PORTUGAL’S GOA DORADO (“Golden Goa”) was once a vast city, inhabited by more than 30,000 people. In the 16th century, it attracted missionaries and soldiers, merchants and horse-traders, and its elegant palaces and mansions were much praised by contemporary visitors. However, by the mid-18th century, a series of epidemics and the silting up of the Mandovi river forced the viceroy to move his residence downstream to Panaji. Thereafter, decline set in and, by the 19th century, the city was finally abandoned and its houses demolished. Today, Old Goa is a mere shadow of its former self, but the few churches and cathedrals that remain are considered to be among Goa’s most significant monuments.


In the 17th century, Pope Urban III sent Italian priests from the Theatine Order to Golconda. Whe refused entry, they settled in Old Goa. Here, in 1651, they erected a church dedicated to their founder, St Cajetan, and designed along the lines of St Peter’ in Rome. The distinctive dome and interior, laid out in the shape of a Greek cross, embody the majesty of Italian Baroque. The adjacent monastery is today a college of theology.


 When ordered by the government in Portugal to build a church worthy of their mighty empire, Francis Coutinho (viceroy, 1561-4) envisaged a magnificent cathedral that would he the largest in Asia. The result is the Renaissancestyle Se Cathedral, designed in the 16th century by Julio Simao and Ambrosio Argueiro, and built over 80 years. Its 30-m (98-ft) high Tuscan-style façade was flanked by two square bell towers, only one of which survives. In it hangs the Golden Bell, known for its melodic tones, which rang out during the dreaded auto da fa trials, held in the cathedral’s front square. The interior, with intricate Corinthian detailing, has a 76-m (249-ft) long central nave. As many as 15 altars grace the interior, but the piece de resistance is the gilded high altar, dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, with panel paintings depicting scenes from her life.Two of the eight chapels, the Blessed Sacrament and the Cross of Miracles, have delicate filigree work on their screens. The font, used by St Francis Xavier to baptize converts, is near the entrance. The sacred relics of his body, kept in the Basilica de Bom Jesus are brought to the cathedral during the expositions held every ten years.


 Once Goa’s largest monastery, the Convent of St Francis of Assisi (built in 1517) now houses the Archaeological Museum, established in 1964. A huge bronze statue of Alfonso de Albuquerque, moved from Panaji, dominates the entrance hall. Among the objects of interest are a finely carved image of Vishnu and a Surya statue, dating to the Kadamba period (11th-12th centuries), ad stone inscriptions in Marathi and Persian, relics of earlier ruling dynasties. Other exhibits include Hindu sati stones, a model of Sao Gabriel (the ship in which Vasco dad Gama sailed to India In 1498), and a bronze statue of St Catherine in the courtyard. The Portrait Gallery on the first floor has 60 paintings of Goa’s viceroys and governors.


 W of Se Cathedral. Q daily Built by the Franciscan friars In 1521, and rebuilt in 1661, this church has a beautifully curved doorway (taken from the original building). This is p rare example of the Portuguese Manueline style, which uses many nautical motifs, and was developed during the reign of King Dons Manuel (r.1469-1521). A pair of navigator’s globes and a Greek cross (the emblem of all Portuguese ships) embellish the door. The superb Baroque interior has floral frescoes on the walls and ceiling, and the floor is paved with the sculpted tombstones of Portuguese nobility. The gilded altar has figures of St Francis and Christ. Other noteworthy features are the pulpit, which is carved in floral designs and the painted panels in the chancel, which depict various scenes from the saint’s life.


 Holy Hill. Once the largest church in India, with a grand fivestoreyed facade, St Augustine’s now lies in ruins. Erected by the Augustinian order in 1512, the Gothic-style church was abandoned in 1835, and its roof caved in seven years later. Excavations begun in 1989 revealed eight chapels, four altars, wall sculptures and more than 100 splendid granite tombstones. According to contemporary descriptions, the church also had grand staircases and galleries, and a library that rivalled the one at Oxford (England), in the 17th century. Today, all that remains of St Augustine’s is its soaring bell towe.


 With its castle-like turrets and simple altar painted with baskets of flowers, this is one of Goa’s earliest Manueline-style churches. The tomb of Dona Catarina, wife of Garcia de sa (viceroy from 1548-9) and the first Portuguese woman to migrate to Goa, also lies here.


A few buildings of interest lie in Old Goa’s southeastern corner. Marking the end of the Rua Direita, Old Goa’s main street, is a desolate basalt pillar on a raised platform, the remains of the terrible Pillory. Criminals and heretics were strung up here as punishment, in the centre of the city square. Close by, on the road to Ponda, lies the College of St Paul. Founded by the Jesuits in 1541, it had 3,000 students, making it the largest Jesuit school in Asia. It also housed Asia’s first printing press. St Francis Xavier stayed and preached here; the chapel further up the road was also used by him, and was later dedicated to his memory.

The Church of Our Lady of the Mount, built in 1510, sits on top of a hill and is reached by a lane that leads off the Cumbarjua Road. Built by Alfonso de Albuquerque after his victory over Yusuf Adil Shah, the church has recently been restored. The views over Old Goa’s towers and turrets are magnificent.

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