Tuesday 30 May 2023

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Society | Heritage

Asia's first City of Old Goa in shambles


Old Goa, the first city in Asia built by mediaeval Europeans in the 16th century, is in shambles today. The demand from historians, preservationists and archaeologists to recreate the flavour of 16th century has been gathering dust in the government offices. On the contrary, the local authorities seems to be happy promoting it as a pilgrim centre for the locals and the tourists.

What has been exposed to the tourists are only the churches like Se Cathedral, the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Church of St Cajetan or the exposition of the dead body of St Francis Xavier once in a decade. Few remnants of some "non-living monuments" like a tower of St Agustine church and a gate of College of St Paul is also part of government's 'pilgrim tourism'.

But the actual City of Old Goa was covering 14 miles sq mts of area, from Ribandar to Banastari, with 60 churches standing there with its high towers at one time. But the state authorities have fully neglected the demand of protecting this area, due to which stands in between the Ciba-Giegy's Santa Monica plant while builders' lobby has encroached most of the areas, legally or illegally, thanks to the government apathy.

It was the birth place of Portuguese empire in Asia, from where armies were sent to distant places for conquests. The largest market of horse trade, jewellery, slaves and even a chor bazaar existed here. Around 3000 students from all over were studying here at College of St Paul, the biggest college of Asia in those days. The first printing press of Asia was introduced here in 1561, while also set up was the first mint by the Portuguese rulers.

Old Goa also has a historical significance owing to the Inquisition. Prison wells built during that time are still believed to be intact underground, over which exists today a huge lawn. But there are no plans to bring it to light, fearing 'communal tensions'.

No doubt it has been declared a World Heritage Zone, but it still remains on the paper with no political will seen at the state level or in Delhi to recreate the flavour of 16th century City of Old Goa. The United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has agreed to fund the project, but hardly any recommendation they made has been agreed upon by the authorities.

"It will turn out to be one of the biggest income generator for the state", says Muhammed K K, deputy superintending archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India. He has prepared a full scheme for the 'recreation', but none of the concerned authorities seems to be interested in it.

Its initial budget would be hardly Rs 25 lakh for the first two years, says Muhammed, while the local branch of the ASI has been allocated only Rs seven lakh annually to manage the whole show here. "The success of the project depends upon the political will of the Goa government, without whose assistance it's impossible to put the project into operation", he adds.

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