There is an old narrative about the decadence of the city of Old Goa. It was woven between the 17th and the 19th centuries and it tells us of epidemics, economic, decay, and religious fanaticism.
This narrative is a fabrication aimed at justifying the abandonment of the site of Old Goa in favour of other locations: Mormugao first, then Panjim, and the fall from grace of the European religious orders in favour of the native clergy and the secular State. In reality, Old Goa was deliberately dismantled by both the Portuguese authorities and the Goan elite–in spite of very interesting and little known attempts at bringing it back to glory as a secular capital at the end of the 18th century and as a heritage site just before 1961.
The dismantling of Old Goa continues today as the historical site of Old Goa (outside the area controlled by the ASI ) slowly becomes more and more devastated by absence of planning, low quality construction, garbage dumping.
The primary reasons for this tragedy are the pressure of landowners and real estate developers and the absence of a heritage/culture consciousness from the part of policy makers. However, the tradition of contempt for Old Goa, a tradition born long, long ago, also explains why it has been so difficult to imagine and design a comprehensive policy to safeguard Old Goa. The past bears heavily on the present and the future.
There is, however, another past and, possibly, another future for Old Goa. It was once a flourishing multicultural city, for two and a half centuries the only large scale modern European city on Asian soil. Its precise layout and the location of its principal urban features have been established by architectural historians in recent years.
Old Goa could be a world-wide famous heritage tourism attraction creating wealth for its inhabitants and the whole State of Goa. All it takes is intelligence, sensitivity, patience and political will.
Heritage and culture are not necessarily the enemies of land ownership, real estate and profit. A modern city can coexist with the remains of its past. Past and present together can make for a wealthy future for everyone involved. A realistic and versatile line of action for Old Goa can be designed before it is definitely too late.
Dr. Paulo Varela Gomes, the present representative of FundaVao Oriente in India, graduated in History at the University of Lisboa (Portugal), has an MA in History of the Arts at Universidade Nova, Lisboa, and a PhD in Architectural History at the University of Coimbra.
He is an Associate Professor at the Department of Architecture of the School of Sciences and Technology of the University of Coimbra from which he obtained and absence of leave to come to Goa in September 2007.
He has already been delegate of FundaVao Orient in India between 1996-98. Dr Varela Gomes was Visiting Professor or Lecturer to several Universities, namely Minho (Portugal), Malta, Pablo de Olavide (Seville, Spain), Goa (India), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Utrecht (Holland), Bristol (UK). He is the chief-editor of MURPHY, journal of architectural history and theory, published by the University of Coimbra Press since 2006 and the the author of five books and more than two hundred articles on architecture and art history, comtemporary architecture and architectural culture, contemporary cultural issues, published in Portuguese, and non-Portuguese academic and non-academic journals and newspapers. He curated exhibitions, organized conferences, edited collections of essays in his area of expertise and engaged in several research projects related to the history of Portuguese and Indo-Portuguese architecture and history.