Millennium Post

Walk Down Memory Lane Fontainhas Panjim's

Fountainhas Panjim’s anachronistic association with Portuguese heritage, the town’s colourful architecture, warm hospitality and unforgettable dishes, served up in a flash, are a delight for travellers – young and old.

A visit to Panjim's Fontainhas neighbourhood in Goa is like walking into a picture postcard of an old European city. A heritage walk around the charming districts of Fontainhas and Sao Tomé will have you gawking in awe at its beauty. One of India's most relaxed state capitals, Panaji (Panjim), crowds around the peninsula overlooking the broad Mandovi River, where cruise boats and floating casinos ply the waters, and advertising signs cast neon reflections in the night.

It wasn't until the late 18th century that Panjim started to flourish and that too only after the fall of Old Goa as the erstwhile capital. The city's oldest heritage building is the riverside Idalcao Palace, which was built by Yusuf Adil Shah. A glorious whitewashed church lords over the animated city centre, a broad leafy boulevard skirts around the river, and grand colonial-era buildings rub shoulders with arty boutiques, old-school bookshops, state-of-the-art malls and backstreet bars. But it's the tangle of narrow streets in the old Latin Quarter that really steal the show. Nowhere is the Portuguese influence felt more strongly than here, where the late afternoon sun lights up yellow houses with purple doors, and around each corner you'll find restored ochre-coloured mansions with terracotta-tiled roofs, wrought-iron balconies and arched oyster-shell windows. The oldest, and by far the most atmospheric, Portuguese-flavoured districts of Panaji are squeezed between the hillside of Altinho and the banks of Ourem Creek, and make for attractive wandering with their narrow streets, overhanging balconies and quaint air of Mediterranean yesteryear. Fontainhas, said to take its name from the Fountain of Phoenix spring, which stands near the Maruti Temple, is the larger of the two districts, comprising pastel-shaded houses that head up Altinho hill. This little throwback of a place, with its colonial aesthetics, winding narrow lanes, tilted gable roofed houses in spectacular shades of red and blue, green and yellow, is an open door to Goa's Portuguese past. Located to the north of Fontainhas, the tiny area around the main post office is known as Sao Tomé.

The post office was once the tobacco-trading house for Panaji, and the building to the right of it was the state mint. The square that these buildings face once housed the town pillory, where justice turned into spectacle when executions took place. It was here that several conspirators involved in the Pinto Revolt were put to death, for plotting to overthrow Portuguese rule in 1787. A day or two in Panjim's Latin district is an essential part of the Goan experience.

Wood framed Indo-Portuguese houses in saturated colours in these haphazardly designed narrow streets predominate the area and the 17th-century Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception stands like a jewel in Fontainhas' Latin-style crown. Set atop a hill, it glows like a giant torch of faith guarding the aesthetic riches of the neighbourhood. Built in 1541, it is believed to be one of the oldest churches in Goa.
The small but pretty Chapel of St Sebastian, built in the 1880s is another gem you can visit in Fontainhas. Mediterranean culture pervades every street – houses are painted in bright, cheerful colours, with beautifully written nameplates outside homes, galleries, neighbourhood bakeries, churches, blue petal curls drawn in white ceramic tiles and residents greeting each other in Portuguese.
Old wooden bakeries tickle the nose with the aroma of Goan breads, often doubling up as works of art from a bygone era. You can sit and engage in casual chat with residents over some homemade sausages or a glass of port, with Goan music in the background and the welcome of a world which is unexpectedly open to strangers. Sample the street food, where everything is accommodated in pushcarts, from sweet beef samosas, prawn cutlets, squid soup to grilled ham sandwiches or pop into some random bar or old taverna with live music, great food, and random strangers ready to open up to you.
There is a kind of amusing history overflow in the streets – there is a Rua 31 de Janeira (31st January Road) street which relates to the date of Portugal's independence from Spain in 1640 and the Bustling 18th June Road named after a date in 1946 when Ram Manohar Lohia (an Indian independence activist) called a meeting that led to the end of Portuguese rule in India.
Art Galleries are an indisputable reason to visit Fontainhas. One shouldn't miss the Gallery Gitanjali, adjacent to Panjim Inn. It has a collection of contemporary art and Scandinavian lithographs, lino prints and etchings, plus it often doubles up as a cool venue for poetry readings, art discussions, launches, movie screenings and numerous discourses on movies and art, with a cafe to refresh body and soul.
Velha Goa Galeria is another beautiful place to stop by to shop for gorgeous traditional hand-painted ceramics, including azueljos (tin-glazed ceramic tiles). A little towards the main city is the Gallery Attic, where period furniture, pottery and antique glassware are painstakingly restored to their original glory.
And the food – Ah! How can one miss it? While the small, winding streets of Fontainhas are an open invitation to shrug off your beach lazing and explore; the aroma of cooking from decades-old establishments perched in old buildings, provides an invitation impossible to resist. It is said in Fontainhas past and present live under the same roof.
One must-stop should be Hospedaria Venite, marked with its graffiti-laden walls, beer chandeliers and authentic Goan and Portuguese cuisine. With its cute rickety balcony tables overhanging the cobbled street, Venite has long been among the most atmospheric of Panaji's Goan restaurants.
Well known to tourists, Viva Panjim is a little side-street eatery, set in an old Portuguese house and with a few tables out on the laneway, which delivers tasty Goan classics at reasonable prices. There's a whole menu page devoted to pork dishes, along with tasty xacuti and cafreal, seafood, sizzlers and desserts such as Goa's reputed bebinca.
Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro is a anytime visit for sweets and savouries. The oldest bakery on 18th June Road in Fontainhas, it is famous for its sweets, pav breads and the delicious Goan cake Bebinca.
It's well worth a trip up to Altinho Hill to visit Cafe Bodega, a serene cafe-gallery in a lavender-and-white Portuguese mansion in the grounds of Sunaparanta Centre for the Arts.
The Sao Tome-Fontainhas Heritage Walk: Treat yourself to a leisurely one-hour ramble through Goa's inextricable Portuguese ancestry. Take-off point is Casa da Moeda (House of Coins) in the midst of Panjim's historic Tobacco Square. Go past the 400-year-old Sao Tome Chapel via cobbled alleys flanked by brightly-hued homes, pop into an ancient bakery, peer at traditional ceramic name plates, covered porches, art galleries and much else before ending at the character-oozing Panjim Inn for a well-deserved cuppa.
Fountainhas Panjim's anachronistic association with Portuguese heritage, the town's colourful architecture, warm hospitality and unforgettable dishes, served up in a flash, are a delight for travellers – young and old

Next Story
Share it