A Brief History of Old Goa
Located on the banks of River Mandovi, Old Goa or Velha Goa (Velha pronounced as Vell-yea) means Old in Portuguese) was founded in the 15th century as a port town by the rulers of the Bijapur Sultanate. The town was captured by the Portuguese in 1510 and was the administrative of seat of Portuguese India. This town was known as “Rome of the East” thanks to its magnificent churches.
Epidemics of malaria and cholera broke out in the 17th century and the place was abandoned by 1759. The capital was shifted to Panjim or Panaji which was then known as “Nova Goa” (Nova in Portuguese means new) is now the current capital of the state.
What to see at Old Goa
One can spend the whole morning or afternoon just walking around exploring this ancient place that is riddled with history and heritage. There is so much to see from the 15th century churches to monasteries lying in ruins.
Basilica of Bom Jesus:
Is a UNESCO World Heritage site where the mortal remains of the revered Patron Saint of Goa Saint Francis Xavier lie in a casket behind the altar. This Basilica of Bom Jesus church is a true example of Baroque architecture. One of Goa’s oldest churches, its construction was started in 1594 and was consecrated in 1605 by Archbishop Dom Father Aleixo de Menezes. There is an exposition every ten years to venerate the body of this Saint. The next exposition will be held in the year 2024. The feast of St. Francis Xavier is celebrated here every year on the 3rd of December. The novenas begin on the 24th of November. Pilgrims flock from neighboring areas to pay their respects to the saint. It is also a public holiday in the state of Goa.
Sé Cathedral de Santa Catarina:
more commonly known as Sé Cathedral was built to commemorate the victory of Afonso de Albuquerque over the Muslim army. Since the day of the victory happened on the feast of Saint Catherine the cathedral was built in her honor. The church was enlarged in 1552 commissioned by Governor George Cabral. The church was consecrated in 1640. The cathedral was presented by a “Golden Rose” by Venerable Pope Pius XII. This rose is placed on the casket of St. Francis Xavier. The architectural style of this cathedral is Portuguese-Manueline, the exterior is Tuscan and the interior is Corinthian.
Church of St Francis of Assisi:
is connected to the Sé Cathedral by the Palace of the Archbishop. The structure is built with laterite blocks and is lime-plastered. The church faces west and has an area with three chapels on either side, two altars in the transept, and a main altar. The belfry lies to the north of the main altar. The convent which forms a part of the church has been converted into the Archaeological Museum. The exterior of the St Francis of Assisi church is Tuscan styled architecture and the interiors is Manueline.
St. Augustine’s Tower:
which is now in ruins was built between 1597 and in 1602 by Augustinian friars who landed in Goa in 1597.The church was abandoned in 1835. The neglect caused the collapse of the main church. The rest of the structure collapsed shortly after and the bell of the church was then moved to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church. In the late 1980s a team of archeologists from Soviet Union and Georgia began to try and track down the relics of Ketevan the Martyr whose relics were believed to have been kept in Goa. The Archaeological Survey of India continued the excavations. The church had four towers out of which only one can be seen. Excavations reveal that the structure had eight chapels, four altars, and a convent. One can walk around the premises and admire the site. See: St. Augustine’s Tower
The Archaeological Museum:
was founded in 1964 by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is situated in the convent section of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Hours can fly by here walking around looking at the remnants of the Portuguese rule in Goa, pre-historic and early history of Goa. There are also portraits of the Governors and viceroys of Goa. There are also Portuguese weapons. When you walk along the lawns from Sé Cathedral towards the Museum you can see old canons and canon balls.
Old Goa Location
This ancient city is 9 kms from Panjim city. If you are heading there from Margao or Vasco it is advisable to take the shuttle service from these cities that will reach you straight to the Panjim Main bus stand. From there you can either hire a cab or take an autorickshaw. If you are feeling a little more adventurous then you can take a bus into Old Goa.
How to reach Old Goa Churches ?
- By Rail – Karmali Railway station is only 2.1 km away from the Basilica of Bom Jesus. You can take a taxi or an autorickshaw from the station.
- Road – As mentioned earlier Old Goa is 9 km away from Panjim and you can get there either by bus from the main bus stand, take an autorickshaw or hire a cab. You can also drive down from any of the cities.
- Flight – The Dabolim Airport is situated 24.1 kms away from Old Goa. It is advisable that you check into your chosen hotel before venturing out to sight see the area. It’s a 40 minute drive with regular traffic.
Nearby places to explore
There are other lesser known churches in the area which one might find interesting.
Church of St. Cajetan
built in the 17th century, this church is said to be a replica of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Church of Our Lady of the Mount
is just opposite St. Augustine’s Tower. You can get a good view of the valley from here. Sunsets are truly breathtaking.
Chapel of the Carmelites
was built in 1641 and is in ruins.
was built in 1597 by the grandson of Vasco da Gama. On one side is Vasco’s court of arms and the other side is a sculpture of an European lady standing above an Indian who is lying at her feet.
The Gate of the Palace of Adil Shah
is made of Basalt and consists of two pillars decorated with mouldings and fragmentary lozenge shaped perforated screens. The palace of Adil Shah was a magnificent building which became the residence of the Portuguese Governers till 1965 and was used by them on festive occasion. The palace building was demolished in 1820 by the orders of the government.
Where to stay and eat
If it is churches and history that interests you then it would be advisable to stay in and around Panjim for easy access to Old Goa Churches. If you really do want to stay in Old Goa then you have two options, Ayaza Beach Resort and Gomes Pousada Guest House.
There is a wide choice of restaurants in Old Goa if you plan on spending the day there. Head to either Gazaali Bar and Restaurant, River Isle, or Cafe Tinto if you want fresh seafood and Goan food. They have vegetarian options too.
Goa in a Day package (Private car)
Pick and Drop in a private car from hotel
Fort Aguada / Light House
Calangute Beach / Market
Old Goa Churches
St. Augustines Tower
Spice Plantation with Guided Tours (Entry fees to be paid on the spot)
Panjim Church / Market
Miramar Beach / Dona Paula Jetty
Filmi Chakkar Boat Ride (Entry fees to be paid on the spot)
Sunset River Cruise (Entry fees to be paid on the spot)
All Entry Fees
Mineral Water / Beverages
* Our prices starts from lowest vehicle category
* Pickup and Drop provided from any hotels booked in Vagator / Anjuna / Arpora / Baga / Candolim / Calangute / Sinquerim / Saligaon / Nagoa / Panjim
Images by Rajesh Ajgaonkar Photography