When the Portuguese colonized Goa in 1510, they brought with them their own distinct architectural style. The many magnificent palatial Portuguese mansions in Goa are a legacy of Portuguese rule, which continued for more than 450 years and left a distinctive mark on the state. What's unusual is that houses dating back hundreds of years have been maintained in pristine condition and are still inhabited by generations of the original owners. Read on to find out more about them and how to visit them.
Overview of Portuguese Mansions in Goa
Fontainhas, Goa's famous Latin Quarter in capital city Panjim, is abundant with old Portuguese mansions that once belonged to rulers and administrators. This district was declared a UNESCO Heritage Zone in 1984. It's worth exploring, and you can even stay in a heritage property there.
However, the most substantial and imposing Portuguese mansions can be found in rural areas of South Goa, such as Chandor (the Braganza House), Loutolim (Casa Araujo Alvares and the Figuerido House), and Quepem (Palacio do Deao). These mansions are open to the public and contain a treasure trove of historical memorabilia.
What's more, it's actually possible to stay at the Figuerido House! It opened as a heritage hometay with five beautifully decorated guest rooms in 2017. The stately 400 year-old mansion belongs to one of Goa's most influential families and is one of the largest in the state, resplendent with ballroom and dining hall that can fit 800 guests. Part of it has been turned into a museum by the Xavier Center of Historical Research.
If you don't have your own transport, taking a tour is a convenient way of visiting the mansions. This full-day Grand Old Houses of Goa Private Tour offered by Goa Magic covers two of the properties, lunch, and a stop at the bustling Margao fish market.
If you're particularly interested in Goa's old mansions, don't miss visiting the Houses of Goa Museum near Panjim in North Goa.
Braganza House, Chandor
The grandest of Goa's Portuguese mansions, the astonishing Braganza House dates back to the 16th century and occupies one side of the village square in Chandor. The elaborate mansion, which is spread over about 10,000 square meters, has been divided into two disparate wings (eastern and western wings) that are occupied by two branches of the Braganza family.
While the eastern wing is sadly rather derelict and lacking in maintenance, the beautifully restored western wing is breathtaking. Every room is laden with exquisite antiques (including 350-year-old Ming vases and Chinese porcelain), collected by the occupants of the house over hundreds of years.
The ballroom, with its massive Belgian crystal chandeliers, is undoubtedly the highlight. Apparently, a couple of the chairs in it were given to the Braganza family by Dom Luis, who was the king of Portugal in the 19th century. The library, which contains about 5,000 books, is said to be the largest private one in Goa.
The eastern wing features the family's chapel, containing an unusual relic -- a jewel-encrusted fingernail of Saint Francis Xavier.
Just like the mansion, the family's history is also fascinating. The Braganzas were originally an influential Hindu family that was forcibly converted to Christianity during the advent of the Jesuit mission, led by Saint Francis Xavier in 1542 and the following Inquisition. They worked closely and successfully with the government of Portugal for centuries, and in return, the king gave them the land that the mansion is built on as well as the name of the last royal house of Portugal (Braganza). The coat of arms is on display in the ballroom.
The Braganza family was forced to flee the property in 1950, as one of the members was a noted freedom fighter against the Portuguese. However, they returned after India gained Independence from Portuguese rule in 1961.
- Location: Approximately 15 minutes southeast of Margao via the Chandor-Margao Road.
- Opening Hours: No set hours but usually from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
- Cost: By donation for maintenance of the property. Expect to pay 150 rupees per person for a guided tour of each wing.
- Photography: Only permitted in the east wing.
- If You Have Time: Visit the older (albeit less grand) Fernandes House, situated nearby, as well. This Indo-Portuguese mansion is also open to the public. It has a secret basement hideaway, riddled with gunshot holes, and an escape tunnel.
The 18th century Palacio do Deao (Dean's Palace) was built by Portuguese nobleman Jose Paulo, who founded Quepem town and was Dean of the church there. Surrounded by two acres of enchanting tropical gardens, it fronts the Kushavati River and looks out onto the church, which he also constructed.
Jose Paulo's 11,000 square foot mansion, which blends Hindu and Portuguese architecture, has changed hands a number of times. In 1829, before his death in 1835, he presented it to the viceroys of Portuguese India to use for vacation, so that the estate would be protected. The mansion was subsequently occupied by a church Chaplain and then was used by nuns as a home for destitute women.
Palacio do Deao is now owned by Ruben and Celia Vasco da Gama, who have put substantial effort into conserving and recovering it from ruin. (Ruben previously restored the 16th century Fort Tiracol and ran it as a heritage hotel). A labor of love, each part of the house contains thoughtfully collected antiques and other period artifacts, including coins and stamps, a palanquin, and even a chamber pot in the bedroom!
- Location: Approximately 30 minutes southeast of Margao via the Margao-Quepem Road. It's about 20 minutes from Chandor.
- Opening Hours: 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., preferably by appointment. Special Goan-Portuguese teas, lunches, and dinners are served on prior notice. The home-cooked food is delicious.
- Phone: (91) 832 266-4029 or 98231 75639.
- Cost: By donation for maintenance of the property.
- Photography: Permitted.
- See photos of Palacio do Deao on Facebook.
Picturesque Loutolim village is home to a number of impressive Portuguese mansions, including the ancestral home of famed cartoonist Mario Miranda. Of those that are open to the public, Casa Araujo Alvares is the most well known.
This 250-year-old mansion belongs to the Alvares family and forms part of the Ancestral Goa tourist complex, set up to recreate Goan village life under Portuguese rule. It was named after owner Eufemiano Araujo Alvares, who was a prominent lawyer during the colonial period.
The mansion has been constructed around an inner courtyard and features a chapel at its center. It's gracefully furnished with European antiques and old photos. Each room has been preserved as it was centuries ago, including the kitchen filled with traditional implements. The office of Eufemiano Araujo Alvares has an intriguing desk with secret drawers and corners and a collection of antique smoking pipes. Other unique items are a collection of thousands of Ganesh idols, and a prayer room with hundreds of icons (pictures) of Jesus hanging in it.
The Alvares family has installed an automated "sound and light show" tour of the property (the first of its kind in Goa), which illuminates each room and provides a commentary. It gives visitors an informative insight into the life of a Goan-Portuguese family in the olden days.
- Location: Approximately 20 minutes north of Margao via the Margao-Ponda Highway.
- Opening Hours: 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. until 5.30 p.m. The tours, in English and Hindi, run every 15 minutes.
- Cost: The entry fee is 125 rupees for adults.
- Photography: Permitted and costs 20 rupees per camera.