Kochi – The Gateway to Kerala

Formerly known as Cochin, Kochi is a major port city on the Malabar Coast of the Arabian Sea in Kerala state. The beauty of Kerala is no secret and is called “God’s Own Country”. Kochi is also used to refer to a cluster of islands – Ernakulam, Mattancheri, Fort Kochi, Willingdon Island, Vypin Island, and Gundu Island. Kochi is one of the most beautiful cities on the South Coast of India. It boasts an all-weather harbor, giving it the title “Queen of the Arabian Sea”.

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Kochi_©Mishab Myladan on Unsplash

History of Kochi 

Kochi was a commercial port for traders for many centuries. Arab, British, Portuguese, Dutch, and Chinese merchants traveled far across countries for spices that Kochi was known for – cardamom, clove, and black pepper. These trade activities made the city of Kerala known to the rest of the world, giving it the name “The Gateway to Kerala”. The small coastal city then developed and grew with the onset of trade. It was soon commercialized, encouraging the Portuguese to build a base in the city, and so “Manuel Kotta” or Fort Emmanuel was built. Centuries later, after gaining Independence from the British in 1947, the state of Kerala as we know it today was formed by merging Kochi, Travancore, and Malabar. 

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Cochin Canal_©Charley Brown – Illustrated Guide to the South Indian Railway


Once a bustling center for the trade of spices, there is an incredible influence of cultures, art, and lifestyle of other countries. With time, Mattancheri was a welcoming home for migrants and other communities. Mattancheri stands proud as a testament to an eventful past of Kerala. Kings of Cochin encouraged many communities like that of the Jews, Jains, and Konkanis. Hence, one can appreciate the presence of churches, mosques, and a synagogue here. 

Mattancheri Synagogue 

Also known as the Paradesi Synagogue, it is one of the oldest synagogues in India built in 1568. Jew Street is a popular shopping street known for spices that leads to the synagogue. The synagogue has wrought-iron gates at the entrance with the Star of David. A Dutch-style clock tower was also added in the mid-18th century. Inside the synagogue, there are Torah scrolls in gold and silver, Belgian crystal chandeliers, and decorative glass lamps. However, the most unique feature that one must not miss observing is the willow-patterned hand-painted floor tiles. Each of the tiles was hand painted in China and imported here. 

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Star of David inscription at Mattancheri Synagogue_©Rhea Marina
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Clock tower at Mattancheri Synagogue_©Rhea Marina
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Mattancheri Synagogue_©www.fortekochi.in
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Glass chandeliers at Mattancheri Synagogue_©Rhea Marina
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Handpainted tiles at Mattancheri Synagogue_©Rhea Marina
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Mattancheri Dutch Palace_©www.keralatourism.org

Fort Kochi – Beach and Marine Drive

Stepping into Fort Kochi takes one to a different era. Time feels almost abstract while walking through the streets. The essence of the place and people’s lifestyle is so deeply rooted in history. Marine Drive is a picturesque promenade in Kochi Beach. Built facing the sea, it is a must-visit for anyone in Kochi. It is a 3-kilometer-long pedestrian-only walkway with an arch-shaped bridge illuminated with rainbow-colored lighting that gives an unmatched view of the Arabian Sea. Lined with shops, eateries, and a mall, Marine Drive is bustling with visitors. Watching the large expanse of the Sea on a cruise is a highlight of the entire experience of Kochi. 

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Cruise from Marine Drive_©Rhea Marina
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Cruise from Marine Drive_©Rhea Marina

Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Kochi-Muziris Biennale is the largest art exhibition in India and the largest contemporary art festival in all of Asia. It is an international exhibition held in Kochi once every two years that runs for four months. Founded in 2011, the exhibition aims to portray the social and artistic landscape of the country. It was started by two artists – Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari with the help of the government to create an international platform for art in India, thus introducing the country to its first-ever biennial. 

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Kochi Biennale_©Rhea Marina
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Kochi Biennale_©Rhea Marina
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Bamboo Pavilion at Kochi Biennale_©Rhea Marina
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Memories Of Home by Siddhartha Art Foundation_©www.kochimuzirisbiennale.org

Edapally Church – The largest church in India

St. George’s Syro-Malabar Forane Church is locally known as Edapally Church. It is Asia’s largest shrine dedicated to St. George. It is bustling with pilgrims all through the year. Being one of the oldest churches in Kerala, it is believed that it was founded by St. Thomas in 593 AD. A new church was built as the congregation outgrew the smaller old church. The second church was built in 1080. The foundation stone for the third church was laid in 2001 by the Pope. It is designed by architects Vastushilpalaya and Prasanth P George. The older two churches are preserved on site owing to their historic significance.

The new church is octagonal shaped and 43m high. This monumental church covers about 8200 square meters in area, making it the largest church in India. It can hold up to 10,000 worshipers at a time. The most mesmerizing aspect of this church is its interiors – it is breathtaking! The grandiose altars with gold and teak wood intricate carving and detailing truly immerse one in spirituality. Its architectural style is a blend of European and native Kerala architecture. This means a beautiful amalgamation of teak wood detailing in a contemporary style. Old and New Testament scenes are depicted as wooden sculptures on the wall. There is a courtyard where prayers are held, it is believed to be very powerful. The church has held the prayers of those with faith for centuries together. 

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St. George’s Syro-Malabar Forane Church_©en.wikipedia.org
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Altar_©Biju Thomas PhotoWorks on www.flickr.com

St. Francis Church 

The church is well known for its beautiful architecture and for originally holding the body of Vasco da Gama. The Portuguese built a fort with the then King’s permission and a church were built at the center of it in 1503. This church is dedicated to St. Bartholomew. The church was then reconstructed in 1516. There is a stepped pinnacle on either side of the facade. Inside, the church has high ceilings with a gallery. The roof is gabled with timber frames covered with tiles. There is extensive use of wood in the detailed carvings. There also lies a cenotaph that honors the sacrifice of the people of Kochi who lost their lives in World War I. There are several inscriptions on leaves that are preserved carefully to date. It depicts the life of the Dutch and Portuguese at the time the church was built.

Vasco da Gama was the first Portuguese sailor to discover Kochi. On his third visit to this city, he lost his life and was buried in this church as a token of remembrance. He was buried inside this church. His body was then taken back to Portugal after many years. 

St. Francis Church_©Rhea Marina


Online Sources

Marine Drive Kochi, Kerala Tourism. Available at: https://keralatourism.travel/marine-drive-kochi (Accessed: March 4, 2023). 

Kochi Directory, https://www.kochionline.in/. Available at: https://www.kochionline.in/city-guide/about-kochi (Accessed: March 4, 2023). 

Kochi (2023) Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/Kochi-India (Accessed: March 4, 2023). 

Curatorial statement, Curatorial Statement. Available at: https://www.kochimuzirisbiennale.org/kmb-22-23/curatorial-statement (Accessed: March 4, 2023). 

St. Francis Church, Fort Kochi, Vasco da Gama, mortal remains, Ernakulam, Kerala, India (no date) Kerala Tourism – Kochi. Available at: https://www.keralatourism.org/kochi/st-francis-church.php (Accessed: March 4, 2023). 


Rhea is an architect by profession who believes that architecture is an intangible form of art that has the power to shape people’s life and surroundings. The relationship between built and unbuilt spaces intrigues her. She is a curious person with a love for art and its various forms of expression. She has a keen interest in travel, photography, and music.