A Stroll Down The Dreamy Streets Of Goa – By Andre Camara
It’s that time of the year when everyone’s just ushered in the new year after the much sought after holiday season. With every new year, comes new beginnings. And what better way to celebrate that than with the ones you love, and hence, January leads us into the month of love!
With that in context, I would like to take you to one of the most romantic quarters of Goa, Fontainhas. ‘Fontainhas’ (or ‘Bairro das Fontainhas’ in Portuguese) is an old latin quarter in Panjim. It is characterised by its rich Indo-Portuguese architecture that comprises tiled roofs, richly coloured facades, and intricately carved doors and windows. But what makes this quarter the topic of the day, is the certain enchantment that one experiences while walking down the streets of this richly preserved area.
Before I embark upon the experience Fontainhas has to offer, here’s a short bit on the history of this place. It was in the late 18th century that an expatriate named Antonio Joao de Sequeira came
back to India after having worked in Mozambique, which was at the time, another Portuguese colony. Having made his money there, he came back to Goa and established Fontainhas as a coconut plantation.
However, it was not until repeated outbreaks of plague in Old Goa, the then capital of Goa, that numerous headquarters of the Portuguese government had to be shifted to Panjim. Therefore, this developed into a residential area for rulers and administrators.
With its new found popularity, smaller plots were made and sold arbitrarily without much town planning. Thus, the birth of the new quarter that lies bang in the centre of today’s capital, Panjim, but
yet, tucked away in its own refuge of timelessness. It is because of this rapid growth of the living quarters at the time, that you see the narrow dwindling lanes that are so characteristic of Fontainhas.
Located at the foot of the hills, it is bounded on the west side by the Altinho Hills and on the east side by an ancient creek known as the Ourem Creek. The name ‘Fontainhas’ came from the fountains at the foot of the hill named ‘Fonte Phoenix’ or the ‘Fountain of Phoenix. Fontainhas had a very high population density as compared to the rest of Goa at the time. Like most old towns, the rich and the less affluent lived in separate quarters. While the rich people lived on Panjim hill in large bungalows, the less affluent
lived at the foot and the east of the hill.
This old quarter, although located in the heart of the capital city of Goa, has managed to retain a certain charm that transports you back in time to the glory days. Firstly, located on a highly contoured piece of land, the natural topography itself adds a character of awe to the place. The narrow winding streets make you wonder what lies beyond that next curve. The projecting balconies add an aura of awe when you think of the conversations that took place between a passers-by on the road and the resident of that house. The steep steps that gracefully aged along the years, tend to make you give them a fond gaze before climbing them. The atmosphere in the area has an intimacy that can only be felt if you let it get to you. It’s a slice of Goan heritage that instantly takes you back in time.
Let’s get back to some of the experiences that make this old town so sought after
The Indo-Portuguese Architecture
In Fontainhas, the primary language spoken is Portuguese. Having been born and brought up in a household that speaks the language, hearing a conversation between two neighbours along these tiny streets in Portuguese is still amiable. That being said, the Portuguese left back a little more than just their language before they set out. The architecture, as most know, is characteristic to only Goa. Yes, a street here may resemble that of a quaint town in Portugal or Brazil, but the style and features of a home in Goa is characteristic to the state.
Termed as Indo-Portuguese architecture, the houses borrowed styles and themes from the then Portuguese architecture whilst blending the climatic requirement for our sub-continent. Most houses have bright vibrant colours adorning their facades. The most popular ones included blue or a tone of ‘Azul’, ochre, a dark olive green, and crimson. Of course, some more subtle homes do exist in a timeless white that boasts the natural beauty of the structure itself. Apart from the colours, the typical tiled roofs, like those seen in Mangalore, wrapped the house with a minimum projection of 2 feet kept the torrential showers away from its mud and limeplastered walls. A brightly coloured terracotta rooster can usually be seen atop the highest ridge of the tiled roofs mimicking the early morning cock that would sound the morning alarm for the entire village.
Another prominent feature in the houses here are the extended balconies or ‘balcaos’. This space was where the heart of the entire house was. With the open covered area providing refuge from the scorching morning sun, the evenings were when this space would be occupied by the elders in the house along with the whole family, while friendly neighbours greeted them from the narrow roads and possibly came in for a quick exchange of some neighbourhood gossip. Even today, the ‘Balcaos’ are widely used, but with the onset of cable television, the home owner much rather goes indoors to the refuge of a mosquito-free space.
Other features to look out for in an Indo-Portuguese house are the intricately decorated balustrades, the artistic balconies, the shell inserted window shutters and of course, the hand-painted name plates in bright blue called ‘Azulejos’.
The Winding Streets
Ever watched one of those old movies where a man serenades his lover from the streets while the damsel lies perched up on the balcony. Well that could well have been the scene during an evening in Fontainhas. Given that there was very little or no city planning at the birth of the latin quarter, plots were made in haste and buildings constructed on them. While the upper portions of the hill had the rich folk with larger, more spread out plots, the ones below abutted each other creating narrow lanes that kept winding along the way. Even the names of the streets are still in Portuguese giving it its uncanny mood. Some of the main roads near the canal are wide enough to allow a car at a time, but some are narrow enough to allow only pedestrian movement. And of course, if the character of the roads itself is not enough, the quaint shops, art galleries, bakeries, and restaurants give it undeniable character.
Some of the other spots around Fontainhas are the wishing well, the fountain of Phoenix and of course, the white washed chapel of St. Sebastian. However, I am not going to dwell much into them right now. Fontainhas to me is not about the sites and number of monuments that are strewn around, but the experience one needs to go there for. The idea is to lose yourself in the old world charm the quarter has to offer and then leaving the rest to the most powerful tool on earth – your imagination!
If you see Goa as only a hippie hub with gorgeous beaches and a taste for quintessential night-life, then head over to Fontainhas this holiday and get a taste of the culture that calls its home ‘Goa’. An evening in the refuge of these streets, part of the busiest city of the state, is bound to leave your mind in a state of serenity and your heart in a state of fondness! Fontainhas offers you a literal walk down memory lane to the rich heritage of the state perfectly preserved in the 21st century. It’s an experience that will leave you yearning for that peaceful holiday you could never have imagined in this heaving state.