For all its tourist-packed beaches and massive rave-style Christmas parties, the Indian state of Goa preserves its cultural and historical significance in Old Goa, a portal to the region’s past. Before the Portuguese takeover in 1510, Old Goa brimmed with temples, mosques and palaces, including the sprawling palace of Adil Shah, surrounded by fort walls, towers and a moat. Today the gateway to the palace is the only surviving piece of those ruins.
In an effort to convert Goa to Roman Catholicism, the Portuguese replaced the temples and mosques with churches and chapels in an architectural style resembling that of Lisbon. Life under the Portuguese boosted the city’s fortunes, at one point leading to its moniker “Rome of the Orient.” But by the end of the 16th century, the city suffered a decline as well as epidemics that decimated the population. In the 1750s, the city was torn down and the capital moved to Panaji, which visitors today use as a base to visit the old churches and other historic sites of Old Goa.
One of the main highlights in Old Goa is the Se Cathedral, with the distinction as the largest church in Asia and bigger than any church in Portugal. Featuring no less than 14 altars, the church began construction in 1562 on the orders of King Dom Sebastiao of Portugal but wasn’t completed until about 90 years later. One of its bell towers collapsed in 1776 after being struck by lightning; the remaining tower houses the Golden Bell, or Sino de Ouro, known for its dulcet tone.
Nearby lies the Chapel of St. Cajetan, modeled on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. To the west of the Se Cathedral sits the former palace of the Archbishop, connecting the Se Cathedral to the Convent and Church of St. Francis of Assisi, built in 1521.
Part of the Franciscan monastery at the back of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi now serves as an archaeological museum, housing fragments of sculpture from Hindu temple sites in Goa. Antiquities displayed in eight galleries include objects from the prehistoric and early historic period to the late medieval period, while it is also renowned for its portrait paintings of governors and viceroys, wooden sculptures, pillars and other objects from the Portuguese period in Goa.
Opposite, the Basilica of Bom Jesus contains the preserved remains of the body of Saint Francis Xavier, a revered missionary and the patron saint of Goa. The basilica is a pilgrimage site for both Christians and Hindus who come to pay homage to the remains, enshrined in a silver casket since 1553.
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