Exploring the latin quarter of Goa- Fontainhas
A brief history
Fontainhas is located in the capital of Goa, Panjim. It was the residential settlement of the erstwhile Portuguese rulers of Goa. Fontainhas was once a coconut plantation owned by Joao Antonio de Sequeira, also known as Mossmikar, owing to his stint in Mozambique (which made him immensely wealthy). Post his death, Fontainhas was bequeathed to the Carmelite nuns.
In the mid 1800’s when the plague ravaged the colonial city of Old Goa, the Portuguese moved their capital to Panjim, and Fontainhas was chosen as the residential area for the government administrators. The Carmelite nuns sold off their property in portions as demand increased, which is the reason behind Fontainhas growing in a haphazard manner, without a proper plan. It is not uncommon to see streets stem out of nowhere, leading to even tinnier streets, but it has the charm of a quaint European town.
The term Fontainhas was derived from ’Fonte Phoenix’ or Fountain Phoenix, a reservoir built by the Portuguese, which is still seen in the Mala area before the Maruti temple.
Fontainhas by foot
Fontainhas is flanked by Ourem creek to the east, ad Altinho to the west. The tiny cobblestone streets are best explored by foot, to explore and photograph the colourful buildings, and Portuguese street names!
If you are walking through Fontainhas in the afternoon, don’t be surprised to be one of the few people on the road. The residents of this area, staying true to their Portuguese heritage, take their siesta very seriously- even shops are closed in the afternoon hours!
Architecture in Fontainhas
The homes painted in vibrant hues of blue, yellow, red, and green, exhibit a colonial charm, with their oyster shell window panes, intricately designed iron railings, and red tile roofs. The most distinctive feature of these erstwhile Portuguese homes is their name plates on the walls, made in Azulejos ceramic tiles.
(Azulejos are Portuguese style hand painted ceramic tiles that are decorated with intricate, colourful artwork, and baked at high temperatures.)
The architecture of their homes reflect their susegad lifestyle- many homes have a verandah where they sit for hours sipping on a beverage, conversing with their neighbours.
The buildings of Fontainhas are painted every year after the monsoons to ensure the upkeep of the area, a rule that’s being followed since the time of Portuguese occupation.
The red well with a rooster atop each of its two pillars, is a distinctive spot in the area, while the rainbow stairs behind it is a popular spot for photoshoots.
Look closely as you walk around the Latin Quarter and you will see that the rooster is hidden in plain sight, as part of the facade of many of the houses.
The rooster in Portuguese culture signifies honesty, integrity, trust, & honour, and is believed to bring good fortune to those who have one in their homes.
Some Portuguese street names in Fontainhas have great stories behind them.
‘Rua 31 de Janeiro’ or 31st January road was so named to commemorate the day of Portugal’s independence from Spain in 1640.
The 18th June Road was named after the day in 1946 when Ram Manohar Lohia called a meeting to end Portuguese rule in India.
Art in Fontainhas
The Gitanjali Gallery
The location of the first English medium school in Goa is now converted into an art gallery that promotes both Indian and International artwork. The late 19th century building called the Panjim Peoples, is now under the WelcomHeritage group of hotels. They also manage the nearby Panjim Pousada which is a traditional Hindu home, centred around an open courtyard with a tulsi plant. The gallery extends to this property as well, and the walls around the courtyard are adorned with art.
Fundacao Oriente Art Gallery
Tucked away in a corner, this stately colonial building with its intricately designed wrought iron balconies and white -yellow facade, is a must visit when in Panjim.
The rather quiet gallery has on display the work of a prominent artist who was termed ‘Rembrandt of the East’- Antonio Xavier Trindade.
St. Sebastian Chapel
This rather small, white chapel inside Fontainhas, was built in 1880, and is home to a crucifix which was a relic from the inquisition in Old Goa. The crucifix, which originally stood in the Palace of Inquisition in Old Goa , is of unusual importance because Christ is depicted with his eyes open. It was done so to instil fear amongst the heretics brought to the Inquisitors, awaiting their gruesome end.
Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church
This Portuguese baroque style church is iconic in Goa, and has been pictured on many a souvenirs. The steps of the church see multiple photoshoots a day! The liturgy is in English, Konkani, and Portuguese on Sundays, and taking part even if it is for a little while, is a great way to experience Goan culture. Not to mention, their choir is fantastic!
The Mala neighbourhood, a stones throw away from Fontainhas is the Hindu residential area, and its most iconic landmark is the Maruti Temple atop a hill. The houses are in vibrant hues, but the architecture is distinctly Indian, and marks a noticeable change after walking through the streets of the erstwhile Portuguese settlement.
The stairway with the peacock painted on it, is the most instagrammable spot in Mala- that is, if colourful houses aren’t your thing!
The other landmarks that are a must visit in Panjim are The Post Office, Adil Shah Palace, Tobacco Square and Mint house.
Shopping in Panjim
All the heritage buildings have been beautifully preserved, and most in town have been converted to shop houses, which makes shopping in Panjim a delight! All the brands one sees inside a shopping mall, when housed inside century old buildings, are charming to say the least!
Shop at Velha Goa to find a selection of bespoke Azulejos tiles and designer ceramic tiles unlike anywhere else.
Mario Miranda Gallery
A must buy when in Panjim are some Mario Miranda prints!
Travel in Panjim
For short distances, call your PILOT!
I got off at Panjim bus stand, and was tired of haggling with the auto drivers, (they quoted ₹150 for the 1-2km distance that I had to travel!!) when a Pilot came up to me offering his services- and no, I did not charter a plane for 2 kms ( LOL, at my own joke!)
The Pilots are bike taxis, and are the perfect way to get around Panjim, and nearby. (I paid ₹60 to get to my hostel) He even gave me his helmet, since I was quite scared to be on a bike!
For longer trips, download GoaMiles
Everyone knows that Uber & Ola have not been allowed inside of Goa, courtesy of the taxi drivers’ lobby. Taxis are extremely expensive in Goa, and can be the most expensive part of your trip. Goa Miles has been functioning in Goa for about a year, and they are the Uber-Ola alternative here.
From the Airport
There are air-conditioned public buses from the airport to Panjim and the beaches. If you are travelling on a budget, like I was, this is the best option. The only downside is that you have to wait around for the bus, and can’t leave immediately after you reach.
Rent a Scooter/bike
Renting a two wheeler is everyone’s favourite way to travel in Goa, and you can do this as soon as you get into town. It works out if you want to explore a lot, and don’t want to restrict yourself to public transport, or expensive cab rides.
For my recommendations of the BEST FOOD in Panjim- check out my blog.
Goa is well connected by air with direct flights from around the world.
Karmali Railway station is nearest to Panjim, and has regular connections from around the country.
You can choose to walk around the neighbourhood on your own, or take a guided heritage walking tour of the area if you want more information about all the points of interest.
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions, or if you want to share your experiences of Fontainhas- I would love to know!