Santana da Silva Palace
Madgaon [Margão], Goa, India
The Santana da Silva Palace in Margao, with its steep scissor-truss roofs, is the last example of a typology typical of large Goan palaces and monasteries, as we can see in the drawings of Lopes Mendes or the collection of photographs by Souza and Paul in the late 19th century. But the palace has lost the seven roofs that led it to be called Sat Bunzam’ Gor in Konkani. It now has only three, which cover the body of the main façade. The grandiose nature of this palace clearly attests to the power and prominence acquired by Brahmin families in administration of the Portuguese empire from the mid-18th century on. It was ordered built in the second half of the 18th century by Ignácio Sebastião Santana da Silva, who for decades had been a high-ranking official of the secretariat of the Estado da Índia government. The family’s permanence in the house and its stability within the upper Brahmin upper nobility made this palace a singular example, not only with respect to Indo-Portuguese architecture, but also vis-à-vis the decorative arts. As for the façade treatment, it uses an old Mannerist scheme that emphasises pilasters with rhythmically alternating window-pilasters; traditional forms prevail, instituted over the centuries as typical features of Indo-Portuguese civil architecture. The verandas of the full-length windows on the main floor also follow 17th century design, as do the small support brackets, which Goan late-baroque seems distractedly to forget to give a baroque stamp. The erudite architectural programme attests to the high level of Goan architectural culture and certainly suggests the presence of an architect as project designer. The way the palace integrates Goan traditions in its interior structure and especially the customs of Brahmin families indicates that the designer had ample knowledge of Indian culture. An example of this is the way that the vasary interconnects in the interior programme, rigorously according to Brahmin traditions, or how the building is sited on a sloping terrain. For although it presents a two-floor main façade, it ends up functioning on a daily basis with only one floor, once again in the purest tradition of Indian architecture. The way the chapel is emphasised in the architectural programme, occupying the central area and establishing itself as the hub for all the interior spaces, suggests that besides being Goan, the architect would be a Jesuit priest with much experience in religious architecture. The unusual location of the chapel amid the staircases converts the landings and flights of stairs into religious space, conferring a notable monumentality on the whole, ecclesiastic and baroque, but whose rituality remains thoroughly private and endogenous. Inside the house and turned inward, the chapel is thus clearly interpreted as being a small temple devoted to the ancestors; its dedication to Saint Anne [Sant’Ana] makes this more evident, as it coincides with the owners’ name, Santana da Silva. Yet it is in the original and scenographic way the chapel’s apse is resolved by opening two back windows at 45 degrees that the designer reveals sophisticated competence. The half-moon arrangement in an open structure separated from the wall allows the altar to be bathed in light whose origin is not perceived, endowing the space with a rare chiaroscuro effect. The whole programme develops from this central core of chapel and staircases, arranged around a large inside patio. Three salons are located along the main façade. A larger salon is situated by the west façade and meets the requirements for a large space for guests to gather at important marriage ceremonies. It is also the sadery of the Hindu traditional house due its distance from the other area of salons. The long dining room is quite significant and is perpendicular to the main entrance. Its proportions and form retain the purest spirit of the Hindu vasary. Opening onto the interior patio by a sequence of windows, in the formal logic of latticed windows, the vasary acquires a freshness of Goan taste in the intimacy of the interior. The veranda located along the west façade was without a doubt latticed; here the Portuguese influence was more evident. Inside are false open ceilings with sober adornment. These ceilings allowed air to circulate by the ceiling lining, cooling the air that entered the openings below the windows while the upper ones remained closed. The stairs and some dependencies such as the vasary conserve the original ceilings, with interesting designs forming air ventilation grilles. The current paintings result from successive restorations and are far removed from the aesthetic quality of the original adornment while evoking the 18th century decorative themes and the habit of painting walls with fabric imitations. On the doorway arch and the chapel’s interior walls very aesthetic paintings can still be seen, reproducing worked fabric motifs. The interior patio still has a well used to provide water for the lords of the house. This water was used for washing and food preparation, in a kitchen rigorously separated from the servants’ one to prevent any contamination. In the 20th century the drastic reduction in the number of servants from the large numbers usual in the 18th century led to demolition of much of the palace’s services area.