At first sight, it is just one among the many grand houses lining the road. It is an unassuming structure, which gives no hint of the treasures displayed within. From intricately carved teak wood altars, to silver plated crosses, remnants of an old fort, to recovered bits of ancient churches – the Indo Portuguese Museum at Fort Kochi has all these and more!
|Can you see that structure where the car is parked? |
That is the museum. Doesn't look like one, does it?
The Museum is located within the compound of the Bishop’s House – at one time, the residence of the Governor of the Fort, and in later times, the seat of the Bishop of Cochin Diocese. The house is thus an apt place for a museum like this, having such a strong connection to the Portuguese history of Fort Kochi. In fact, Portuguese Bishops held the seat here, well past independence, till 1950, when the see was handed over to the Indian clergy. It was the second Indian Bishop, Bishop Joseph Kureethara, who laid the foundation for the setting up of this museum, in collaboration with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation of Lisbon, Portugal.
|The Bishop's House. I would have loved to go in, but it is off limits for visitors|
The museum is built over the remains of the original fort which gave the town its name. The ruins aren’t very impressive, though I appreciated that they have been preserved. Very little remains of the fort today, and this is one of the few portions which is accessible to the public. I believe that there are more, and better preserved ruins in other parts of Fort Kochi, but they are part of heritage resorts, and thus inaccessible to most visitors. This is, therefore, the closest we could get to the original fort.
|Remnants of the fort. Not too impressive, are they?|
Not many people seem to visit this museum, hidden as it is, among the other houses, but the sole caretaker is an enthusiastic man, juggling the roles of ticket vendor, guide, and guard, with ease! He took us around happily, along with another foreign couple who turned up on cycles just after us, showing off the treasures with pride. Photography isn’t allowed inside the museum, but when we asked, our guide brought out some postcards of the artifacts, hidden deep within a cupboard. To our greatest surprise, he said there wasn’t any fixed price, but that we could pay whatever we liked! Obviously, the cards don’t see the light of the day very often!
Interesting as these artifacts were, showing us just how elaborate and rich the Cochin Diocese was, since ancient times, we were most fascinated by this – an ancient lock, typical of Kerala. It is said that this lock, seen on many doors in this region symbolized their welcoming attitude to all religions. Hidden within the intricate details are symbols of various religions. How many can you see?
I could only spot 4, though there are probably a few more hidden away… here are the ones I do know… firstly, the shape is like that of the Om, the sacred symbol of Hinduism. Then, it also displays a trident, which could either also symbolize Hinduism, or the local Devi worship, which is so prevalent in the area. Islam is represented by the crescent moon and Christianity by the cross just over it. Zoroastrianism also finds its place, in the decorative elements above the rod, which seem to depict fire. We were told that there is also a Jewish symbol somewhere here, but I was unable to find it. If you can, please do leave a comment below!
Also located within this complex is the Vasco Da Gama Research Institute, which fosters research into the Portuguese history of the city, as well as conducts Portuguese language courses. I came across an interesting article talking of the courses held here, and the efforts being made to revive the Portuguese culture in the city. You can read it here.
- Part 1: First Impressions
- Part 2: Chinese Fishing Nets
- Part 4: St. Francis Church
- Part 5: Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica
- Part 6: Mattanchery Palace
- Part 7: Jew Town and Synagogue
- Part 8 : A Boat Ride
- Part 9: 3 Cafés, Three experiences
- Part 10: Maritime Museum