Many of us know Goa as a tourist destination renowned for its lovely beaches and seafood. But there’s yet to discover one of Goa’s best kept secrets (Well, maybe not so unknown now). Ruled by the Portuguese for quite a long time (450 years), it was very recent that Goa became an independent state of the Indian Union (in 1962). So the Portuguese influence in terms of architecture and street planning remains quite strong here.
The oldest Latin quarter of Panjim, Fontainhas or Bairro das Fontainhas (in Portuguese), with its narrow and pretty winding streets & intriguing alleyways along with the architectural elegance will make you feel like you walking down a quaint little town in Europe. With the streets flanked with old houses and heritage buildings (belonging to the last surviving Portuguese families of Goa) with their projecting balconies painted in vivid hues of ochre, blue, cherry red and green, it is no wonder that this neighbourhood was patterned along the lines of Lisbon’s Bairo Alto.
Meaning “little fountain” in Portuguese, Fontainhas gets its name from ‘Fonte Phoenix’ or the ‘Fountain of Phoenix’, which was essentially a water reservoir constructed during the time of the Portuguese. It is the only area in Goa where Portuguese is still the main spoken language. The houses and the lanes are kept very clean. It is believed that during Portuguese rule, it was mandatory for every urban resident to paint his house every year after the monsoons; this practice is still continued as a tradition.
One also doesn’t fail to notice the ornate house number plates called Azulejo tiles (Portuguese ceramic tiling work), some of which are spectacular works of Chinoiserie art. Fontainhas is like a maze, with a number of art galleries spread across all over, some even double up as cafes. You will also come across boutique hotels and cute little shops. Fontainhas was declared a UNESCO Heritage Zone in 1984.
The Fontainhas festival is a week-long art and culture festival held in the month of February every year. An attempt to create awareness about Goan heritage among younger generations & aiming to preserve the distinct cultural scene prevalent in Goa, the festival provides an opportunity for the artists to expand their network. The Goan heritage of music, dance and art closely connected with its Portuguese counterpart is well displayed at this festival. Singers and dancers from all across the world come here to perform on this occasion. The historic houses in Fontainhas are turned into art galleries, with residents displaying their artworks, unique architectural features of their balconies, and furnishings in their dining halls.
Interesting fact : William Dalrymple, a Scottish historian and curator, calls Fontainhas a “small chunk of Portugal washed up on the shores of the Indian Ocean”.