is that after the conquest the Portuguese settled there because it was equipped and served the initial purposes. The need for adjustments and improvements was obviously known and were undertaken right from the start. But the booming growth that occurred almost immediately was not foreseen, and in practice made it unviable.

The peninsula-plain on the south bank of the Zuari, Mormugao, would have been a better option. Besides its excellent exposure to sun and wind and the fact that it faced a natural port with better conditions during the whole year, it also had a feature common to most Portuguese installations in Asia and not only: it had a narrow front of contact with the mainland – fundamental for defense. Given the gradual abandonment of Old Goa and the growing security threats, the three members of the interim government council for the 1668-1671 triennium proposed to the king that a capital should be built in Mormugao, where a fort had stood since 1624 and been strengthened in the meanwhile.

The next viceroy, Luís de Mendonça Furtado e Albuquerque, Count of Lavradio (gov. 1671-1677), followed the instructions of King Pedro II and consulted the notable citizens of Goa. He then informed the king that it was impossible to build a city able to replace monumental Goa. He cited the costs of moving the sumptuous convent complexes, a decisive objection. In the year after the 1683 Maratha attack, during which people believed the end of Portuguese rule in India was nigh, Viceroy Francisco de Távora, Count of Alvor (gov. 1681-1686), took up the idea again using the same argument and began pushing for the project. Only a part of the clergy was against it, so in 1686 a proposed plan, since disappeared, was sent to the court. Before any answer came back, Francisco de Távora was recalled to Lisbon to head the Overseas Council. During his period in this office he convinced King Pedro II to back the transfer, which was ordered in 1687.

Once again the acting viceroy, Rodrigo da Costa (gov. 1686-1690), gathered the able forces of Goa to support his own position, which in this case was contrary, expressed via the request for material and human resources to resolve the matter. The ever-debilitated Senate Chamber also disagreed. Until 1712, when Francisco de Távora left office, the royal resolution was successively reconfirmed, including the demolition of buildings in Goa to reuse the materials when building the new capital. The viceroys were frequently admonished for lack of commitment, which led one of them, Caetano de Mello e Castro (gov. 1702-1707) to shift residence to Mormugao. Indeed, the only period when the project proceeded apace to a certain extent was due to his interest in the cause. But he was followed by a second mandate of Rodrigo da Costa (gov. 1707-1712) and the process ground to a halt.

The December 1707 report by the project administrator, the Jesuit Ignácio de Andrade, mentions not only infrastructures (fortifications, fountains, wells, quays) but also warehouses, dockyards, custom house, hospital, governor’s palace with cloister and chapel, and a square, providing measurements for all the above. It also mentions the streets named Nova and Flores, as well as “houses, which they call the engineer’s”. Roughly speaking this was the state of things when the known early 19th century surveys were made. They identify those constructions, arranged in no apparent rational order. There were nevertheless few practical results and without the Count of Alvor’s commitment the work was successively suspended and resumed, until Viceroy Pedro de Mascarenhas, Count of Sandomil (gov. 1732- 1740), informed the crown in 1734 of the failed attempts and the money drain the project had become. He proposed the alternative site of Panaji – a solution which only remained in suspension, as the future would reveal. That future also revealed the extent to which the choice of Mormugao was the right one. The state’s airport, port and main rail terminal are now located there; a city was therefore created in the lower region in the 1880s, Vasco da Gama.

Among many significant references provided by this episode which help understand some of the following entries, it is important here to highlight how the mythic image of Golden Goa took shape, especially after its effective replacement by Panaji and consequent ruin. The designation Rome of the Orient really was appropriate, not only because of the buildings, but fundamentally due to its capital position as the hub of Catholicism throughout Asia. Behind the magnificence of its religious buildings, much of which is still preserved (described in the following entries), is a city that was daily fading. The clergy didn’t want to go, and didn’t make a move until there was no-one left and the triumph of anticlerical liberalism expelled them. The withdrawal of the overwhelming majority of the population of the original Portuguese settlements of Daman and Diu to the native/original cities, which we accompanied in the entries for the previous region, was among other reasons due to the fact that they were uncomfortable strongholds for warlike purposes. But not the withdrawal from Goa.

Panaji almost naturally became the capital. The clergy was no longer in a condition to endow it with the monumentality of Old Goa and the Estado da Índia made it a typical colonial city, with a set of infrastructures which, barring some major adulterations and the disappearance, for instance, of the Chapel of Our Lady of Fátima and the Navigation Building, have remained amidst the chaos resulting from unforeseen development in recent decades. Many elements from the building complexes were nevertheless transferred from Old Goa and reused in Panaji.

The fact that Portuguese sovereignty was maintained until much later meant that buildings continued to be raised with new programs and facilities, essentially in the most important urban centers. Despite their scale and simplicity, they often reveal surprising architectural solutions and grammar vis-à-vis their conception and construction. Fortunately, these last material elements of the Estado da Índia’s built legacy are being recorded and studied, and agreement has been reached to share that knowledge with us. Indeed, the most recent Goa architecture of Portuguese origin has been and continues to be a poorly appreciated heritage. It suffices to say that between the date when this volume’s list of entries was defined and its submission for editorial processing, four items were demolished and thus had to be removed. A reading of the last paragraphs may lead to a mistaken impression that the urbanistic and architectural heritage of Portuguese origin in Goa is essentially urban, which isn’t true. Indeed, and as can be assessed in the following entries, most of the significant Goan heritage is rural, or rather, territorially sited. The erudition, splendor and monumentality of Old Goa’s religious buildings never overshadowed, but only inspired the architecture produced in the rest of the territory, where works sometimes appear with those registers. It is otherwise curious to see how the ambit of a vernacular architecture is relatively diminished here. This is especially interesting because it not only confirms the rural matrix with which the Estado da Índia colonized and explored the territory, but also provides an idea of the range of miscegenation in the resulting society, which became autonomous from the previous context, but also from the Portuguese and colonial one. Goa’s architecture, particularly the religious and necessarily Catholic architecture, is neither local nor Indo- Portuguese, but just Goan. This has not been recognized because it’s uncomfortable for many, the Portuguese included. Fortunately it is a subject that has been duly studied and published by specialists who worked on this volume.

It is a territorial architecture because it interferes, shaping the landscape. Goa’s landscape (here I necessarily refer to the Old Conquests area) is different from any other in India, even when the natural conditions are identical. The way of distributing territory, clearing land and setting up infrastructures for agriculture and circulation is specific. To judge by the numerous descriptions and some photographs, it is also different from what was there about a century ago, when there was much less forest coverage, namely around the defense works which meanwhile became obsolete and have been renovated and ruined by use as tourist attractions.

A fundamental technical question which marks all the region’s buildings before the coming of concrete must be mentioned here: the softness, ferrous color and simultaneously fragile and unmanageable texture of the only stone available for construction: laterite. It is a material which for preservation reasons must be coated, i.e. plastered. The Portuguese introduced techniques using lime as a binder which were previously unknown in India. This helped make the lining more effective and improved the stonework’s durability, although it required very frequent whitewashing, at least every two years, due to the inclement effects of fungi brought on by the monsoons. But the lack of a stone that could be easily wrought and would reasonably resist the area’s worst weather affected architectural expression. It is thus common to find buildings entirely plastered and whitewashed, even in parts with worked decoration. Only in projects with higher budgets was it possible to use imported stone, namely from Vasai, which could only happen after the respective inclusion in the Portuguese sovereignty areas in 1534. Even in those cases, fitted or carved ashlar was only used as a finish (cornerstones, cornices, vault ribs or keystones) and in bays.

Amid the jumble of concepts, history and stories, ideas and cases that forms whenever I try to formulate an integral image-idea regarding what comprises the built heritage of Portuguese origin or influence in Goa, i.e. Goan, I am struck by how diverse and vast yet at the same time consistent and united it is, both mutually and with the landscape and territory. I am thus compelled to make it very clear here how in many cases it was hard to decide what would merit an entry here or not. For if the criteria were the same as that used in the other sections of this volume the number of registered cases would be very much greater. An attempt to partly overcome this situation has been made by presenting a number of initial entries on programs and typologies. This was difficult due to the numerous studies and, on an Asian scale, by the number of researchers working on the architecture of Goa, making the corresponding choices an arduous task.

Lastly, one relevant note: contrary to a well-known saying, whoever has seen Goa must see Lisbon, they actually have very little in common besides their complementariness, the fact that for centuries they served as hubs of a colonial empire. Instead of making them uniform it elaborated their difference, even when there was one (Portuguese) origin for the action. This is the only way to explain something so very evident: the Goan identity.

Walter Rossa