Goa: the capital of Portuguese India

Written by Marco Ramerini. English text revision by Dietrich Köster.

Goa is situated on an island at the mouth of the Mandovi River. At the time of the arrival of the Portuguese in India, Goa was under the rule of the Sultan of Bijapur, for whom Goa was the second most important city. It was wealthy and possessed a grand natural harbour.

On 28 February 1510 Afonso de Albuquerque, the Governor of Portuguese India, arrived with a fleet of several ships and anchored off Goa harbour. The following morning some Portuguese boats were sent out as patrol. They landed and conquered the Fortress of Pangim. The next day a message from the inhabitants of Goa was received. They offered the surrender of the city and the vassalage to the King of Portugal. In the morning of 4 March 1510 Albuquerque with 1,000 Portuguese soldiers and 200 Malabarese entered Goa. Albuquerque’s first care was to repair Goa’s fortifications. He also established a mint, for the quick coinage of gold, silver and copper money.

Indo-Portuguese art (17th-18th century). Turin, private collection, photo courtesy of Walter and Mario Chiapetto

Indo-Portuguese art (17th-18th century). Turin, private collection, photo courtesy of Walter and Mario Chiapetto

The Bijapurese organized a large army and marched towards Goa. The ruinous condition of Goa’s fortification forced Albuquerque after a fierce resistance to abandon the town to the Sultan of Bijapur. Adil Khan at the head of 50,000 soldiers entered Goa on 20 May 1510. The Portuguese fleet was now blockaded by the monsoon at the mouth of Mandovi River and the Portuguese ships were exposed to the Moors’ cannonade. Albuquerque’s tenacity let him resist till 16 August 1510, when the entire Portuguese fleet sailed away. Albuquerque waited for reinforcements from Lisbon and when these arrived, he soon prepared a fleet of 23 ships and 2,000 men to conquer Goa definitively. In the morning of 25 November 1510 Albuquerque’s men attacked the city and at midday Goa was again in Portuguese hands.

Soon after the conquest of Goa ambassadors from various Indian Kingdoms came to Goa in search for the conclusion of an alliance. For the next two years Goa was again and again under the attacks of the Sultan of Bijapur Adil Shah (Hidalcao), who was resolutely determined to reconquer the town. In 1512 a new attempt was made by the Adil Shah to drive away the Portuguese from Goa. In this year the Moors fortified Benasterim, which controlled the principal passage from the mainland to the island of Goa. Albuquerque, returning from Malacca, wasted no time and soon attacked the fortress, which was taken after several days of siege. Thereafter he ordered to reinforce the forts of Benasterim, Devarim and Pangim, which commanded the principal passes to the mainland. He also founded a hospital and built several churches in Goa (Igreja do Priorado do Rosário, Capela de Santa Catarina).

On 15/16 December 1515 Goa’s conqueror Afonso de Albuquerque died in the harbour of Goa. His mortal remains were temporarily buried in the chapel, he had built in Goa, and were later (1566) conveyed to Portugal. He was the builder of the Portuguese Empire in the East (Goa, Malacca, Hormuz). He was relentless with his enemies, but he also seems to have appreciated the character of the Asiatic peoples and he often left the civil administration of the places, he conquered, in the hands of the natives. He was the first to encourage the marriage of Portuguese soldiers with native women.

In 1530 the capital of Portuguese India was transferred from Cochin to Goa and in 1534 it became the centre of the Roman-Catholic Church for the entire Orient and finally in 1557 Goa became seat of an archbishopric. On this occasion a large cathedral was built (Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina 1562-1619). St. Francis Xavier arrived in Goa in 1542.

In 1543 the Goan territory was enlarged through the annexation of the provinces of Bardez and Salcete. In 1560 the inquisition (active 1560-1774 and 1779-1812) was introduced. In 1570 the Sultan of Bijapur made the last effort to dislodge the Portuguese from Goa, but after a siege of ten months he was forced to give up.

At the beginning of the 17th century Goa was the capital of an empire, which spread from Mozambique to Nagasaki controlling the Indian Ocean trade. This was the period of great brightness for Goa and the Portuguese power in the East. The city was called “Goa Dourada” and “Roma do Oriente”. It is said that Goa had 200,000 inhabitants in those days and was able to compete with the most important cities in the world. A lot of magnificent churches and buildings were built during these years. Several of them still exist today. A Portuguese proverb of the time said: “Quem viu Goa, dispensa de ver Lisboa”.

The decline of Goa began with the coming of the Dutch, who several times during the 17th century blockaded Goa from the sea and destroyed the Portuguese power in the East between 1600 and 1650. In spite of this Goa was never conquered and remained in Portuguese hands till December 1961 when it was occupied together with Damão and Diu by the Indian Army. In 1760 Velha Goa was abandoned and the seat of the government was transferred to Pangim, which in 1843 was officially declared the capital of Portuguese India. In 1763 the districts of Ponda, Quepem, Sanguem and Canacona were added to the Portuguese possessions. Finally, in 1788 the districts of Pernem, Satari and Bicholim were also added.


Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina, the largest church of Goa. It was built between 1562 and 1619 and the altar was finished in 1652. The northern tower of this church collapsed in 1776. There is a golden bell in the southern tower.

Igreja e Convento de São Francisco de Assis: The church was built in 1661 on the site where used to be an old Franciscan chapel. This church has a beautiful portal in Manueline style. Today the Convent is a museum.

The Capela de Santa Catarina was built in 1552 on the site of the old chapel (1510), built by Afonso de Albuquerque.

The Igreja and the Convento de São Caetano were built by Italian friars of the Theatine Order in the years 1655-1661.

The Basílica do Bom Jesus, built during the years 1594-1605, is one of the richest churches in Goa and is principally known for the tomb of St. Francis Xavier. This basílica, where the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier are kept, is the best specimen of baroque architecture in India and has a cross-shaped ground plan. This beautiful tomb of St. Francis Xavier was a gift from the Medici Cosimo III, the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

Ruins of the Igreja e Convento dos Agostinianos. They were built by Augustinian Friars in 1602. Of this church and convent today only remain the tower and the arches in a ruined state. The tower has four storeys with an arch on each of them left and is nearly 46 meters high.

Igreja do Priorado do Rosário, Capela Real de Santo António, Igreja and Convento de Santa Mônica (1606-1627), Igreja da Cruz dos Milagres (1671), Ruins of the Igreja e Colégio de São Paulo (1541-1543).


Population (1881): 445,449 (2,500 were “Mestiços” or “Descendentes”). Religion (1881): Christians: 55 % (there were 96 Catholic Churches); Hindus: 45 %. Languages (1881): Konkani: all the classes of the peoples, except Europeans and “Mestiços”, use the Konkani language with some admixture of Portuguese words. Portuguese: the official language, is principally spoken in the capital and in the chief towns.


Languages (1981): Konkani 600,004; Marathi 266,649; Gujarati 77,677; Kannada 33,512; Urdu 27,703; Hindi 21,158; Malayalam 7,634; English 6,407; Telugu 5,527; Tamil 3,884; Punjabi 1,314. Portuguese: it is now spoken only by a small segment of the upper class families and about 3 to 5% of the people still speak it (estimated at 30,000 to 50,000 people).


Population (1991): 1.169.793. Religion (1991): Hindus: 756.621 (64.68%); Christians: 349.225 (29.85%); Muslim: 61.455 (5.25%); Sikhs: 1.087 (0.09%); Jains: 487 (0.04%); Buddhist: 240 (0.02%); Others: 403 (0.03%).


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About Marco Ramerini

I am passionate about history, especially the history of geographical explorations and colonialism.