Over-looking the calm waters of the Mandovi river from atop Monte Santo, the only standing structure of what was once the site for the Augustinian order, the belfry looks very much in contrast to its humble its surroundings. The 46 meter-high imposing tower of one of the seven Churches located on and between seven Hills in and around Velha is sure to catch your attention. It was the first thing that caught my attention too, as I approached the hill-top. Already in awe of its grandeur as I got closer, I realized that this part of a now non-existent façade of what once used to be the Church of St Augustine was not the only thing there that has seen centuries and rulers come and go.
Every rock, every pillar and every stone there seemed to have something to speak about the times gone by. Each of them seemed to have their own share of history hidden inside them.
Built in 1602 by the Augustinian friars who arrived in Goa in 1587 the Church was one of the most iconic structures of its time, it still is in a way. It was finally abandoned in the year 1835 due to the deserting of the Old Goa because of continual series of deadly epidemics that had plagued the area during that time. Neglected and left without any maintenance, the structure started to give itself away. In the first half of the twentieth century in 1931, the façade and half the bell-tower fell down and then few years later in 1938, other sections of the structure fell off bringing down with them significant sections of the structure. And now, all these centuries later, all that remains standing is the one tower of the five-storey building that it was.
The area has now been cleared and being conserved (seeing the sort of conservation that seemed to have been done there, I am not sure how serious the people doing it were in their commitment though) for posterity. More so because, the lone standing bell-tower has kind of become the symbol of Old Goa and hence deserved more attention. The remaining façade is now visible in numerous travel-brochures, pamphlets, websites, ads, et al.
Historical places and ruins have always been something which have never failed to fascinate me. Of the many places in India which are historical, Goa for me, sits somewhere towards the top of the list. So when I was thinking about where to go for my first solo trip and finally decided on Goa, its interesting historical past played a significant role in helping make my mind. So you can only imagine how thrilled I would have been to find myself in front of one of most significant places of Portuguese Goa!
As I pushed through the partially open iron-gate and stepped inside the huge but empty church compound I realized the compound was even bigger than what it seemed from outside road running next to it. The unkempt path-way that led to the Church was lined with illustrations of how the place would have looked during before it was left to wear away. They also showcased photos of different stages of the cleaning and recovering sections of the broken areas of the compound.
A handful of what seemed like alleyways peeked through the green vine-creepers that had grown over time covering the entrance under them. Without a closer look it is tough to make out the actual gates that lay covered.They led to areas that felt eerie, even at the brightest hour of the day, so leaving them behind I proceeded towards what looked like a huge prayer hall. Intricate designs still distinctly visible in almost every other section of the Church.
The place seemed to grow bigger and bigger with every step I took ahead. A significant area of the Church is off-limits and they were marked accordingly along-with proper obstructions set-up in the form of steel barriers. However, there was no one who was keeping an eye on whether you were following the instructions or trespassing. I for one did not try to sneak past the steel-barriers. Part because, even without going into the restricted area, I could easily spend hours exploring in awe, the beauty of the areas that were not restricted and part because, let me be honest, with no one still around in that huge compound other than me, I felt the eerie feeling only growing stronger with time.
As I slowly walked back to the compound gate, on my way out, I couldn’t help but feel happy for choosing Goa as my first solo destination. For had it been otherwise, I would not have been able to take my own time to try and feel how the place would have been like, centuries back with all the activity around it.
Do places with history attached to them fascinate you too? What kind of places make you curious?