Fort Kochi- centuries old heritage town -
Fort Kochi owes its grace and old-world ambience to the old buildings and worshipping centres there. The beach at Fort Kochi is a tranquil experience at any time of the day. The Fort Kochi beach, with its clean premises and tranquil atmosphere, is frequented by tourists as well as the local people. There are many factors that differentiate the beach from the other beaches of Kerala. The presence of the Chinese fishing nets is probably the most easily identifiable one. The trees and the greenery on the walkway to the beach add to the serene atmosphere there. It is on these beaches that the famous Cochin Carvinal is conducted on New Year’s Eve.
The beach also gives you a breathtaking view of the sunset. You can glimpse cargo ships passing through the sea. The remains of the Fort Immanuel can also be seen here.
At different times in its history, three colonial powers had occupied the area for centuries. All of them left indelible marks on Fort Kochi’s geography and culture, and made significant contributions to art and architecture. It is the old buildings which most clearly reveal this deep-rooted colonial influence. Though a few are in ruins, many of them have been converted into restaurants, offices or are being used for homestay for tourists.
Some of these must-see buildings of Fort Kochi are Vasco House, Koder House, Old Harbour House, David Hall and the Bastion Bungalow.
The Dutch wrested Fort Kochi from the Portuguese in AD 1663 and later in the last phase of the colonial saga, the British took over, the town in 1795. During 1660’s, Fort Kochi peaked in stature as a prime commercial centre and its fame spread far and wide – variously as a rich trade centre, a major military base, a vibrant cultural hub, a great ship building centre, a centre for Christianity and so on. Today, centuries later, the city is home to nearly thirteen communities.
A few interesting sites included in the tour are the Chinese fishing nets along the Vasco Da Gama Square, Santa Cruz Basilica, St.Francis Church, VOC Gate, Bastion Bungalow etc. Apart from these architectural splendors, an array of restaurants serving fresh seafood are also popular among tourists. The Chinese fishing nets erected on teak wood and bamboo poles work on the principle of balance. Records say they were first set up here between AD 1350 and 1450. Vasco Da Gama Square, the narrow promenade that parallels the beach, is the best place to watch the nets being lowered and pulled out of the sea.
The Santa Cruz Basilica, a church built originally by the Portuguese and elevated to a Cathedral by Pope Paul 1V in 1558, was spared by the Dutch conquerors who destroyed many Catholic buildings. Later the British demolished the structure and Bishop Dom Gomez Vereira commissioned a new building in 1887. Consecrated in 1905, Santa Cruz was proclaimed a Basilica by the Pope John Paul II in 1984.
Fort Kochi is also home to one of India’s oldest churches – the St.Francis Church. This was a Roman Catholic Church during the Portuguese rule from 1503 to 1663, then a Dutch Reformist Church from 1664 to 1804, and Anglican church from 1804 to 1947. Today it is governed by the Church of South India (CSI). Another important fact about the church is that Vasco Da Gama, who died in 1524, was buried here before his mortal remains were returned to Portugal 14 years later… Each and every structure, street, door, window and brick in Fort Kochi has several stories to tell.
Fort Kochi is accessible by bus or ferry. The bus ride from Ernakulam town, which is nearly 13 km away, takes about an hour and the ferry ride from Main boat jetty at Ernakulam about 20 minutes.
Tourist Spots in Fort Kochi are as under:
Chinese Fishing nets: The chinese fishing nets found here are the only ones of its kind in India. It is believed that traders from the court of the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan introduced these nets here. Erected here between 1350 and 1450 AD by traders from the court of Kublai Khan, these nets are set up on Teak wood and bamboo poles. The best place to watch the nets being lowered into the sea and catch being brought in is the Vasco da Gama Square, a narrow promenade that runs along the beach. The Square is ideal place to idle, with stalls serving fresh delicious sea food, tender coconut etc.
Dutch Palace: The Dutch Palace was originally built by the Portugese. Later, in 17th century, the Dutch modified it and presented to the Raja of Kochi. Coronation of many Rajas of Kochi were held here. The place has a fine collection of mural paintings depicting the scenes from the Hindu epics Mahabharatha and Ramayana.
Jew Town: The area around the Synagogue is a centre of spice trade. It is famous for the antique shops all along its sides. The colonial buildings lining the street add to its old-world charm. Take a walk along the Jew Town and you can breathe antiquity. The curio and antique shops along the street are capable of enchanting the visitors with their variety and rarity. The antique shops on Jew Town store anything and everything that can be described as antique and that may catch the eye of a tourist. Jewellery, crockery, wooden pillars, curios, wooden and metal figurines, statuettes, carved wooden furniture and handicrafts like wooden elephants, mirrors, wall hangings, paintings – you name it, they have it. There are also lamps, Chinese urns, door frames, vintage photographs, and glass and porcelain ware that were once part of churches or homesteads of noble families.
Apart from these antiques, one can find sculptures, handmade toys, embroidered garments, floral oils, and chandeliers in many other shops along the street.
Jewish Synagogue : The Jewish synagogue was built in 1568, almost 1500 years after the beginning of the Jewish connection with Kerala. It was built on the land, adjacent to the Mattancherry Palace, given by the erstwhile king of Cochin. The synagogue, the oldest in the Commonwealth, was built by the Jewish community of Cochin. In 1662, it was destroyed by the Portguese and then reconstructed, two years later, by the Dutch.
Pierce Leslie Bungalow: This charming mansion was the office of Pierce Leslie & Co., coffee merchants, founded in 1862. A representative of the Fort Kochi colonial bungalow, this building reflects Portuguese, Dutch and local influences. Characteristic features are wood panels that form the roof of the ground floor, arched doors and sprawling rooms. Waterfront verandahs are an added attraction.
Santa Cruz Basilica: This historic church was built by the Portguese and eleveated to a Cathedral by Pope Paul IV in 1558. in 1795 it fell into the hands of the British when they took over Kochi, and was demolished. About a hundred years later Bishop Dom Gomez Ferreira commissioned a new building at the same site in 1887. The Church was proclaimed a Basilica in 1984 by Pope John Paul II.
St Francis Church: It is the oldest church built by European in India.On his 3rd visit to Kerala, Vasco da Gama, the Portugese trader who reached India from Europe by sea, fell ill and died in Kochi. He was buried in the St. Francis Church. Later his remains were taken back to Portugal. In spite of that the exact place where he was buried has been marked out inside the church.
The Dutch Cemetery : The tomb stones here are the most authentic record of the hundreds of Europeans who left their homeland on a mission to expand their colonial empires and changed the course of history of this land. The cemetery was consecrated in 1724 and is today managed by the Church of South India.
Indo-Portuguese Museum : The Indo-Portuguese Museum situated in Fort Kochi throws light on the strong Portuguese influence in both the art and the architecture of the region. The museum today is an important center for understanding the Indo-Portuguese Christian Art heritage, which is still surviving. The museum is the outcome of the untiring efforts of the late Dr. Joseph Kureethra, Bishop of Kochi. Driven by sheer commitment to protect the rich heritage of his Diocese, the bishop established the Indo-Portuguese Museum to preserve some of the invaluable collections for posterity.
Princess Street : Loafer’s Corner, also known as Princess street is one of the earliest streets to be constructed in Fort Kochi, Ernakulam. Princess Street with its European style residences still retains its old world charm. The best view of this quaint street can be had from Loafer’s Corner, the traditional meeting place and hangout of the jovial funloving people of the area.
VOC Gate : The VOC Gate, facing the Parade Ground, is another landmark of Fort Kochi. Built in 1749 by the Dutch East India Company, the gate carries a monogram VOC; hence the name.
Parade Ground : Adjacent to the St Francis Church is an open ground covering an area of about four acres. This is the Parade Ground where the Portuguese, the Dutch and the British colonists used to conduct their military parades and drills. The buildings around the Parade Ground served as their defence establishments. This continued until the tricolor was hoisted at the Ground in 1947.