History Of Goa
Goa And Its Portuguese Colonial Period

The Portuguese history of Goa begins around the 15th Century, when Portugal began to set its sights on Goa as a destination in which to expand her empire abroad.

For nearly 500 years, this small area on India's west coast was ruled by the Portuguese. Their influence is clearly visible today in the architecture, food, art and ideology that make Goa unique.

Read more about the history of Goa and its route to independence or delve into ancient Goa history and its pre-colonial past.

Portuguese Arrival in the History of Goa

With the European powers seeking influence abroad in the 15th Century, the Portuguese set their sights on the ports of the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese knew that crossing the Indian Ocean via the Cape Of Good Hope in southern Africa would open up a route to the spice islands of the Phillipines, and provide easier access to the luxury goods of India.

In 1498, Vasco Da Gama set sail to Calicut on the south Indian coast from Lisbon. His arrival there signalled the beginning of the colonial period in the history of Goa. Da Gama's expeditions were marked by atrocities and bloodshed, and thus the Europeans were disliked by the major powers of the region.

The sinking of a small Portuguese fleet between Mumbai and modern Goa by the Ottomon Turks and a fleet of Calicut vessels sparked a far greater naval conflict which took place at the Indus Delta and was known as the Battle of Diu. The Portuguese and Muslim fleets involved knew that success here would mean dominance over the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese with better ships and more firepower won outright, and marked the occasion by firing the limbs of their prisoners at towns and villages along the coast.

Eleven years after Da Gama arrived in India, and after the Battle of Diu had ensured Portuguese dominance of the Indian Ocean, a permanent enclave was needed on the Indian coast to administer the trade. After bloody battles the Portuguese finally captured the capital of Ela, and set about fortifying the city. It would remain under Portuguese rule for 450 years.

Christianity and Settlement

Once established in Ela, the Portuguese began a religious conquest, aiming to convert Hindus that had remained in the city. Persuation rather than force were used to convert at first, and soldiers were encouraged to marry local women thus ensuring Christian children. In 1532, however, the tactics became more forceful.

Shrines across the territory were plundered, temples were closed and Hindus were even tortured and killed for failure to convert. Despite these measures, secret temples were still used throughout the crusades.

Goa was the destination of mass immigration in the late 16th Century, with 2500 Portuguese leaving for the territory every year. Old Goa at the time had a greater population than that of Lisbon or London, and was famous for its lavish churches and cathedrals as well as for its prime position on Asia's most profitable trade route.

Despite Goa's importance as the stronghold of Christianity in Asia, many settlers enjoyed the luxury that their power provided, and a reputation for decadence and immorality became associated with the area.

Goa's Decline

Several factors contributed to Goa's decline as a Portuguese territory throughout the 17th Century. A recession in Portugal (blamed on labour shortages due to high migration), the spread of diseases such as malaria and typhoid in the colony and the poor position of Old Goa on a river that was beginning to fill with silt all led to the decay and decline of this once rich and prosperous city.

Muslim attacks weakened the Portuguese's resistance, and Dutch success on aquiring parts of the Malabar coastal region (south of Goa) meant that the trade routes on which Old Goa grew rich were being commandeered by other powers.

The Maratha Wars of 1664 to 1739 further destabilised the Portuguese stronghold in India. Forced to decide between the warring Hindu Marathas and Muslim Mughal armies, the Portuguese incurred the anger of the Marathas by granting safe passage to the Mughals through Goa. This eventually led to the seizing of Margao by the Marathas and the introduction of a treaty which required Portugal to pay compensation in exchange for the withdrawal of Marathi troops from Goa. Losses of territory to other European powers further escalated the financial strains.

Novas Conquistas and the New Capital of Panjim

Important to the history of Goa was the Portuguese expansion into the surrounding taluks (districts) of Satari, Bicholim, Pernem, Ponda, Sanguem, Quepem and Canacona in the late 18th Century. These New Conquests, or Novas Conquistas were aimed to provide a buffer to Goa's capital and boost moral. Together with the Velhas Conquistas (Old Conquests) of Bardez, Salcete and Tiswadi, Goa's 'completion' defines its borders even today.

In the 1800s the capital of Goa was in a state of advanced decay, and remaining inhabitants looked west along the Mandovi River for a more suitable settlement closer to the sea. A small fihing village at the mouth of the Mandovi was chosen, and underwent massive development at the hands of viceroy Dom Manuel de Portugal e Castro. By the 1850's the new seat of colonial goverment had become the city of grand houses, wide, leafy streets and thriving business that is familiar as Panjim today.

Irrespective of the success of the new capital of Panjim, disillusionment was growing among the Portuguese in Goa and at home, and among people native to Goa and its surrounding areas. The path to Goa's independence would be a long one, but by the 1830's events pointed to the fact that it was already underway...

Read more about the history of Goa and its road to independence or discover the history of pre-colonnial Goa.

Read more about Goa, India.


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