Goa is not unknown to many. Every year crowds throng to Goa, for getaways, experiences, and its magnetism. Goa has its own charm, which is captivating. It can be well credited to its unique history, people, built heritage, and style. This Goan style of building and heritage architecture, collectively misinterpreted as Portuguese or Portuguese-inspired architecture, is a palimpsest of time. What we see as Goan architecture today is an amalgamation of years of power structures and their influences, the climate, and the ethnography. The colonial past or the Portuguese influence is not all erased but just a significant part of the overall eclectic, experimental, and multi-faceted Goan style of architecture. 

Built Heritage of Goa - Sheet1
Tambdi Surla Mahadev Temple_Nomadographer
Built Heritage of Goa - Sheet2


The evolution of Goan architecture and architectural style is complex and stratified. Not only did patronage dictate this evolution but also skills, crafts, materials, and natural conditions. While civilization in the area dates back to the 3rd century, it was the Mauryan and the Sathavana empires which brought the first wave of significant developments in the 2nd century CE. Buddhism was thus introduced in the land. The Sathavanas even carried out prolific trade with the Greek and Roman empires, as a result of which Buddhist monuments and statues built In the Greek style were discovered in Goa. Without any concrete evidence too it is very clear from Goan architecture that remains today, that a lot of it is born out of cultural trade-offs and exchanges and diverse influences. The Bhojas acquire the Goan lands for a significant 500 years in history, most of these empires, including the Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas, until the Vijayanagara kingdom took over focused their resources on building rock-cut temples and cave structures. The caves of Khandepur near Ponda, are one serving example. These were ornamented and detailed intricately using their unique regional styles. It is worth noting that these dynasties were amongst the first to use local materials – including laterite. These local materials were also being used for residential construction using architecture and construction technology influenced by Roman trade. The Safe masjid was built by the Sultan of Bijapur, in Ponda in south Goa, an important Islamic monument in the state. Franciscan friars, built the first few churches in Goa, including the Our Lady of Rosary overlooking the Mandovi River. These former years heavily contributed to the development of the nascent cultural landscape of the area. 

The local tribes came to be known as Kunbi & Gauda, largely fishermen and farmers by profession. They were the indigenous people of Goa. The arrival of the Portuguese in Goa saw the transformation of not only the locals, and cultural landscape but also the built heritage of Goa. They brought with them architectural styles and techniques which blended with the local Indian style which had developed over many years. One major attribute the Portuguese inherited from the Indian style was the use of laterite stone in Goa. The reddish-brown sedimentary rock is abundantly found in Konkan India and is ideal for tropical architecture. It is highly durable, weather resident and easy to work with. 

Sanvordekar House Courtyard in Goa_Deccan Herald


Decorative elements like wood and stone carvings were a unique blend of the east meets west, with Indo-Islamic floral and geometric motifs including more Portuguese style motifs like the rooster (signifying Christianity), Vieiras or scallop shells (symbolizing pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela). These motifs were woven the traditional decorative elements like lattice screens, carved wooden pillars, and frame mouldings. The first Indo- Portuguese architecture came about in the villages of Chandor, and Loutolim. It materialized as mansions and villas for the first noblemen from Portugal. These mansions were different from the earlier existing wooden houses, with temple tanks and occasional flour mills. Large balconies and verandahs characterized the mansions called balcaos locally, and seating within them was referred to as sopo. These too were an adaptation of the previously existing courtyards or locally called aangan/aal, used for religious rituals, socializing, and family gatherings. Ornamental plasterwork around typical architectural elements along with azulejo tiles and the use of bright colors. The Portuguese were known for their expertise in construction and architecture, and they brought with them many of the architectural styles and techniques that were popular in Europe at the time. The pitched roof was a common feature of European architecture, and the Portuguese likely introduced this style to Goa, as opposed to the sloping roofs made in thatch or palm leaves to withstand rains. The pitched roof was typically covered in red clay tiles. The law Portuguese law forbidding all buildings except churches to use white exteriors, allowed the locals to use vibrant colours for their homes. The Portuguese also introduced the use of mother of pearl. However, the use of mother of pearl was initially limited to religious buildings for altars and pulpits, later was widely used for common architecture as well. 


Fort Aguada is another surviving example of Indo – Portuguese style of military architecture. The well-preserved and widely visited neighborhood of Fontainhas was developed as a center for trade and commerce by the Portuguese. It was later used to serve as a residential area for the merchants. The buildings are replete with all the Indo-Portugese architecture and decorative elements like the balcao, plasterwork, etc. However, the traditional Indian water conservation methods and practices and courtyards were erased in the new style that emerged. The use of mud and palm thatch also saw a decline. While Portuguese influences have significantly shaped Goan architecture, elements of the indigenous traditions can still be found in certain structures, particularly in rural areas and older settlements. While Fontainhas is certainly an important part of the Goan architectural landscape, there is much more to Goan architecture than just this one neighborhood. Sadly, very little is known in the widespread press and media about the pre-Portugese style for one to gather from. 

Post the Portuguese era a modernist era began for Goan architecture. A renewed interest was seen in conserving and archiving the Pre – Portuguese and well as Indo-Portuguese styles of architecture. Architects like Lester Silveira, Gerard De Cunha, and many historians are revisiting what really is Goan and making attempts to capture the true Goan style through their works. 

Goa’s architectural heritage is a rich and diverse tapestry that showcases the state’s unique identity and the confluence of the many procedures in this one small coastal region.

Outlook India. (2021, October 27). Reviving a Checked Past with Goa’s Gawda Kapodd Magazine. Retrieved from

The Times of India. (2017, January 20). Back to the cradle of tribal civilization. Retrieved from