Old Goa - Yesterday

When the Portuguese arrived in the island of Goa in 1510, it was a rich commercial city, where people from different parts of Asia converged. Goa was a natural port. All the Muslims embarked here for Jeddah on their way to Mecca. The city was adorned with many buildings such as the beautiful mosque, the majestic palace of Adil Shah, the Adil Shah's castle, etc.

With the advent of the Portuguese, the development of Goa attained its apogee; it was called Goa Dourada (Golden Goa), Rainha do Oriente (Queen of the East), Roma do Oriente (Rome of the East). Goa gave origin to the Portuguese proverb Quem viu Goa, excusa de ver Lisboa (He who has seen Goa need not see Lisbon). Besides being a commercial city, Goa was also an educational centre with many Colleges and a University; it was here that the first printing press in India was established in 1556. As we shall see later, Goa was also a centre of art. Here are some impressions of famous travelers who single it out, from the innumerous places they had visited during their adventurous voyages:

Pyrard de Laval: "Whoever has been in Goa may say that he has seen the choicest rarities of India, for it is the most famous and celebrated city, on account of its commercial intercourse with people of all nationalities of the East, who bring there the products of merchandise and other commodities in abundance because every year more than 1000 ships touch there, laden with cargo".

Talboys Wheeler: "Every morning the sun rose at Goa upon scenes which may be easily realized the sailors coolies loading or unloading in the river; the busy shopkeepers displaying their wares, the slaves bringing in the supplies of water and provisions for the day,meantime above the noise of offices and bazaars, the bells were ever ringing from the numerous Churches and monasteries, and filling the whole city with an ecclesiastical clangors".

There were many famous streets such as Rua Direita, Rua dos leiloes, (Auction Road), Rua dos ourives (Goldsmiths' Road), Rua dos Judeus (Jews' Road), and the bazaars such as Bazar graride, Bazar de S. Caetano, Bazar de Peixe; Baratilha (similar to the Bombay 'Chor Bazar') etc. There were also many colleges: St. Paul's College, College of Populo (People's College), St. Bonaventure's College etc. Many wayside crosses, chapels, hospitals and Government houses adorned the city.

The best description of Old Goa has been given by Francesco Placido Ramponi who was the artist sent by the Grand-Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III to erect the mausoleum of St. Francis Xavier. Ramponi writes: "That which filled me with admiration was the sight, every eight or ten days, of the arrival of fleets of 20 to 30 boats; one with a load of linen, another with raw or spun cotton, a third with pepper, a fourth with large quantities of drugs; these goods were being loaded and unloaded and dispersed some, to one part of India, some, to another. And the city shops! Full of merchandise. And among the streets that of "Baniani", which is very long, where on both sides one could see ships, all full of great chests, piled high with linen, turbans and coloured cloth, and cloth for Brazil, for the ships which return to Lisbon from Goa, touch at Brazil. The chests which come from Cochin are made of six planks and are about two arms high, that is to say the smaller chests are of this height; the length is from 3 to 5 arms, and the top edge of the plank is reinforced with bonds of iron. In these chests Indian cloth is kept on land, as well on the sea".

"Another thing which I saw with wonder, three days before the fleet left for Europe, was the arrival of those merchants called "Guseratti', who carry little sacks full of a collection of precious stones, of all sizes; bags of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, topaz, diacinti, cat's eyes and others; and for this sight alone, I would wish to return. The way in which the Canerini mould the real earth of red clay into jars and jugs which they call 'Gurgulettas' and other jars, for holding water, worked like fine porcelain, is curious. They give them the colour of carmine with the juice of grasses. The workmen are real artists and their method of work is quite different from ours. They spoil much ivory and ebony whilst cutting it."

"Many of the graceful things which come from China are so elegant that they grace the European cities. First and foremost there are the trinkets of porcelain of every kind, every quality, colour and size, draperies and brocades with gold leaves and other fine materials, 'contadores' that is cabinets, varnished, in different colours and scented and with locks picked out in different colours; screens about three arms high, made of strips of finest silk, and various other gallantries and merchandise. But, what is even more admirable, each year they vary their inventions in all types of work from porcelain vases to 'contadori', from the quality of draperies to linen. These Chinese come to Goa to sell their merchandise at their own price, and if they do not get it they do not sell. Their clothes are all of one piece and look odd when they move..."

But Old Goa lost its splendour when it was abandoned and the capital city was transferred to Panjim. There were many factors which accelerated the ruin of Old Goa. People were forced to abandon the city on account of its climate and an epidemic that broke out there, so that by the second quarter of the 17th century, the streets and houses were lying vacant. Besides, due to the change in naval technique the ships required deeper waters than those available at Old Goa.

The churches and other buildings collapsed giving place to palm trees. However, the picture is little different today with the advent of priests and nuns for whom some study courses are conducted in this city and the pilgrims and tourists who break the stillness of the atmosphere now and again.