Walks

THE CHURCH SQUARE WALK

This walk allows you to share the experience of living around a monumental building of gigantic religious, spiritual and physical proportions. Take your time looking at trees, houses, streetlines and a unique street life.

To the right, as you enter the Church Square, lies the town comunidade building. It has a large hall on the upper floor and chops below. Save the visit to the beautiful Alvares House for later. Instead, take a trip down memory lane and begin walking on your left. Stand back, leaning against the railing of the Holy Spirit Church to admire the first house on your left. Moulded doorways and an intricately fashioned railing elevate this Goan house into a real traffic stopper. This is a typical half-storied house, set on a high plinth with stairs leading up to a neatly placed balcao. Notice how the massive roof of this house reaches a high pitch. This is probably because here was not enough space for a large house with a sprawling roof on a plot this size and the owners have compensated by pitching the roof to an impressive mass.

Make a note of the moulded doorway and floral patterns on the columns. It might be interesting to know that Goan houses compensated for simple doorways by decorating doorheads. The reason for having rather simple doors was that doors in the Goa of the past were almost always kept open during the day! This meant that if you had an elaborately carved door, it was less likely to be seen and appreciated. An elaborately decorated doorhead, on the other hand, could be admired even from the street! Perforations on the patterns over the windows added to the general decorative elements and also allowed light and air to come in. Now look towards your right and admire the great Cross set on a stone pedestal in the middle of the Church Square. Dr. Carmo Azavedo, Goa historian, says that the name Margao actually comes from mal ganv or main village. It could also, he says, come from Mahar ganv or the village of Mahars. The Church has been erected on the site of an ancient Hindu temple named the Damodar Mahaji Temple. The original structure was pulled down and the first Mass celebrated here in 1565. Invading Muslims from Bijapur burned down that church and another structure replaced it in 1589. The new church was refurbished in 1604. This church, “all vaulted and very bright and pleasant, the biggest and most beautiful of Salcete and capable of competing materially with the good ones of Europe” is said to have been decorated and refurbished over ten years from 1665-75. The architect was a Jesuit named Francisco Aranha, a man responsible for the building of several churches in Salcete who died as a martyr in Cuncolini. The Church has a beautiful Christian art treasure, a monstrance from Toledo, a gift from Castille, as also several exquisite pieces of silver and gold chalices, ciboria, etc. as well as embroidered vestments in typical Indo-Portuguese styles.

Margao could also be the colonised version of a temple town named Mudgaon, a corruption of the Sanskrit Mathagram or temple town. Even today, locals refer to the town by its old name. It is quite possible to conclude that the Cross has been erected at the site of the ancient tulsi vrindavan that symbolically served the temple.

The Church is surrounded by several houses which exist in a harmonious cluster. The one or two modern interventions that have been allowed, do not take away from the general charm of this historic precinct. Take a look at the Holy Spirit Nursing Home and its unusually slim cast iron railings on the upper floor. Larlson Traders by the side of the church has a beautiful timber awning over the roof on the balcao. Walk past the rather nondescript cluster, past Birbal the astrologer’s house on the right and head straight up to the gorgeous house named SANA. Admire the basket-handle design on the railings of this house, creatively crafted tracery over the doors and windows and its exquisitely crafted turned-timber stairway in cyma recta. A high-pitched roof the balcao supports a finial in clay. Instead of the proverbial rooter, here the finial is in the form of a pigeon, perhaps in tribute to Goa’s changing urban landscape. This is the time to slow down your walking pace. Admire the cast iron railings and stucco mouldings over doorways on the house next to SANA.

Now look at Correia House with its extraordinary decorative elements in stone and stucco plaster. Take your time to observe and appreciate this house. Floral medallions decorate the railings and the fluted columns that support the balcao roof have been picked out in gray, yellow and white. Decorative eaves shelter the house from the harsh noonday sun while ornamented brackets support the roof. This is quite a special house and would be able to hold its own amidst the 6000 odd heritage properties in the state. Turn the corner towards your left to see one of the largest and most impressive houses in Margao. This is the house that was once known as the house with seven gables. Today, only three of those imposing roofs remain but the house has lost little of its original splendour. Now look at the Fernandes House next door, also called The Heritage Hall, before you cross this busy street and step into the pride and joy of the city. You are now facing the West. The Church of the Holy Spirit School are to your right. The houses to your left were once the homes of Brahmins in the service of the temple complex. Take a long and leisurely look at the Vidya Vikas Academy (Annexe) Pre-Primary Section and also House No. 28, Agostinho Vincente Lourenco Road. This is a spectacular house located next to the last house on the left as the Church disappears from sight. Now instead of going up to the Presentation Convent, which is a sad bundle of Indian Art Deco and kitsch, take a right turn and end this walk at the gorgeous Alvares House, a fine example of 18th century Goan architecture.