Close to Goa’s capital city of Panaji is a neighbourhood that enjoys a connection with the East African country of Mozambique. Situated between the foot of Altinho hill and Ourem creek, Bairro das Fontainhas, or simply Fontainhas, it has retained its old-world charm for more than 250 years, which is clearly visible in its architecture, cuisine and the stories that dot its landscape.
This story of this quaint neighbourhood goes back to the mid-18th century CE, when Goa was ruled by the colonial Portuguese. They had settled in Goa in 1510 CE and, over the next couple of hundred years, the number of Portuguese colonies had increased all over the world.
At the time, many Goans were moving to other Portuguese colonies in search of a better future. Among these adventurous Goans was Antonio Joao de Sequeira, who headed to Mozambique to seek better business prospects, in the 18th century.
Antonio became a successful businessman but he returned to Goa in the 1760s, to live a quiet, retired life. This was a time when epidemics such as malaria and cholera were sweeping across Goa. To avoid falling prey to sickness, Antonio used his fortune to lease a quiet and picturesque area nestled between Altinho Hill and Ourem creek, near present-day Panaji, and converted it into a coconut plantation. He named it ‘Palmeira Ponte’.
Palmeira Ponte grew as a hub of local industry, where the people were engaged in coconut farming, fishing and oil extraction. The residents nicknamed Antonio ‘Mossmikar’, meaning ‘prosperous resident returning from Mozambique’. Before his death in the 1790s CE, Antonio handed over the land he had leased to the Carmelite nuns of the Convent of Our Lady of Carmo at Chimbel.
Meanwhile, in the early 19th century, plague was taking a great toll on the people of Goa and the situation in Goa Velha was worsening. The Portuguese administration, therefore, shifted their capital to Nova Goa, which is present-day Panaji. With more government establishments and the residences of administrators and officers being shifted to the site of the new capital city, the demand for extra residential areas increased.
So, the Portuguese purchased Palmeira Ponte from the Carmelite nuns and developed it between 1810 and 1819. It was done in such a hurry that the development was haphazard. To this day, one can see streets coming out of nowhere, leading to even tinnier streets, and disorder in the way the houses are arranged.
Also, the place was named ‘Fontainhas’ after a spring called the ‘Fonte da Fenix’ or the ‘Fountain of Phoenix’ that was converted into a well by the Portuguese when they settled the area. The spring can be seen today as you proceed to the Maruti Temple in the Mala area.
While it was being settled, Fontainhas was introduced to the 15th century CE Portuguese art of hand-painted ceramic tiles called Azulejos, which is still practised here. The tiles are decorated with intricate, colourful artwork. A new law also required every resident to paint their house after the monsoon, a practice that continues to this day, accounting for the colourful streets in this neighbourhood.
Interestingly, the streets at Fontainhas are associated with some amazing stories. The Rua 31 de Janeiro is named after the day Portugal got independence from Spain, on 31st January 1640 CE. Similarly, the 18th June Road is named after Goa Revolution Day, when nationalists Juliao Menezes and Dr Ram Manohar Lohia launched a civil disobedience movement on that day in 1946. It eventually led to the liberation of Goa from the Portuguese in 1961.
After Goa’s liberation, when the pace of urban development increased to make way for new residential buildings, the mansions and homes in Fontainhas were displaced, raising an alarm for its residents. In 1974, Fontainhas was declared a conservation zone by the Government of Goa. In addition, the Goa Land Development and Building Construction Regulation 2010 marked 40 sites, monuments, houses and buildings in Panaji, including Fontainhas, for conservation purposes.
Take a long and leisurely walk in the neighbourhood and revel in its history, its tiled roofs, wooden doors and balconies all tell a story as do the art galleries, homestays and restaurants that have come up in more recent times. And if you visit Goa in February, you can attend the Fontainhas Festival, which creates awareness about its rich heritage among the young generation.
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