One of the first things that come to mind when one mentions Goa is the gorgeous beaches or the magnificent churches. Goa has a rich colonial history which is evident from its churches and ancient villas. Fontainhas is one such historic and a charming neighborhood located in Panjim, the vibrant capital of Goa.
The beautiful neighborhood is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has some of the grandiose mansions and traditional villas which make Fontainhas one of the must-visit places in Goa if you are looking to explore beyond the Goan beaches.
The Historic Sao Tome
We got a glimpse of the majestic mansions and traditional buildings of historic Goa on our first stop along the Mandovi River. We stopped near the post office in Sao Tome area to snap some pictures of the boats on the Mandovi River with a backdrop of the Mandovi bridge.
A small winding alley next to the post office leads into the interiors where we could find some brightly colored buildings. In fact, the post office is a heritage building was once the tobacco-trading house and the imposing mansion on the other side of the street was the state mint. Walking further we came across 200 years old pretty St Thomas Chapel.
And square surrounded by these buildings known as the Tobacco Square is the place where the executions took place in the 1700s.
Our next stop was Fontainhas we came to a narrow alley where driving through seemed risky and we were not sure if we would find space for parking further ahead. We decided to park the car and walk the remaining 10 minutes or so. The small alley also had some colorful buildings though not maintained very well. We also found a striking colorful stairway, painted walls and sculptures where we snapped some pictures.
Further ahead the small alley opened up to the magnificent ‘Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church’. There were some activity and games happening for Christmas.
We snapped some pictures of the church and walked further. The neighborhood of Fontainhas is situated along the banks of Ourem Creek and at the foot of the Altinho Hill less than 10 minutes walk from the iconic landmark of Panjim ‘Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church’.
As you enter the main street of Fontainhas colorful buildings painted in bright colors of red, yellow, blue, green start popping up. It was like walking into a time warp; walking into the colonial era of Portuguese back in the time.
Little History of Fontainhas
Fontainhas or Bairro das Fontainhas (in Portuguese) is an old Latin Quarter founded by a wealthy Portuguese named Antonio Joao de Sequeira (Mossmikar) in the 18th-century who used the land for coconut plantations. The name Fontainhas is said to be derived from a natural spring at the foot of the Altinho Hill called ‘Fountain of Phoenix’. When the Portuguese shifted their government headquarters from Old Goa to Panjim they built these large mansions and villas for the administrative officers.
The neighborhood of Fontainhas is said to be inspired by the Bairro Alto region in Lisbon. Walking through Fontainhas we could relate to the buildings in Bairo Alto, the colorful buildings with projecting balconies, colorful windows, and doors lining the narrow alleys. You can actually see a lot of Portuguese influence in the buildings of Fontainhas. Interestingly, there are people in Fontainhas who still speak Portuguese as their main language.
The ancient houses in Fontainhas built in Portuguese style of architecture with red tiled roof date back to the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the buildings in Fontainhas are occupied by restaurants, cafes, galleries, museums, government offices and some are converted into guest houses or hostels.
Surprisingly each of the buildings of Fontainhas looked like they have been recently painted and the lanes were well-maintained and super clean. Initially, we assumed it must be done as a preparation for the festive season but later we learned that during Portuguese rule, every resident was mandated by law to paint their house every year and the tradition has been followed even to this day.
The Instagrammable Spots in Fontainhas
Colorful Wall of Urban Cafe adorned with Azulejo Tiles
St Sebastian Church
The Chapel of St Sebastian which dates from the late 1800s is a popular landmark of Fontainhas. The interior of the church houses a large crucifix, which originally adorned the Palace of the Inquisition in Old Goa. An interesting feature of the crucifix is the image of Christ with eyes open, unlike other images where the eyes are usually closed.
It is said this was done to create fear among the people during interrogations by the Inquisitors. The interior also has some exquisite artworks and intricately carved altarpieces which were relocated from a church in Diu.
Next to the church is a wishing well painted in bright red color. Two roosters stood on the top of the well on either side. You will find roosters decorating most of the buildings here which are symbolic of one of the important emblems of Portugal – ‘Rooster of Barcelos’. There are numerous legends associated with its significance which you can read here. The wishing well was built during the time of Portuguese and hence the roosters.
Another interesting feature you will see for the buildings is the address or the house name or the street name written on the Azulejo which are blue and white Portuguese ceramic tiles. We had seen plenty of them back in the historic center of Lisbon when we visited. You can also take back some of these handpainted Azulejo (ceramic tiles) as souvenirs from Goa. The Velha Goa Galeria in Fontainhas specializes in traditional hand-painted Azulejos and other imported products.
Names of Streets
You will find it interesting that a couple of the streets of Fontainhas are named after historical dates. Rua 31 de Janeiro (31st January Road) is named after the day when Portugal got independence from Spain in 1640 and 18th June Street is named after the day when Goa was freed from Portuguese rule in 1946. Quite interesting isn’t it?
You will also find a bakery Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro named after the street where you can try some traditional Goan desserts and delicious cakes. We are sure you would definitely want to take a picture of those street names.
It took us some time to get to this famous restaurant in Fontainhas Panjim. Tucked into a small alley obscured by other buildings is Viva Panjim which is popular for serving Goan dishes and traditional Goan desserts.
We have heard a lot about the food here. Unfortunately, it was closed for Christmas when we visited so the review of the restaurant is for the next time.
We had almost missed this attraction. We stumbled upon this during a friendly chat with one of the locals about the places to visit or more photo stops in Fontainhas and he mentioned the Peacock Stairs.
The stairs are located between the houses in one of the alleys of Fontainhas and are beautifully adorned ceramic tiles depicting a Peacock spanning the length and width of the stairs.
Further ahead is the famous Maruti Temple which sits atop Altinho hill and offers a breathtaking view of the Mandovi River and the Fontainhas.
The Gallery Gitanjali is one of the important landmarks in Fountainhas.
The gallery displays a large collection of Scandinavian art including lithographs, woodcuts, and etchings.
We got to read about this art festival from the internet and would love to explore it someday. The festival happens annually in the month of February for a week when each of the houses of Fontainhas turns into a gallery and holds an exhibition of artworks and artifacts on heritage and history of Goa.
There are also events and cultural programs held during the festival. That sounds like a wonderful idea to preserve one’s heritage and culture and imbibe it in the future generation. The festival actually reminds us of the Bhilar Town near Panchgani we visited during the Mahabaleshwar trip where most of the houses of the village have accommodated a library in their houses open to the public each on a different subject.
It is was an amazing experience exploring this charming colorful old Latin Quarters of Goa. Have you visited Fontainhas in Goa? Does it remind you of Lisbon especially Bairo Alto and the historic center? Do share with us in comments.
Make sure to spend a few days in Goa and explore the places around Goa which have some of the gorgeous hidden beaches, quaint villages, and mouthwatering seafood.
Things to do in Temple Town of Gokarna – Gokarna is about 150 km from Goa
Karwar – The Pristine untouched beaches and the Scrumptious Sea Food – 85 Km from Goa
Murudeshwar Temple – A Visit to the World’s Second Tallest Shiva Statue – 200 km from Goa