Goa is not just a travel destination; it is an experience that unfolds uniquely for every visitor. If you seek the spellbinding beauty of the sea, sun, and sand, the hypnotic beaches of Goa will enthrall you. If you, on the other hand, are besotted by the idea of all-day and all-night partying, the hip and happening clubs of Goa will get you going. For the romantic at heart, Goa offers sea waves, candle-lit restaurants and plush resorts. However, beyond this fun-filled and frivolous face of Goa lies proud history that is reflected through its heritage sites. And here, we are not talking about your regular tourist attractions; we are talking about the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that place Goa among the best places in India for a glimpse into its colonial past.
Yes, you guessed it right! We are talking about a set of religious monuments located in Old Goa aka Goa Velha. These monuments, which are collectively called the Churches and Convents of Goa, were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 1986. Built between the 16th and 17th centuries by the Portuguese, these shrines are the reason Goa is often called, ‘Rome of the Orient’. The crucial role, each of these played in the dissemination of Western art forms in Asia, has earned it a place in the UNESCO list. These churches and convents also serve as a reminder of the spread of the Evangelization mission, which is another justification for these being included in the list of World Heritage Sites.
So, are you all set to explore a different face of Goa, a face you rarely get to see during your typical beach holidays? Here, we bring you a rundown of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that dot its landscape.
1. Basilica of Bom Jesus
The Basilica of Bom Jesus counts among the most visited World Heritage Sites in Goa. Famed for housing the corpse of St. Francis Xavier, this church stands as a glaring example of Portuguese architecture. It is considered to be the oldest church in Goa with has a history that dates back to no less than 400 years. Yes, that’s how old this church is! Its non-plastered exteriors and ornamented interiors are a treat to the eyes of the thousands of visitors, who make a beeline to witness this marvel every day.
- Location: Old Goa Road, Bainguinim
- Church Timings:
- 9:00 am to 6:30 pm (Monday to Saturday)
- 10:30 am to 6:30 pm (Sunday)
- Mass Timings:
- 7:00 am, 8:00 am and 6:00 pm (Monday to Saturday)
- 8:00 am, 9:15 am, 10:15 am and 6:00 pm (Sunday)
2. Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina
Just half a kilometer from the Basilica of Bom Jesus stands the Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina. Also known as Se Cathedral, it is undoubtedly one of the top 5 historical places in Goa. This church is built in the Portuguese-Manueline architectural style, and the main altar is dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria. Apart from its structural beauty, a special attraction of this 250-feet tall church is a huge bell in its tower. This bell is known as the Golden Bell, which is believed to be the largest in Goa. The bell is especially known for its rich tone.
- Location: Velha Goa
- Church Timings: 7:30 am to 6:00 pm
- Mass Timings:
- 7:00 am and 6:30 am (Weekdays)
- 7:15 am, 10:00 am and 4:00 pm (Sunday)
3. Saint Catherine’s Chapel
As compared to the other huge churches in Goa, Saint Catherine’s Chapel is rather small. Yet, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in historical significance. Dedicated to Saint Catherine, this church was built many centuries back, in 1510 to be precise, in the Renaissance style of architecture. The simple altar inside the structure is an image of serenity. Old Portuguese-style windows decorated with mica shells add to the beauty of the shrine. The church may not be functional anymore, but a visit to it is definitely worth your time.
- Location: Taleigao
- Timings: 6:00 am to 6:00 pm
4. Church of St. Francis of Assisi
As you step out of your hotel in Goa and start exploring its striking churches, you are sure to come across the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi. The original structure was replaced by the existing one in 1665. This church exhibits a three-tier façade with two octagonal towers, one standing on each side. A figure of St. Michael is positioned in the central niche of the façade. An interesting thing to note about this church is that it is built in a mixed architectural style. The exterior boasts of Tuscan style while the interior is decorated with Baroque and Corinthian features.
- Location: Off National Highway 4, Velha Goa
- Church Timings: 7:30 am to 6:30 pm
- Museum Timings: 9:00 am to 12:30 pm and 3:00 pm to 6:30 pm
5. Church of Our Lady of the Rosary
This historical church is one of the landmarks of Goa, never failing to entice visitors with its grandeur. One of the earliest churches in Goa, it boasts a two-story entryway. Once inside, you will come across three richly ornate altars and two chapels. The main altar is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. An interesting fact to note about this church is that it is the only structure in Goa that still showcases a medieval construction style and architectural features.
- Location: Monte Santo, Old Goa
- Timings: 9:00 am to 5:30 pm
6. Church of Saint Augustine
The Church of Saint Augustine stands as a sad testimony to Old Goa’s lost heritage. Today, this ruined church complex may not be able to offer you a glimpse of its past glory; however, it was once believed to be one of the three impressive Augustinian churches that were a part of the Iberian world. It had four altars, eight chapels, and one convent. All that remains of this church today is the daunting 46-meter high tower, which is one of the four towers that were a part of the church during its heydays.
- Location: Velha Goa
- Timings: 6:30 am to 12:45 pm and 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm (Monday to Friday)
7. Church of Saint Cajetan
Also known as the Church of Divine Providence, the Saint Cajetan Church boasts exquisite architecture. Designed like Rome’s Basilica of St. Peter, the church displays the Corinthian style of architecture. It is built in the form of a Greek cross and the large dome has Latin inscriptions on its inside. Huge columns and pilasters enhance the beauty of the structure that has seven altars inside. This church, dedicated to Our Lady of Divine Providence, has wooden statues of several Christian saints, paintings, and sculptures adorning its interior.
- Location: Velha, Bastora
- Timings: 9:00 am to 12:00 pm and 4:00 am to 7:00 pm
These sites are rich not just in heritage and history, but also in architectural beauty. So, the next time you venture out for a beach holiday, be sure to explore this lesser-known side of India’s party destination. You will be mesmerized, for sure.
Read Also – Forts in Goa