Old Goa or Velha Goa is and old city and the former capital of Portuguese India. It is on the Mandovi River, 13.4 kilometers east of Panaji by the NH 748. The Divar Island stands on the opposite side of the river. Old Goa was established by the Bijapur Sultanate in 1510, but after the arrival of the Portuguese, it was turned into the first capital of Portuguese India. Goa’s capital was eventually moved to Panaji in 1843 after the city was ravaged by plague, cholera and malaria. But even before that, the viceroy's residence was shifted to Panaji in 1759. With this, many of the administrative offices were also shifted.
A wonderful day trip from Panaji, Velha Goa is full of many cultural and heritage sites. You can see Basilica of Bom Jesus, the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, Se Cathedral, church of St. Cajetan, the Viceroy Arch, and many other sites. You can see many imposing cathedrals and churches here, UNESCO World Heritage sites. Many of them are very well preserved and still in use. Velha Goa is a very nice day trip from Panaji.
200,000 people used to live here between the 16th and the 18th century, when it was at its peak. The population of Old Goa at that time was more than that of London and Lisbon. The former capital was often referred to as the ‘Rome of the East’. However, the city was eventually abandoned because of a plague.
Old Goa Map & Location
Arrival Of The Portuguese And The History Of Old Goa
Vasco da Gama landed on the Malabar Coast from Portugal, today’s Kerala, to trade spices in 1498. It was a successful trip as he wanted to become the premier supplier of spices to Europe from the east, ousting Venice. He went back with cinnamon, ginger, pepper, musk, and amber. The Portuguese became interested and planned to monopolize the trade from Asia. They needed a local base. The first base was established at Cochin. However soon, operations expanded beyond the Malabar.
The same year, the Portuguese entered into an alliance with the Vijayanagara Empire to attack Goa. The Bijapur Sultanate was weak and was disliked by the local merchants. They welcomed the Portuguese. Goa was finally conquered.
Velha Goa, which Bijapur built to replace Govapuri, was made the capital of Portuguese India. The city would serve as the base for a long time.
During Portuguese rule, there were 7 markets in Old Goa. Traders came here from Arabia, China, Zanzibar, and other parts of India to trade in cotton, spices, perfumed oils and silk. There used to be markets for goldsmiths, blacksmiths, meat, fish, and even one market only for diamonds.
Old Goa – Quick Facts
Old Goa, also called Velha Goa is located on the northern bank of the Mandovi River, 13.4 kilometers from Panaji.
The city was established by the Bijapur Sultanate in 1510. Taken over after a Portuguese attack.
The Portuguese made this the first capital of Goa. It was the administrative center and also a trading post.
At its peak Velha Goa was a thriving metropolis with a population more than London and Lisbon. The city was often called ‘Rome of the East’.
The Portuguese were able to defeat many attacks by the Marathas, Omanis, and the British. However, Portuguese trade diminished as the Dutch and English became more powerful.
Eventually, the capital of Portuguese India shifted from Velha to Panaji in 1843, but this was because of health issues. There were repeated attacks of malaria, cholera and plague that killed many people.
Portuguese heritage and culture is still visible in Old Goa in the many churches, cathedrals, and old buildings.
There is a lot to see in Old Goa – UNESCO World Heritage sites, cathedrals, chapels, tombs, ruins, arch, and more.
How To Reach Old Goa
- By Air — The Goa International Airport at Dabolim is 26.4 kms from Old Goa. Taxis are available for rent at the airport counter. There are many flights from Air India, Indigo, Etihad, Air Arabia, Air Asia, Qatar Airways, and Jet Airways.
- By Rail — The Karmali Railway Station is only 2.7 kms from Old Goa. It is an easy walk from here. You can also take an auto-rickshaw from the station. The price will be approximately 30 INR.
- By Road — You can also take a bus from the Panaji bus stand, 13.4 kms from Velha. There are lots of buses that leave every few minutes. The ride will take about 20 minutes with average traffic. You can also drive in your hired car or bike through the Panjim — Belagavi Road to reach Old Goa.
Se Cathedral, Old Goa
Top 7 Places To Visit In Old Goa
- Basilica of Bom Jesus – A UNESCO World Heritage site, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Goa. The red laterite stone building has very impressive Baroque and Jesuit architecture. It also houses unique Doric and Corinthian works. See its basalt pillars, black granite walls, and the tiled sloping roof. Don’t miss the small Portuguese and Latin inscriptions on the walls and pillars of the church.
- Tomb of St. Francis Xavier – The tomb is located inside the Basilica of Bom Jesus. During his stay in Goa, St. Francis Xavier, the revered evangelist opened many churches and nursed the sick. He died in a small island in China, but his body was brought back to Goa. Giovanni Batista Foggini, the famous Italian sculptor carved his tomb. It is made of marble and jasper. His remains are displayed once in 10 years.
- Se Cathedral – Dedicated to St. Catherine, this is the largest church in Asia and is still in operation. It was constructed in 1563 and has Iberian architecture. See the intricate wooden carvings, high ceilings, paintings on the walls and the mosaic work. There is also a large ‘golden bell’ that can be heard from a distance of 14 kilometers. See the Cross of Miracles, which is said to grant wishes.
- Church of St. Cajetan – It is modeled on the St. Peter’s Basilica of Rome. This is one of the best preserved historical sites in Goa. See the beautiful Corinthian style architecture, paintings that depict the life of St. Cajetun, and ornate statues. The archways have Hindu inscriptions.
- Ruins of St. Augustine – This is located a short distance away from the Basilica of Bom Jesus. It was constructed in the 1600s but collapsed between 1842 and 1938. At its peak, the Iberian architecture here was considered one of the three best in the world. All you can see now is the 43 meter high tower. It sits on top of the Monte Santo Hill in Velha Goa.
- Archaeological Museum – The museum was set up in 1964. Here you can see artifacts from pre-historic, to the early historic and the late medieval period. There are many wooden sculptures, ornate pillars, portraits, stamps, and objects from the Portuguese times in Goa. Must-see artifacts include the wooden statue of John the Baptist, ivory sculpture of Christ’s crucifixion, and the bronze statue of Albuquerque who was the first governor of Goa.
- Viceroy Arch – The arch is a 5 minute walk from the Basilica of Bom Jesus towards the Mandovi River. It was constructed in 1599 with laterite stone and greenish granite. The Church of St. Cajetan stands next to the arch. There are two statues. The statue of Vasco da Gama faces the river, while the one of St. Catherine faces the other side.
There are other tourist attractions in Old Goa as well, like –
- The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary
- The Chapel of St. Catherine
- The Gate of the Palace of Yusuf Adil Shah
- The Church of St. Augustine
- The Royal Chapel of St. Anthony
- The Convent and Church of St. Monica
All travel agencies offer excursions to Old Goa. You can join a group or go on your own. You will be able to reach Old Goa easily. This is a very nice day trip from Panaji.
Tips For Visiting Old Goa
- How much time is needed to see Old Goa – That depends on how interested you are about culture and Goa’s history. Those really keen and followers of architecture, even make repeat visits to study in detail. But for others, easily 4 to 6 hours is needed. Remember, the attractions are all close, but some walking is still required. So you have to keep time for that.
Walking is easy here, even to the outskirts to see the Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount and the Church of the Cross of Miracles. But it will certainly help you if you have a bike or a car.
- Photography – Most of the attractions are open between 9 AM and 5 PM, all seven days of the week. Photography inside the religious places is not allowed. However, you can take pictures of the structures from the outside.
- Dress – Remember to dress conservatively, as many of them are religious places. You may be denied admission if you are dressed inappropriately.
- When to visit – Old Goa or Velha Goa is extremely popular with tourists from around the world. Weekends can get crowded, especially between November and January, the peak tourist season. Visit on a weekday morning, if you can.
- Guides – Take a guided tour to understand Old Goa better. There are many approved guides from the tourism department of Goa.
- Shopping – You will find many shops and street-side stalls selling souvenirs. The Museum of Christian Art shop, next to the Santa Monica Convent, is a good place to buy. The price is reasonable. Most of the souvenirs are also available at Panjim.
- Food – Drink and food options are limited. There are only a few restaurants here. For lunch, you can go to Cafe Tinto, River Isle, Gazaali Bar and Restaurant, or Master Chef. Café Tinto serves Goan food and seafood. You will also find few places along the road between Panjim and Velha.
- Accommodation – Limited options. Most tourists come to Old Goa on a day trip from Panaji or one of the beach areas.
You might want to also include Fontainhas along with a trip to Old Goa, as they will both take you down memory lane and give you insights into an old world.
Fontainhas is the Latin Quarter of Goa. A UNESCO Heritage Zone, it is in Panaji, close to Old Goa. Here you will see many old Portuguese mansions with colorful walls, projecting balconies, and windows. There are many art galleries, cafes, and bakeries here. You will get a distinct Mediterranean feel here.
Spend a couple of hours at the Latin Quarter of Panaji and then proceed to Old Goa for 4-6 hours – a day well spent seeing the old world of Goa.
Alternatively, you can also visit the Divar Island from Old Goa, which is on the other side of the Mandovi River. A ferry leaves for the island from the Viceroys Arch.
Divar is a very charming village where you can see villages and traditional Goan homes. There are a few churches to see here as well. There is a big mangrove swamp facing Velha, which is home of many bird species. The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is located on the opposite bank of Divar, close to Old Goa.
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