History and museums
Fontainhas (or Bairro das Fontainhas, in Portuguese) is an old Latin Quarter in Panaji, capital city of the state of Goa, India. It maintains to this day its Portuguese influence, namely at the architectonic level, such as narrow and pretty winding streets as found in many European cities, old villas and buildings with projecting balconies painted in the traditional tones of pale yellow, green, or blue, and roofs made of red coloured tiles. The Fontainhas's heritage ambiance represents the traditional Portuguese influence in the area.
Fontainhas is the oldest Latin quarter of Panjim (another name for Panaji), akin to a Mediterranean city. Located at the foot of the hills, it is bounded on the west side by the Altinho hills with springs, after which it derived its name. On the east side, it is bounded by an ancient creek known as the Ourem creek. It was built on reclaimed land.
In the late eighteenth century, a Goan expatriate nicknamed "the Mossmikar", who had made his wealth while working in Mozambique, established Fontainhas on reclaimed land.
In 1844, an administrator of the Government who had restored a certain degree of law and order in Goa directed that even the people of the lower strata of society should appear properly dressed in public. He built an elegant street with a parapet called the Rua Nova d’Ouremsea on the seaward side of the Fontainhas Bairro (Quarter). In the same area, he also created the Phenis fountain, which had a fine façade and porch.
The Fontainhas had a high population density. The rich people lived on Panjim hill in large bungalows, while the less affluent lived at the foot and the east of the hill, hemmed between the hill and the small tidal creek, which remains dry and emits a foul smell during the low flow season.
William Dalrymple calls Fontainhas a "small chunk of Portugal washed up on the shores of the Indian Ocean". It is the only area in Goa where Portuguese is still the main language.
The old houses built here in the 18th and 19th centuries (independent double and single storied houses) in Portuguese architectural style are retained in their original colourful elegance with roofs formed of red tiles and houses painted in pale yellow, green or blue colours. The Fundacão Orienté, an organization involved in the task of restoration of heritage buildings in Goa is also located here. Fonte Phoenix, a natural spring (well) at one of the quarter's houses, has been refurbished. Many art galleries cum cafes are located here.
An evening in the Fontainhas reveals unmarried women sitting on the roofed gallery steps, wearing colourful flowery dresses, scanning newspapers, and chatting with their neighbours in Portuguese. Another scene of old world charm finds violinists playing musical works of Villa Lobos from their windows, and cages of birds hanging from the ornate balconies overlooking the small, red-tiled city square. Another nostalgic scene is of old people dressed in well-pressed linen pants and wearing Hamburg hats walking out of taverns and wobbling along the cobbled streets, which are lined with rundown old Volkswagen Beetles. A "Mediterranean douceur" can also be sighted in the lanes.
While most mansions of aristocrats have been destroyed to make way for modern buildings, some old houses of impoverished Indo-Portuguese people, erstwhile rich, are still found here. Windows and balconies in some of the houses face the back lanes of the Fontainhas.
The houses and the lanes are kept very clean. During Portuguese rule, every urban resident was mandated by law to paint his house every year after the monsoons; this practice is still continued as a tradition.
A popular theme walk in the Fontainhas focuses on the architectural elegance of the atmospheric heritage area.
The Chapel of St Sebastian, erected in 1880, is located at the southern end of the Fontainhas. It was traditionally the locale for the annual street festival of the Feast of Our Lady of Livrament. An old well exists in its precincts. The chapel is well preserved and has a very large crucifix, which was once fixed at the Palace of the Inquisition in Old Goa; earlier, it was in the palace of Adil Shah but later moved to this chapel when the Viceroy moved out to Cabo. A striking feature of the crucifix is the image of Christ created over it with eyes open, as if to create fear among the people to the interrogations of the Inquisitors. The chapel also houses an image of the Virgin Mary, two veneered wooden chests, and three intricately-carved altarpieces relocated from a church in Diu.
Every year, for one week, 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.