Arch of The Viceroys

Arch of The Viceroys

Goa [Velha Goa/Old Goa], Goa, India

Equipment and Infrastructures

Since antiquity the most distinct way to pay homage to a visitor is to provide for a ceremonial entrance, marked in most cases by the symbolic high point of passing through a gateway, passage or (usually) an arch. Other symbolic distinctions also play a part here, such as being granted keys to the city or a diploma or medal attesting to honorary citizenship. The endless list of ceremonial entryways is embellished by ephemeral arches put up for such purposes; many were later redone in stone to thus perpetuate and immortalise the respective act and homage. In most cases homage was also paid to glorify those who produced them, for the respective name(s) is/are inevitably associated to that/those distinct and thereby also immortalised figure(s).
This largely explains the iconographic and architectural arrangement of Goa’s Arch of the Viceroys, dominated by the figure of Vasco da Gama. Located at the Quay or Fortress Gate of Goa’s wall, it marked the passage between the Terreiro do Paço, Terreiro dos Vice-Reis and the Rua Direita [courtyards of the Palace and of the Viceroys, and the high street]. The initiative is at least formally due to a great-grandson of that famous figure, Francisco da Gama, a controversial viceroy of Portuguese India during the periods 1597-1600 and 1622-28. The first centennial of the Portuguese fleet that sailed from Lisbon in 1497, crossing into the Indian Ocean to reach India in 1498, was then being celebrated. The Arch of the Viceroys thus results from the first commemoration of the maritime feat captained by Vasco da Gama; it is interesting that this is not indicated in the name. Curiously, it dates to the same year that a decision was made to create in Goa a Torre do Tombo archive, i.e. another repository of memories.
The process is known in some detail. There are a number of documents, the description by Diogo do Couto in his Obras inéditas... and the evocative ceremony and inauguration on Christmas day in 1597, in which he played an active role. Note that Vasco da Gama died in Kochi on Christmas day in 1524. The decision for the honorific representation at the Quay Gate was endorsed by the Council Senate and the project given to the chief engineer Júlio Simão. But it may have corresponded to a desire of King Filipe II, who against the wishes of the governors of Portugal in Madrid had decided to appoint the young viceroy the previous year and (if this was the case) given him that task before his departure. The new viceroy made his ceremonial entrance in the city on 1 June 1597, according to Diogo do Couto as a form of celebration: “the month of June in which the Count Admiral took office in India marked one hundred years since his great grandfather discovered it.”
Note that the plan’s designer and project director, Júlio Simão, travelled to India aboard the fleet of Francisco da Gama; this would therefore be one of the first projects he undertook in his new position. The construction work will have lasted about half a year and also had a monumental effect on the Palace of the Viceroys or of the Fortress. Indeed, four decades beforehand, the one time castle renovated by order of Afonso de Albuquerque in the 1510s had been converted into a palatial structure without shedding its military countenance. It developed organically from house to house, scissor-truss roof to scissor-truss roof. In the process a ceremonial hall was arranged to have full-length windows opening onto a veranda over the gate; the veranda could also be reached by a staircase rising directly from the courtyard, just west of the wall gate. These stairs were almost exclusively used for ceremonial entrances, whose high point was the ceremony in the aforementioned hall. They were artfully joined, almost in continuity, to the Quay of the Viceroys. An open staircase also gave access to the same space from the inside, in the Courtyard of the Viceroys, next to the arch and attached to the chapel.
All this leads us to a curious and paradoxical statement: the arch, undoubtedly of the triumphal type, was not passed through during ceremonial entrances, namely by viceroys. It was a celebratory installation on the model of the classical triumphal arches, but was not used as such; its current designation does not indicate the object of that celebration. On the other hand, the fact that it was part of a much larger palatial complex, precisely at the point where it joined with the old wall, affected its design to the point that it is barely expressed on the north exterior of the entrance, while on the interior that expression was kept to a minimum. It happens that the classical triumphal arch type tends to be symmetrical between the sides.
The Arch of the Viceroys had a fleeting antecedent in the filling of a rhombus purposely set in the wall next to the Riverside Gate in front of Saint Martin’s. It was ordered by Viceroy João de Castro in 1546 to celebrate his own ceremonial entrance after achieving victory in Diu. The criticism of this act may explain why it was forgotten and not eventually built in stone. But the classical reference remained, hypothetically inspired by the new arch design in Sebastiano Serlio’s Book IV, published in Venice in 1540. Note the use of a rustic Doric, whereby the lining of the arch proper was done in smooth ashlars and pilasters instead of columns; it is surmounted by an essentially decorative pediment like structure with a niche that housed a near life-size statue of Vasco da Gama.
On the Doric frieze the metopes were alternately adorned with the Manueline armillary sphere and deer from the family arms of the da Gamas. A surface there must have originally borne the bronze inscription now inside the arch, which reads “DURING THE REIGN OF KING FILIPE I THE CITY PLACED HERE DOM VASCO DA GAMA, 1st COUNT ADMIRAL DISCOVERER AND CONQUEROR OF INDIA, BEING THE VICEROY COUNT DOM FRANCISCO DA GAMA HIS GREAT-GRANDSON IN THE YEAR 97”, followed by the signature indication “IVLIVS SIMON ING. MAG. INV.” Another much longer stone inscription is also found in the arch, in a cartouche of clear Flemish inspiration.
The esteem for the da Gama name was expressly and anonymously contested. Indeed, the statue was surreptitiously destroyed several days before the end of Francisco da Gama’s mandate as viceroy and corresponding departure in late 1600. The empty niche ended up housing an image of Saint Catharine. But the general population clamoured for an image of the admiral to again occupy the niche. This gave rise to a surprising and Solomonic decision by the Council Senate on 6 December 1606, whereby a niche was added above the original. Saint Catharine’s statue was moved there and a new Vasco da Gama statue placed in its original post. The solution was obviously of less aesthetic quality.
This sheds light on why the arch celebrating the great feat led by Vasco da Gama was never named after him. This is just one more paradox added to the fact that it was not really a triumphal arch nor was it used as one, but rather a way to make use of a wall gate otherwise of Islamic origin. But the story doesn’t end there.
Like most of the city’s buildings, including the palace itself and the wall, the gate eventually collapsed, more precisely in 1951. Baltazar de Castro, an engineer from the Directorate-General of National Monuments and Buildings, provided for and planned for it to be rebuilt from 1952 to 1954 according to the doctrine then practiced: return to the original purity. The gate was thus redone, now finally as a triumphal arch, with only one niche above and Saint Catharine’s image now placed over the arch on the inside, on a shelf that never existed before. Of course, the disappearance of the palace and wall made it necessary to build an aedicula to house the niche, a structure that now stands out against a palm grove and not the whitewashed plaster of the palace. Perhaps it better meets the original aims of the work inaugurated back on Christmas day in 1597.

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