St Francis Church
I love architecture and I am particularly fascinated by colonial style architecture. In Fort Kochi, you are likely to encounter numerous built in Dutch and Portuguese styles, including many beautiful Portuguese churches and cathedral.
I chose to spend the first night at a mid-range 3-star heritage hotel by the Chinese fishing nets called The Tower House. The hotel is on the site of a 17th century lighthouse, but there is no sight of the lighthouse now. I love the colonial style interiors and furnishings here, but I do think it needs to be updated and better maintained.
The Tower House
There are many mid-range heritage hotels and guesthouses in Kochi, as well as some more upmarket ones like Forte Kochi, Old Lighthouse Bristow Hotel, Brunton Boatyard, The Malabar House, and Ginger House Museum Hotel etc.
Forte Kochi Hotel
Ginger House Museum Hotel
I have lost count of the numbers of churches I saw in Kochi – you are bound to pass by one in every corner. One of the most famous one is Saint Francis CSI Church, originally built in 1503 by the Portuguese, it is the first European church built in India. The original church structure was made of wood, but rebuilt with bricks in 1516 and dedicated to St. Antony. Over the next few centuries, the church was restored by the Dutch in 1779, then another extensive restoration was carried out by the British between 1886-87. After that, the British/Anglicans dedicated the church to St. Francis.
The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524 on his third visit to India. His body was originally buried in this church, but after fourteen years his remains were moved to Lisbon by his son, Padre da Silva de Gama. Though the gravestone of Vasco da Gama can still be seen at the church.
I really like the calm ambience and exterior – which reminds me so much of Portugal. It just felt a bit surreal to see this Portuguese style church in India.
St Francis CSI Church
Not far from the St. Francis Church is The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, one of the eight Basilicas in India. This basilica serves as the cathedral church of the Diocese of Cochin, the second oldest Diocese of India. The history of Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica also dates back to the sixteenth century and its foundation stone was laid on May 3, 1505, the feast day of the ‘Invention of the Holy Cross’, hence the church was named Santa Cruz. However, the original Portuguese structure was later destroyed by the British, and the current structure was consecrated in 1905.
This Basilicas is more imposing and grander than most of the churches in Kochi, featuring a main altar decorated by the famous Italian painter Fr Antonio Moscheni, S.J., and his disciple De Gama of Mangalore. There are also columns decorated with frescoes and murals, seven large canvas paintings on the passion and death on the Cross, large stained glass windows and paintings on the ceiling.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica
St. Andrews Parish Hall
A tranquil sight hidden from the main street is the Bishop’s House, which was originally built as the residence of the Portuguese Governor in 1506. After that, it became the possession of the Dutch, then the British, and in 1888, Dom Jos Gomes Ferreira, the 27th bishop of the diocese of Kochi acquired it and made it the Bishop’s House.
My intention was to visit the Indo Portuguese Museum located within the grounds of the Bishop’s House, but I found myself being enchanted by the tropical garden and plants, the colonial architecture and peaceful setting.
After lingering around the garden for a while, I walked towards the museum at the back. At the ticket office, the ticketing staff started to talk about the history of the museum and he just went on and on… I was listening to him for about 10-15 mins and decided to get away as I realised that he could go on for hours. Oddly enough, there was no one at the museum during my visit, and it didn’t take me too long to finish the ‘grand’ tour of the museum.
I was a bit disappointed with this museum and it wasn’t because of its small size or contents. There are some interesting Catholic and Portuguese artefacts at the museum, but there is not enough written information and history about these items. Without a guide, it is hard to understand the significance of these items, and I think a small leaflet would also be helpful if they want to attract more visitors here.
One intriguing fact I did learn from the talkative staff is that there is supposed to be an underground tunnel that connects the building to the old fort by the sea. But since the cellars are constantly flooded, no one is allowed to go into the tunnel now. Howvever, I couldn’t find any information online about this… Fact or fiction? It is up to you to decide.
Indo Portuguese Museum
Personally, one of my favourite places in town is David Hall Art Cafe. After seeing so many Portuguese architecture, it is refreshing to see a beautiful Dutch bungalow. Built around 1695 by the Dutch East India Company, it was the residence of the renowned Dutch governor, Hendrick Adrian Van Rheede tot Drakestein. However, the building gets its name from a later occupant, a Jewish businessman called David Koder.
The building hasn’t been altered much over the centuries, and you can still see the the wooden roof which is made of flat face rafters. I love the wooden beams and high ceiling inside the building, as well as the relaxing garden. The premise now runs as a contemporary art gallery, cultural venue & café, and I would definitely want to spend more time here on my next viist.
David Hall Art Cafe CGH Earth
Since I didn’t have many days here, I only briefly visited the historic Mattancherry area, where it is known for 16th-century Mattancherry Palace built by the Portuguese in traditional Keralan style. I didn’t have enough time to visit the palace, but I did pay a visit to the nearby Paradesi Synagogue located in Jew Town.
Constructed in 1568, it is one of seven synagogues of the Malabar Yehudan or Yehudan Mappila people or Cochin Jewish community in the Kingdom of Cochin. The interior of the divine hall is quite dazzling as it is filled with glass chandeliers and lamps that date back to the 19th century imported from Belgium. The room is also filled with hand-painted blue willow patterned tiles. It is worth a visit if you are in the area, but no photography is allowed inside.
Mattancherry Palace & Paradesi Synagogue
There are many beautiful and unusual colonial and modernist houses and buildings in Fort Kochi, and I think you can see more on foot. If you love architecture, you would love wandering around here. My advice is to go early or late afternoon, otherwise, it would be too hot and humid.
Doors and windows