Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A 405-year old Tower

An all time favourite on travel brochures, the St.Augustine Tower at Old Goa is a spectacular sight. The electrical lines in this photo look like skewed lines of perspective. The boards put up by the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) tell its story.

"Friars of Augustinian Order arrived in Goa in 1572 and built a small convent on Holy Hill and later it was enlarged. The Convent building had three storeys provided with two large stone staircases leading to the floors above. On entering the convent there were two cloisters, corridors, pillars, galleries, halls having numerous rooms, a refectory, a guesthouse and infirmary." The place looks like a green promenade now after the monsoons.

"In 1835 the complex was abandoned due to the expulsion of the religious orders from Goa and the Portuguese government ordered its demolition. In 1846 the main vault of the church collapsed and the convent rapidly decayed. The bell from the tower was initially taken to Fort Aguada and later in 1871 was shifted to the Immaculate Conception Church in Panjim."

"This 46 meter high colossal four storied arched belfry tower built of laterite formed part of the facade of the Church of St.Augustine. The tower and Church were built in 1602 by the Augustinian friars. "

Very few travel brochures mention that the church attached to the Augustinian convent was dedicated to Our Lady of Grace. This is what the Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Graca originally looked like (courtesy Baroque India by Jose Pereira). Five bays, four storeys, square towers, arched openings with pediments, and the classical sequence of arch-rectangle-oculus-niche in the central bay. The Church of Santana in Talaulim uses this colossal facade as a model for its own massive front.

If the tower is 46 meters high, the vault must have been about 21 meters in span! A remarkable feat of engineering for that time. I find this legend repeated in many places: "During construction, the high vault fell down twice. However, the Italian architect would not give up. When built a third time, he and his only son stood under the vault and asked for a heavy cannon to be fired to test the stability of the structure. It did not fall down-until much later."

The archaeological excavated finds are laid out like a miniature Stonehenge!

The ravages of the monsoons can be brutal and laterite which is a relatively soft stone gets steadily carved out by the rains before its downfall.

The doorways that connect the chapels on both sides of the nave.

I've saved the best photograph for last. I found this in my late uncle's chest while cleaning the musty old attic. It's from a 'Souvenir da Velha Cidade de Goa' by the venerable photographers Souza & Paul. The back cover of this photograph collection reads 'Unico Representante na India Portuguesa das makinas fotograficas Rolleiflex e Rolleicord' !

And part of the mortal remains of the martyred St Ketevan, Queen of Georgia, are believed to be buried somewhere in this complex!


Anonymous said...

I would definetly recommend this site (Physical/ virtual) to my pals.And, you definetly saved the last snap of the tower for the best.

ramesh_lalwani said...

I am writing an article on St Augustine Church in Goa.I found lot of information and photos very useful for my work.I want to use some of course I shall give credit to you.Shall appreciate early response/