Goa, Colonial City of

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Goa, Colonial City of

The colonial port city of Goa corresponds to present-day Velha Goa (Old Goa), located on the left bank of the river Mandovi in the Tiswadi Taluka district of the Indian state known as Goa. Situated about 400 kilometers (249 miles) south of Bombay, the city of Goa was formerly the capital of Portuguese India, whose limits extended from the Cape of Good Hope to Japan. Though the fabulous wealth of this city once earned for it the epithet Golden Goa, and its elegant and magnificent ecclesiastical institutions made it worthy of being called Rome of the East, for centuries it has been a city in ruins.

When Afonso d'Albuquerque (ca. 1460–1515) conquered Goa in 1510, the city was known as Ela. Ela's prosperity before the arrival of the Portuguese depended largely upon wealth from trade in horses brought from Arabia to meet the war needs of India's Vijayanagara kingdom. With the increase in trade, diverse merchant groups left Gopakapattanam (present-day Goa Velha), located on the banks of the Zuari River, and settled down in Ela by the mid-fourteenth century, leading to its emergence as an important port city in south Konkan. Eventually the city passed from the domain of the Vijayanagara rulers to the control of Muslim rulers, first into the hands of the Bahmani sultans in 1471 and then into the hands of the Bijapuri ruler Yusuf Adil Shah (d. 1510) in 1498. From this port city alone the Bijapuri ruler earned one million pardaos (a type of Portuguese coin) annually in the first decade of the sixteenth century.

Goa was under the control of Yusuf Adil Shah when the Portuguese conquered the city on February 17, 1510. The Portuguese conquerors benefited from the help of many who wanted to reestablish Vijayanagara rule over the territory, including such personalities as the Hindu chief Thimmaya. The conditions prevailing in Goa favored an invasion. Yusuf Adil Shah was busy fighting the king of Vijayanagara, Narasimha (r. 1505–1509) in order to consolidate his recent conquest, and he had entrusted the governance of Goa to Yusuf Gurgi, who with his Turkish soldiers was mistreating the local population. This mistreatment antagonized the locals, who welcomed the invading Portuguese.


By taking control of Goa, the Portuguese hoped to establish their grip over Asian trade through the implementation and furtherance of their commercial policies. Thimayya was appointed by Afonso d'Albuquerque to the post of chief thanadar (captain) of all of Goa's people on the condition that Thimayya would pay 60,000 gold pardaos annually to the government. Albuquerque also established a mint and struck new gold, silver, and copper coins worth 480, 40.5, and 2.25 reals respectively.

The Portuguese were forced to retreat from Goa when the Bijapuri ruler, Yusuf Adil Shah, laid siege to the city on May 23, 1510. The Portuguese reconquered Goa on November 25, 1510, the feast day of Saint Catherine.

Until 1543, Goa did not have significant hinterlands, with the exception of the chain of islands that surrounds the city. However, Afonso d'Albuquerque favored Goa to Cochin for a Portuguese base in India because the latter was too close to territory controlled by the zamorin (ruler) of Calicut, the main enemy of the Portuguese. The Portuguese chose to base their operations in Goa primarily because it remained outside of the range of the zamorin's recurring attacks. Goa was also equidistant from the Indian states of Kerala and Gujarat, a position that enabled the Portuguese to disrupt the trade of both regions. Moreover, Goa provided the Portuguese with an advantageous position from which they could block the flow of commodities to the ports of the Red Sea.

Afonso d'Albuquerque embellished the city with new edifices, including a chapel in honor of Saint Catherine and an adjacent hospital. He transformed Goa's old Palace of the Sabaio into the governor's palace, formed a municipal government on the model of Lisbon, and retained the region's prevailing system of agricultural communities (the communidade system). The mint for coining Portuguese money was reestablished, and marriages between Portuguese men and indigenous women were fostered. In 1517 the first Franciscan monastery was set up in Goa with nine members; in 1583 it became the seat of the Franciscan province of Saint Thomas of the East Indies.

Meanwhile, Goa's population had reached two thousand, and the number of public and private edifices in Goa increased so much that during the tenure of Lope Soares de Albergaria (1515–1519) land for new construction became scarce. As a result, the limits of the city were extended by filling a large trench encircling the city wall, and new buildings were erected.

In 1530 the capital of the Portuguese seaborne empire was transferred from Cochin to Goa. The entire empire, with Goa as the metropolitan capital, was subject to the Portuguese viceroy (or governor), whose residence was in the city of Old Goa till 1696, when it was relocated to Panelim, a suburb of Goa, following epidemics in the city. Under the supervision of the viceroy were five governors, who ruled over Mozambique, Malacca, Ormuz, Muscat, and Ceylon. They were supported by captains of fortresses, with civil and military authority. The viceroy's tenure was generally limited to three years, but his powers were almost absolute and extended to all branches of the administration

In 1534 Goa was elevated to the status of an Episcopal see (the seat of a diocese), and Bishop João d'Albuquerque (1478–1553) took charge of the Goa cathedral and diocese in 1538. Previously, the ecclesiastical administration of Goa was run by the Funchal diocese, from whence vicar generals were sent periodically to attend to the people's spiritual needs. The last vicar general was Father Miguel Vaz, who continued to work in Goa in the 1540s, even after the establishment of the bishopric and the arrival of the first bishop. The jurisdiction of the diocese of Goa extended from the Cape of Good Hope to the extreme east.


In 1543 Viceroy Martim Afonso (ca. 1500–1564) obtained from Adil Shah the perpetual donation of Salcete and Bardez to the Portuguese Crown. Salcete and Bardez were two agriculturally important territories adjacent to Goa. The possession of these provinces gave the Portuguese access to wealth from agricultural production. A portion of this wealth and a sizeable share of the trade surplus accrued from intra-Asian trade carried out by Portuguese casado traders were used to beautify the city of Goa and to build churches and civic structures. By 1548, there were fourteen churches and chapels in the city and surrounding area, most of them built after 1540.

The first group of Jesuits reached Goa under the leadership of Francis Xavier (1506–1552) on May 6, 1542. For about ten years, Xavier undertook a long chain of travels preaching the gospel mostly in the peripheral areas of the empire and in places outside of Portuguese control. The initial base of the Jesuits in the city of Goa was the seminary of Santa Fé, which later became the famed College of Saint Paul, where native boys were trained to become priests, interpreters, catechists, and missionaries. The Jesuits were responsible for evangelizing the newly obtained territory of Salcete, while the Franciscans were responsible for Bardez; both orders attempted to erase the remnants of Hinduism in these areas.

These religious institutions also provided the platforms for the introduction of European cultural elements into Goa. In 1553 the Jesuits brought the first printing press to the city, and its first leaflet, the Conclusões publicas, and first book, a catechism by Xavier (1557), were printed at the College of Saint Paul. In 1553 the body of Xavier, who had died on the island of Sancian off the coast of China on December 3, 1552, was brought to Goa, where it remains the focus of religious devotion even today.

In 1557 Goa's ecclesiastical status was raised to archdiocese, with Cochin and Malacca as subordinates. With this move, Goa's cathedral, which was the only parochial church in the city until 1542, became the archiepiscopal metropolitan church in India. Church-centered urban growth had already evolved in Goa by this time. The Dominicans started building a monastery in 1550, completed in 1564, at the foot of a hillock named Monte. This structure became the headquarters of the Dominicans in the East. The Augustinians, who came to Goa in 1572, founded their monastery on Holy Hill and erected a Renaissance-style church called Our Lady of Grace. Adjacent to it was the Convent of Santa Monica, built by Dom Alexis de Menezes in 1606 as the only convent for women in the East.

Most of Goa's churches, monasteries, and civic structures were built between 1570 and 1600, a period when trade was liberalized by the Portuguese king Sebastian (1554–1578). The Indo-European trade, which until then was conducted from Goa as a royal monopoly, was handed over on a contract basis to German, Italian, and Portuguese private traders. Gabriel Holzschuher representing Konrad Rott of Augsburg (1579–1585), Ferdinand Cron representing the Fuggers and the Welsers of Germany (1586–1592), Filippo Sassetti representing Giovanni Rovallesca of Milan (1580–1592), and the Ximenes brothers representing the New Christian Portuguese traders of Lisbon (1592–1598) were the principal commercial agents who organized Indo-European trade to and from Goa between 1570 and 1600.

Following this development, the intra-Asian trade passed into the hands of casados, who established their own commercial networks for commodity movement in the Indian Ocean with a base in Goa. The increase in Goa's private trade is also attested by the dramatic changes in the rate of customs (taxes on imports and exports) in Goa between 1540 and 1600. Collection of duties on spices in the 1540s amounted to 1350 pardaos; by the 1590s the duty on spices added up to 7755 Portuguese xerafins (a type of coin), suggesting a more than 500 percent increase in the private trade in spices in Goa during this period. Meanwhile, food grains brought in 2,500 pardaos in the 1540s, and 11,630 xerafins in the 1590s, indicating a more than 450 percent increase in the rice trade of Goa.

During the period of contract trade, when there was a favorable commercial atmosphere for private enterprise, a sizeable number of merchant capitalists from the Portuguese casados and the private traders began to emerge. This period also corresponds with increasing attempts by Portuguese private traders to build churches and elegant living quarters. A considerable share of the trade surplus from the casados and the wealth of the fidalgos (noblemen) was diverted for construction projects in Old Goa. The main structures built with this financing were the monastic houses of the Dominicans and the Augustinians, as well as Bom Jesus Basilica, Se Cathedral, and the College of Saint Paul. New epithets like "Rome of the East" were applied to Goa to give legitimacy to this building process and to mobilize support for it.

The hilly slopes of Old Goa were crowned with elegant edifices, and the ground below was dotted with magnificent palatial buildings and private houses surrounded by gardens and orchards. According to Pedro Barreto de Resende, there were 3,500 Portuguese houses in the city of Goa; 800 of them were made of stone and lime. Goa's Portuguese houses had beautiful windows and balconies, were covered with tiles, and featured alluring frontages that bordered the street with beautiful symmetry. Goa's population at the beginning of the seventeenth century was about 225,000. The most beautiful street in the city was Rua Direita (Straight Road), which was lined on both sides by lapidaries, goldsmiths, the homes of the wealthy, and the better merchants and craftsmen. Each class of artisans and traders resided together in Goa's localities.

The city of Goa extended hospitality to such eminent personalities as the Portuguese writer Luis Vaz de Camões (1524–1580), author of The Lusíads; Garcia da Orta (ca. 1500–1568), whose book Colloquios dos simples e drogas da India was published from Goa in 1563; and the Dutch traveler and historian Jan Huygen van Linschoten (1563–1611), who as the private secretary of the archbishop of Goa remained in the city from September 1583 to November 1588 and passed on information to the Dutch about the maritime route to the East through his work Itinerario.

In 1597 Goa's aldermen hung a portrait of Vasco da Gama in the sessions hall of the Camara de Goa or city council of Goa and later built an arch over the gate through which people entered the city. A large marble statue of Gama was placed on top of the arch. Around 1598 an official archives was established in Goa with the name Torre do Tombo (Tower of the Cartulary), and Diogo do Couto was appointed as its chief custodian.


The seventeenth century presented a series of problems for Goa, the most serious being recurring Dutch attacks on the navigational lines of Goa's casado traders and the frequent epidemics resulting from water contamination. In 1603 the Dutch, having been expelled from Amboina, blockaded Goa for the first time but were compelled to raise the siege a month later. Though the Twelve Years Truce of Antwerp (1609–1621) provided interim relief, Goa was blockaded again by the English and Dutch for two months in 1623. Against this backdrop, in 1629 the new viceroy, Miguel de Noronha (1629–1635), count of Linhares, fortified Goa and Bardez and commenced work across the salt marshes on the long Panjim-Ribandar Bridge, often called the Ponte de Linhares.

To revive the Europe-oriented trade of Goa, the Portuguese authorities established in 1628 the Portuguese India Company with headquarters in Goa and a branch in Cochin on the model of other European commercial companies. However, this company was liquidated in 1634 after a great deal of money was wasted on the duplicated arrangements made for the company. The various ranks and grades of Portuguese officials instituted earlier for looking after trade and political affairs continued to exist, even after the appointment of separate officials for attending to the administrative and routine affairs of the Company, which led to duplication of arrangements. Moreover, the company had to make separate arrangements for transportation of commodities, which meant additional shipping expenses besides the normal ones involved in the routine navigational activities of the crown. The major portion of the extra expenses were to be paid by the crown, who promoted the idea of the company. On realizing this fact the crown liquidated the company.

During this period, new religious structures were also built in Goa, by the Carmelites in 1630, the Theatines in 1640, and the Oratorians in 1683. Joseph Vaz (1651–1711), a priest born near Goa in Sancoale, joined the Oratorians in 1685 and is now regarded as the patron saint of Sri Lanka because of his evangelization work there.

In 1639 a serious epidemic struck Goa, laying low Viceroy Pedro da Silva himself. Things became worse with the repeated Dutch attacks on the city from 1637 to 1643. Trade to and from Goa declined drastically, and the loss of the Portuguese possessions of Coromandel and Malabar to the Dutch by 1663 deprived Goa of access to aid in times of emergency. This problem became acute when the Marathas from west-central India began attacking Goa in 1668. This attack by Shivaji (1630–1680), a Maratha prince, followed by an attack of Shambaji, the Maratha leader who succeeded Shivaji and controlled the affairs of Konkan and Maratha territory, in 1683, convinced the Portuguese authorities of the weakness of Goa's defense system.

In order to avoid further Maratha invasions and to escape from the frequent outbreak of epidemics, Viceroy Francisco de Tavora (1681–1686) decided to transfer the capital to Mormugao, which only hastened the decline of the city of Goa. Many wealthy families had already moved to the suburbs and to such cities as Batim (Guadalupe), San Lourenco, Naroa, and Chorao. The private edifices that had adorned Goa began to crumble. In 1693 Viceroy Pedro Antonio de Noronha (1661–1731) arrived in India with an order to expedite the Mormugao works and even move the ecclesiastical and civil offices from the city of Goa to the new capital. But he found it difficult to execute the order, and located his own residence in Panelim. The archbishop of Goa and most of the nobility followed his example.

Until the first decade of the eighteenth century, repeated orders were issued from Portugal to demolish the public structures of the old city of Goa and use the material to construct new structures in Mormugao, where the viceroy was directed to move his residence. Under various pretexts, however, the viceroy did not move. At this stage the state set aside 160,000 xerafins for the purpose of constructing a new capital in Mormugao. The capture of Bassein by the Marathas in 1739 had a major impact on the many personalities and institutions of the city of Goa, including the Convent of Santa Monica, that had direct and indirect involvement in the trade of Bassein. These developments drained the remaining economic vitality from the city of Goa.


By 1750 the city of Goa had entered a phase of deurbanization due to the mass exodus of people and the decline in trade. The city lost its privileged position as the seat of political and ecclesiastical life in Portuguese India. Portuguese authorities tried to compensate for the loss incurred by the decline in trade by occupying additional cultivable space, which led to the conquest of new territories.

This effort began with the conquest of Ponda from the Marathas in 1763, followed by the occupation in 1764 of Sanguem, Quepem, and Canacona from the rulers of Sonda, who had sought asylum from the Portuguese at the time of the invasion of the Mysorean ruler Hyder Ali (1722–1782). Pernem, Sattari, and Bicholim were captured from the Bhonsles of Sawantwadi between 1781 and 1788. These newly acquired territories later came to be called the New Conquests, while the earlier possessions (Tiswadi, Bardez, and Salcete) were known as the Old Conquests. The New Conquests were twice the size of the Old Conquests and were chiefly Hindu, whereas the populations of the Old Conquests were predominantly Christian.

In the Old Conquests, the traditional system of gauncaria or communidade, which implied communitarian ownership of land, was continued with necessary modifications to suit Portuguese colonial designs. Communidade formed the principal rural institution around which the society and economy of Goa revolved. According to this system, proprietorship rested with the descendants or representatives of those by whom the village was, at some remote period, conquered or reclaimed from waste. About 12 percent of the land of Goa was under the possession of various communidades. Control of the village land, village economy, and village socioreligious life rested with the communidades.

The New Conquests, in contrast, maintained a system of dessaidos, whereby feudatory chiefs were allowed possession of individual property along with the duty to collect taxes, imposts, and other contributions. This system paved the way for the dilution of the communidade system and the emergence of private landownership in the New Conquests. The dessais, or feudal chiefs, controlled about 2,650 hectares (about 10.23 square miles) of land in this region. They raised annual revenues of about 110,000 xerafins during the nineteenth century. Between 1750 and 1800, a significant portion of the wasteland and low-lying areas of Goa were reclaimed and converted into cultivable land. A department of agriculture was established (1776–1834) to bolster agricultural production. Though the department tried to introduce new cash crops in Goa and bring more areas under cultivation with a view to solving the region's cereal deficit, success was only partial. These efforts in no way helped to infuse vitality into the old city of Goa, which the authorities in Panelim had completely forsaken.

Meanwhile, the Society of Jesus was expelled from Portugal and its colonies, including Goa, in 1759 by the Marquês de Pombal (1699–1782). The Jesuits were expelled from Portugal and its colonies as they formed a strong lobby interfering even in the administrative affairs of the State in their capacity as "Confessors" (hearers of Confession) to the ruler. The Jesuit houses in the city of Old Goa were converted into military storehouses and were thereafter little attended to, a development that sped up the process of decay in the city. However, the landed estates of the Jesuits were distributed among private proprietors and enterprising people, which increased the number of private holdings in the Old Conquests. After the expulsion of the Jesuits, the practice started of publicly exhibiting the body of Saint Francis Xavier periodically in the city of Old Goa, at first primarily to demonstrate to the Goan people that the Jesuits had not taken the body of the saint out of Goa.

Between 1760 and 1850 Goa's trade was revived by private traders, who developed larger mercantile networks for long-distance commodity movement to Macao, Mozambique, Bahia, and Lisbon. The wealth accumulated from this trade went largely into the making of the city of Panjim, which soon became the new capital of the Estado da India. In 1835 the senate chambers were moved to Panjim, and by 1843 the transfer of governmental institutions to the new city was more or less complete.

Meanwhile, the city of Old Goa was neglected and increasingly falling into ruin. The roof of the viceroy's palace collapsed in 1812, and the remainder of the palace was demolished in 1830. The final blow to Goa's remaining urban institutions came in 1835, when all the Portuguese religious orders were suppressed and their property confiscated following the establishment of a constitutional liberal government in Portugal under Queen Maria II (1819–1853). With this move, members of Goa's religious orders were forced into exile and the monasteries, as well as the religious houses of Old Goa, became lifeless buildings. These structures were left unattended for ninety-one years, when some of them were reintroduced in 1926 by António Salazar (1889–1970), who later became prime minister of Portugal.

The gap of ninety-one years without maintenance and care was enough to erase many structures altogether from Old Goa. Both churches and civic structures started collapsing, one after another. Some were even demolished on the orders of the viceroy. In 1829 the building that housed the Jesuit College of Saint Paul was destroyed by the government. The Church of Saint Thomas was demolished in 1831. Similarly, the Dominican monastery in Old Goa was destroyed in 1841 on the order of Governor Lopes de Lima. The vault of the Augustinian monastery and the church attached to it collapsed in 1842. The Augustinian college in the old city of Goa was demolished in 1846.

Another impact of the suppression of religious orders was that the New Conquests, which the Portuguese had obtained in the second half of the eighteenth century, remained primarily Hindu, a development that emerged out of the paucity of missionaries and religious people to do evangelization work there. This situation eventually led to a cultural demarcation on the basis of religion between the Old Conquests (predominantly Christian) and the New Conquests (predominantly Hindu).

The constitutional liberal government established in Portugal under Maria II appointed for the first time a Goan, Bernardo Peres da Silva, to be prefect of Goa, a post equivalent to the office of the governor, in 1834. But soon he had to step down because the Portuguese army officers rebelled, as they did not want to serve under a Goan. The general economic condition of Goa also started to deteriorate, particularly after the 1840s. Trade declined drastically. With outdated technology and antiquated methods of production, a major share of the cultivable land was underutilized and the returns from the agricultural sector dropped sharply. The price of essential commodities, including food, increased three- to fourfold, while wage increases were minimal.

All these problems prompted Goans to emigrate to such places as Mozambique, Karachi, Bombay, Madras, and Calcutta. The railway line constructed by the English to connect Mormugao with Bombay in 1881 as a follow-up action of the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty of 1878 was the major carrier of Goan emigrants to British India. By 1910, more than 63,000 Goans had emigrated to the various cities of British India in search of jobs. The annual value of remittances dispatched by Goan emigrants from around the world from 1905 and 1914 amounted to 1,253,318 reis.

Meanwhile, the exodus of working-class Goans to the cities of British India and East Africa created a dearth of able-bodied people to work on farms and rice fields in Goa. Consequently, there was a rise in wages and a decrease in production, followed by an increase in the importation of food materials. Eventually Goa, which was initially sustained by commerce and later by agriculture, had to rely increasingly on foreign remittances to balance the rising foreign deficit caused by the import of cereals.

Salazar's totalitarian regime, characterized by a reign of terror and poor economic growth, coupled with inspiration from the independence movement in British India, generated among the Goans a strong desire to free Goa from the yoke of foreign dominance. However, Salazar viewed Goa as an integral part of Portugal, as a result of which he refused to hand it over to India, even after the British granted freedom to India. When diplomacy failed to resolve these issues, the Indian army entered Goa and "liberated" it from the Portuguese in 1961, incurring as few causalities as possible.

This incident strained for some time the relationship between Portugal and India. However, Goa benefited from its integration into India, initially as a union territory and later as a state. Its economy got a boost with diversification of production activities and special encouragement to mining and shipping. Infrastructural facilities, including bridges across the Mandovi and Zuari rivers, railway lines, an airport, and roads linking Goa with the rest of India, facilitated movement of commodities and people.

However, the old city of Goa remained in ruins. In 1964 the Archaeological Survey of India came forward to preserve Goa's heritage sites, and many of the old buildings are now maintained by the Archaeological Survey and several Portuguese foundations, including Fundação Oriente and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.

see also Albuquerque, Afonso de; Colonial Port Cities and Towns, South and Southeast Asia; Empire, Portuguese; Malabar, Europeans and the Maritime Trade of.


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