Tag Archive | Queen Victoria

A Florentine Ornament

Continuation of: The Crown at the Piazza

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand.

The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”– Alexander Graham Bell

All those days when David remained engulfed within the scaffolding following itsdelivery at Piazza della Signoria on May 18, 1504, it was guarded round the clock. Meanwhile, a case of influenza virus had broken out in Rome which quickly spread all through Italy and beyond. In effect, it lasted for several months and on its visit to Firenze, about 90 per cent of Florentines caught on to cough and fever while few died from it.

On June 8, 1504, David was placed at the Ringhiera – at the spot where until then Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes had stood (1). A few days ago, Judith was taken off its pedestal and temporarily set on the ground within the Palazzo where it remained until it’s installation in the Loggia on May 10, 1506.

According to a book, an Order to prepare the marble pedestal for David was given to II Cronaca and Sangallo only by June 11, few days after David was installed. This indicates that David was placed on a plinth and the Order for pedestal implied only additional reinforcement of outer casing to the plinth to sustain the weight of David already on it.

In the days following the installation and it’s unveiling to the public on September 8, 1504, Firenze had days steeped in religious and cultural tradition. They celebrated the Festa di San Giovanni (Feast Day of St. John the Baptist), their Patron Saint, on June 24.

On August 10, the Florentines celebrated Festa di San Lorenzo (Feast Day of San Lorenzo) followed by the folkloric event, La Festa della Rificolona (Festival of the Paper Lanterns) on September 7, then a recently initiated tradition observed on the eve of the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin when Tuscan farmers and mountaineers carrying lanterns gather at the Piazza (transforming Piazza Santissima Annunziata into a giant market for their produce) fronting the Church of Santissima Annunziata in Firenze to celebrate the birth of the Madonna by singing hymns.

All through these days, Michelangelo was engaged with the finishing touches to the sculpture which remained surrounded by scaffolding. While the work on the pedestal also progressed, it was reportedly during this time David was provided with the sling, tree-stump support, and a victory-garland.

During one of these days Piero Soderini (Piero di Messer Tommaso Soderini, 1450-1522)(2),Florentine gonfaloniere di Giustizia who held Michelangelo in great esteem,  thought David’s nose too thick and shared this observation with its creator. Giorgio Vasari relates about this occurrence in his book, Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori et architettori. Knowing that Soderini’s point of view from beneath David still within the confines of the scaffoldings prevented him from seeing properly, Michelangelo, who didn’t want to prolong a satisfactory response to the remark of Soderini who had contributed in no small measure to the development of Florentine art, mounted the scaffolding to the level of David’s head and pretended to chip away at the surface of David’s nose with his hammer and chisel while letting drop some marble dust concealed in the hollow of his palm. Soon after, leaving the surface of the nose untouched, Michelangelo looked down and said to Soderini: “Look at it now.”

Soderini appeared pleased: “I like it better. You have given it life.”

The unveiling of David was specifically done on September 8 which marks the Nativity of the Virgin Mary in whose honour Santa Maria del Fiore, the ecclesia maior of Firenze is dedicated – the edifice upon which David was originally meant to be put up.

In reality, the ecclesiastical and civic authorities have seen another righteous opportunity to honour the Virgin who is widely respected as a mediator between God and the Florentines – a belief once echoed by Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) as well, and that, looking further back, one could notice that the cornerstone of Santa Maria del Fiore was also laid on September 8, in 1296.

Unlike the happy-with-his-triumph posture of the elegant and slender David depicted in the statues by Donatello (1386-1466) and in Andrea del Verrocchio’s (ca. 1435-88) clothed version of David holding a short sword at a negligent angle; the pose and composition of the David by Michelangelo heralded a stately grandeur and dignified solemnity.

Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, 1483-1520) came to Firenze in 1504 after the installation of the David – during the time when a galaxy of eminent artists were congregated there amidst an artistic atmosphere caused by the potent rivalry between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Raphael was one amongst the first to study the David (3) – the symbol of freedom and dynamism of the Florentine republic.

On a professional perspective, the sculpture looks different close up than it does when viewed from the ground. From the ground, one can see the rigid and turgid tendons of the neck – the sling resting on his shoulder – the forehead furrowed with threatening wrinkles, his flared nostrils and, that defiant look as David measures the distance of his antagonist – to throw the slingshot from the accuracy of his hand. At close up, the furrowed brows protrude from the forehead and there is variation in the gaze direction of the two eyes – all optimised for visual effect.

On that note, one could visualise Michelangelo’s great ability to look at things – of how he could take a thing in mind, turn it over and see so many facets and focused on the desired shape to carve out of the block of marble. A quote attributed to Michelangelo summarised his work: I created a vision of David in my mind and simply carved away everything that was not David.”

While Michelangelo’s public sculpture remained outdoors for 369 years (4), by and by, it attained great prominence not only as one of the most historically and aesthetically significant sculptural works of the Renaissance but also turned itself into the second symbol of Firenze, next to the fleur-de-lis (giglio bottonato, the official emblem of Firenze).

With La Pietà in Rome and David in Firenze, Michelangelo’s pre-eminence was established as a sculptor. Even though he was accepting commissions for work even while working on David, (5), the latter half of 1504 saw Michelangelo, at the behest of Piero Soderini, embark on the creation of historical compositions on the wall of the Sala del Gran Consiglio in the Palazzo Signoria (Vecchio) (6) where Leonardo da Vinci was already engaged in the design of another cartoon on the opposite wall.

As it turned out, this work was left unfinished by Michelangelo early in 1505 having opted to proceed for his second journey to Rome at the invitation of Pope Julius II (Giuliano della Rovere, 1443-1513, pope from 1503)

Earlier, on August 12, 1502 while the work on David was in progress, Michelangelo was given a commission to make a copy of Donatello’s David within six months. This bronze figure was meant for Pierre I. de Rohan (Pierre de Rohan-Guéméné, 1451-1513), son of Marie de Montauban and Marechal de Gié, who greatly desired to own it. Rohan was highly favoured at the court of popular King Louis XII (Le Père du Peuple/Father of the People, 1462-1515) of France. Naturally, Signoria was eager to comply since an alliance with France was considered of the highest importance for the Florentine Republic. 

During the next two years, while the bronze-casting of the statue was done with the assistance of special master, Benedetto da Rovezzano (Benedetto Grazzini, 1474-1552), unforeseen developments in France occasioned Pierre de Rohan to fall into disgrace having been charged with treason in 1504 after he became Duc de Nemours in 1503 as a result of his marriage with Marguerite, heiress of Armagnac and a sister of Louis d’Armagnac (1472-1503), Duc de Nemours.

Eventually, Florimond Robertet (1531-67), the Secretary for finance who was influential with King Charles IX (third son of Henry II and Catherine de’ Medici) was afforded the mental pleasure as well as spiritual benefit from this sculpture. After 1566, Robertet placed it in the courtyard of his Château de Beauregard, near the city of Blois until more than a century later, it was removed to Château de Villeroy (Villa regis), Sète (Cette), owned by great art lovers Nicolas IV de Neufville (1543-1617), Seigneur de Vlleroy and his wife Madeleine de L’Aubespine (1546-96, poet and lady-in-waiting to Catherine de Medici), from where it eventually disappeared. The only evidence left of this sculpture is a fine pen-and ink drawing by Michelangelo

Besides Michelangelo’s tomb at the Franciscan Basilica di Santa Croce, scattered around his city of Firenze are several of his creations. And what tribute more graceful and intimate to the memory of Michelangelo could be conceived than to visit and appreciate the creations of Michelangelo in the delightful radiance of Florentine ambiance? Ascribed to his atelier are: David at the Galleria dell’accademia; the Medici tombs at Basilica di San Lorenzo; mallet and chisel works at the Casa Buonarroti and Museo dell’Opera del Duomo; Tondo Doni in the Galleria degli Uffizi. Then, there is the site of his fortifications at San Miniato.

Although monuments, museums and galleries aren’t the only reason to visit Firenze, a stay in Firenze is incomplete without a look at the original David of Michelangelo. Its heightened reputation since its installationbefore Palazzo Vecchio overlooking the Piazza della Signoria, the center of political life in Firenze, has influenced successive generations – blazing a trail of appreciation amongst kings and emperors, dukes and marquise, knights and counts, scholars to the general public.

Of David’s influence, a book relates a diary entry of Ukraine-born ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950) mentioning about how he allowed French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) to photograph and sketch him in nude to create a sculpture inspired by Michelangelo’s David. Then there were those who considered David a provocatively sexual portrayal of idealised male beauty. Sometime after its completion, Michelangelo was disgusted to witness a fig-leaf attaining a new use on a certain part of his David which remained unrectified until the early years of the 20th century.

A plaster cast (six metres in height) by Florentine cast-maker Clemente Papi based on the original statue of David presented by Leopold II (1797-1870), the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857 to Queen Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 1819-1901) was outfitted with a plaster cast of a fig leaf of appropriate size and hung at a certain place with clips during early years.

Then again, not to anyone’s surprise, there were also those contemporary rivals who squared their shoulders and detested the talent of Il Divino.

Foremost amongst such high-handers of malcontent tracking Michelangelo quietly and silently as a snake sloughing off its skin, was Florentine sculptor Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560), son of a famous goldsmith and the prospective creator of Hercules and Cacus (Ercole e Caco), whose impending efforts to outdo Michelangelo Buonarroti would generally ricochet to strike back on himself – but that’s another story…. Jo

This concludes PART ONE.


  1. Commissioned by the Medici as a metaphor of their rule in Firenze, Judith and Holofernes was a freestanding companion figure to Donatello’s David. The original is presently in Sala dei Gigli in the Palazzo Vecchio.
  2. Piero Soderini was appointed as Gonfaloniere di Giustizia for life August 1502 following completion of the regular two month period as Gonfaloniere.
  3. A Study of Michelangelo’s David by Raphael (during 1504-08) is at the British Museum in London.
  4. Although the sculpture was periodically taken care of and its surface waxed many times during its long exposure to all injuries of rain and frost, the left arm of David was broken by a huge stone during the popular riots of 1527. Giorgio Vasari relates how he and friend Cecchino Salviati gathered the scattered pieces, and the arm was restored in 1543 under the care of Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574), first Grand Duke of Tuscany. As related in a book, there is photographic evidence suggesting that David was slightly moved forward from its original position in early 1870s to align the pedestal with the new stairs of the Palazzo. Upon David’s removal to Galleria dell’accademia in Firenze on July 31, 1873, the space where it stood at Piazza della Signoria lay empty for almost 37 years.
  5. Due to lack of space, this series of posts cover only selected creations of Michelangelo in its chronological order. Thus, Madonna of Bruges (c. 1501-04) and some other works are omitted.
  6. The frescoes created by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci depicted Florentine victories in the battles of Cascina (Florentine victory over Pisa in 1364) and Anghiari (Florentine (League of Italian states) victory over Duchy of Milan in 1440). Michelangelo discontinued this work when he left for Rome to fulfil the commission granted to him by Pope Julius II (1443-1513) to do frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and to design the pope’s tomb. A fine copy from Michelangelo’s cartoon of Cascina by Aristotele (Bastiano) da Sangallo is at the Earl of Leicester Collection at Holkham Hall, Norfolk, England and a Study for Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari is at Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

FORT COCHIN – Pepper, Souls and Restless Waves


This is dedicated to the memory of my beloved maternal grandfather, Abraham – “silver in his hair and gold in his heart”

2In nomine Patris, I baptise thee Jo……...” the priest had pronounced during that ceremony held many years ago at Santa Cruz Cathedral (Basilica) at Fort Cochin (Kerala, South India). When those words were quoted to me by my maternal grandfather Abraham eight years later, it was decisive in arousing in me a curiosity for that cathedral and its origins that stretched back to the arrival of the Portuguese.

It is a place where I had witnessed many similar functions and weddings – including some of the festivals that dotted its annual calendar. Living on the mainland of Cochin (earlier Cocym, Cochym, Cochim,.… now, Kochi), those occasions were opportunities for me to hop over to Fort Cochin and be with my maternal grandparents.

Until the age of nine, the Cochin that existed before 14th century was rather shrouded in obscurity to me. My earliest knowledge of Fort Cochin at that time was fixated on an event said to have occurred in 1341 which occasioned it’s emergence as a prominent village consequent to the great flood of the River Periyar – during which a natural harbour was formed when the sea mouth of the Vembanad estuary opened up, and eventually ushered in trade and colonialism.

It is generally held that, it was due to this natural calamity that, Mahodayapuram (Mahodaya Pattanam) and its ancient port of Muziris (Kodungallur), which had silted up, lost their importance.



History has taught us that Fort Cochin had seen the presence of the Arabs, then the Chinese before the Portuguese came along, followed by the Dutch and finally, the British. The fact remains that during the second half of the fifteenth century the intercourse between China and Malabar has waned, until at last it ceased altogether, leaving some tangible symbols in the form of Chinese Nets, pagoda-style roofs, palm-woven, broad-brimmed hats of the fishermen, Chinese style porcelain, clay pots (Cheena chatti), etc.


And when the Portuguese came to India in 1498, suffering losses by shipwreck, disease and hunger, in due course they realized that, they were not conquering some kind of uncivilized and uncultured people – indeed, they were confronted by a civilization different from theirs, superior in some and inferior in many respects.

6I have often thought that it is my privilege to have been born in Fort Cochin reaped with legends and vibrant history. Primarily, I was fortunate to be the grandson of Abraham, once a teacher with Santa Cruz School (less than 200 meters from his house), who, with his useful and reliable knowledge about the East and the West, had sowed the first seeds of fascination in me for geography and history, especially about Fort Cochin. He had told me of names I haven’t heard before, …..  Zheng He (Cheng Ho – 1371–1433), Marco Polo (c. 1254-1324), Ibn Battuta (1304– 1368/1369), Dom Vasco da Gama (c. 1460/9–1524), Dom Pedro Álvares Cabral (c. 1467/68–c. 1520), Dom Afonso de Albuquerque (c. 1453–1515), Dom Francisco de Almeida (ca. 1450-1510), etc…


Over the years, it was from him that I first learned of Fort Cochin being the fundamental reference point for many firsts in Kerala, even in India. It was the first place of European settlement in India; the first place where a foreign Fort was built; the first place in India where European food was served; cake and hot bread was baked; wine fermentation was tried; vindaloo (derived from the Portuguese dish “carne de vinha d’alhos”) made its first appearance in its original form using wine instead of vinegar.


Most likely, it is the place where tobacco, potato, cauliflower, and new species of fruits such as pineapple, papaya, cashew, guava, custard apple, etc., were initially introduced. The chillies came from the West Indies and revolutionized the palates of locals. I savoured all this in small doses whenever I was in Fort Cochin until 1970, sitting before him, during long balmy evenings that stretched into the late hours.


In the course of time, further readings led me to complement my list with more firsts: It is certainly the birthplace of Cochin Creole Portuguese, the language that came into existence with the contact of Portuguese language with the local languages and developed hand-in-hand with the formation of Catholic and Indo-Portuguese households. Since the Portuguese occupied Goa only by 1510, Fort Cochin, a citadel of peaceful coexistence, could probably be the first place where the concept of Mestiços or Luso-Indians (people of mixed and Portuguese descent through Indian women or even, órfãs del rei/young orphan Portuguese girls) emerged – the forerunners to Anglo-Indians who, imbibed in the European way of living, can be called the first moderns of India.


No doubt, the true success of Kerala would remain in its ability to maintain religious harmony. Even though dress codes sometimes marked out the religious identities of the different groups, not prone to the extremes of communal disturbance or religious chauvinism, the natives dressed in mundu, chatta, and neriyathum; sari and blouse; pattu pavadai; ghagra cholis; pardah, Muslim cap, green belt and lungi; Western-style skirts and trousers – all existed side by side in perfect harmony.


Once, my grandfather’s talk had diverged into the subject of another ritual that was said to have taken place some 489 years ago at less than 100 meters from Santa Cruz Cathedral – at the Church of San Francesco (now called St. Francis CSI Church). When that event took place, the place was known as the Church of Santo António (Igreja de Santo António), dedicated to the Saint who would subsequently capture the reverence and affection of Kerala devotees irrespective of their caste and creed.


The occasion was the funeral of the Portuguese explorer Dom Vasco da Gama in late 1524. At the time of his death, the retired and ageing Dom Gama, by then “Conde da Vidigueira” (Count of Vidigueira) and the second Viceroy of India, was on his third visit to India when he fell ill and death stole him on Christmas Eve.


14Years later, I would discover a written account of that event only in the writings of Gaspar Corrêa, (the Secretary of Albuquerque) in Lendas da India (a) which covered the history of the Portuguese from 1497 to 1549. According to Corrêa, Dom Gama was suffering from “great pains in the neck for some days, which had got awry, and some boils came to the surface at the nape of the neck.” In spite of remedies, it got worse to such an extent that the pains deprived him of speech. Having realised that his death was imminent, they shifted him from the fortress to the houses (perhaps this could be the Vasco House) of a Diogo Pereira close by to the church of Santo Antonio. Dom Gama was a great devotee of the Santo António, who himself is not unfamiliar to the perils of the sea. After Dom Gama’s testament was prepared and orders issued to subordinates that included his wish to convey his bone to the kingdom, as a basic preparation for death, Dom Gama made his confession and holy sacraments were administered to him. His life departed him in the night of Christmas, 1524, at three o’clock after midnight.

Corrêa relates: “The body, dressed in silk clothes, and over them a mantle of the Order of Christ, with a sword and gilded belt, and gilt spurs fixed upon dark buskins and on its head a dark round barret-cap, was placed in the hall, in the bier of the brotherhood of Mercy, uncovered; and the gentlemen, clothed in the mantles of their order, bore it on their shoulders, with many tapers, and followed by all the people. It was carried to the monastery of St. Antony, and buried in the principal chapel; and upon the tomb was a square grating surrounding the grave, of the height of a span, lined with black velvet, and a black and white fringe, placed upon a velvet cloth, which covered all the grave. There the next day a great service was performed”.


Having discovered the ocean route from Europe round the Cape of Good Hope to India, the tough and fearless navigator Dom Gama, and his hard-bitten crew with seafaring capability had landed at Kappad near Calicut (renamed Kozhikode) on May 20, 1498 which culminated in the diversion of the profitable spice trade that passed through Syria and Alexandria into a new route – consequently destroying the monopoly of Venice and elevating Lisbon as the great spice-market of Europe. It was a time when much of the traffic in the Indian Ocean was dominated by the vessels of Muslim merchants who for centuries had controlled the trade routes with the support of powerful local rulers.

Although historians know little about why Dom Gama was chosen to command the expedition to India, the three objectives of Dom Gama’s feat to the southeast coast of India is well understood: conquest, commerce, and conversion. His success in breaking the maritime domination of the others had set the stage for him to not only earn a place in history by the side of Fernão de Magalhães and Cristóbal Colón but also established a link connecting the source of his family fortune to India.


Favours such as the territorial title of “Dom”, “Admiral of India”, an annual pension of 1,000 cruzados, title of annual hereditary pension of 300,000 reis, right to send money to India, were granted to him. His return in a blaze of triumph to Lisbon after the first journey to India had also brought him a privileged marriage to prominent nobleman Álvaro de Ataíde’s daughter Dona Catharina de Ataíde just months before he set sail for his second journey to India in 1502 with the object of securing a permanent foothold on the Indian coast.


Consequent to Dom Gama’s discovery, more adventurers like Pedro Álvares Cabral and the energetic commander Afonso de Albuquerque, the first European since Alexander the Great who dreamed of establishing an empire in India, or rather Asia, followed.


When the Portuguese arrived in India, Cochin was in vassalage to Zamorin of Calicut. But the Raja’s surface appearances were out of step with inner truths. Irritated under the dominance of Calicut, Unni Goda Varma Koyil (Unni Raman Koyil I (? – 1503)) (b), the Raja of Cochin, was exploring ways to break away. He saw the arrival of Portuguese as a chance to assert his independence. No sooner they earned the goodwill and permission of the Raja to engage in trade and built a factory in Cochin, Cabral established the first Portuguese trading post in India, which the Portuguese called “Estado da India” (State of India). Besides their trade in pepper, they also popularised other spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, etc, in the European countries.


The Portuguese victory in fending off the invading armies of the Zamorin and vassal Malabari states in the Battle of Cochin (the first siege was in mid-1503 and the Second Siege of Cochin was during March-July 1504) which took place on land and sea not only thwarted Zamorin’s attempt to conquer Cochin but also helped in reinstating the Raja of Cochin on the throne. This facilitated the Portuguese to secure their continued presence and strengthen commercial and missionary relations. The initial siege had proven that protection could not be achieved by unassertive means. In order to lay the foundation of the shore defences and to defend the local Portuguese factory, they acquired permission from Raja Unni Raman Koyil II (1503-1537) to build a Fort on the southside of the entrance of the river leading into the backwater using the Raja’s workers and material.


21The foundation stone of this Fort was laid by the newcomer Albuquerque on September 27, 1503. Completed within a few months, the Fort would finally have seven large bastions, with the first bastion directly facing the sea. Named Fort Manuel de Cochim (Manuel/Emmanuel Kotta) after Manuel I the Fortunate (c) (English: Emmanuel I – 1469-1521), the 14th King of Portugal and Algarves, the area became known as Fort Cochin (d).

The Portuguese built their settlement in India behind Fort Manuel. They were acclimatised by birth to a hot climate. As they did in other Portuguese trading posts/colonies along the coastal districts where their power made itself felt, a wooden Catholic chapel was constructed in the neighbourhood in 1503 by five Franciscan friars who had accompanied the Portuguese expedition.

Dedicated to São Bartolomeu, one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, the Chapel merits the honour of being the oldest European church in India and went on to garner great historical significance as a mute witness to the European power struggle in India.

A house to the left towards the rear of this chapel (in Rose Street) (e) with typical European glass pane windows and balcony-cum-veranda, considered to be one of the oldest Portuguese houses in India, is supposed to be the place where Dom Gama lived. Today it is known as Vasco House. The close proximity of this house and Dom Gama’s devoted attachment to this Chapel could be one of the criteria for his burial in this chapel.



Great builders and promoters of architecture than any other form of fine art, the Portuguese apparently caught the admiration of the Raja of Cochin who was tolerant of other religions. The Raja granted permission to the first Portuguese viceroy (appointed in 1505), Dom Francisco de Almedia (1450–1510), a nobleman of illustrious rank and first cousin of Dom Gama’s wife Catarina de Ataide, to construct buildings using stone and masonry work. At the same time as Fort San Angelo (Kannur Fort/Kotta) was being built by the Portuguese with brilliantly red laterite stone at Cannanore, the foundation stone of Santa Cruz Cathedral was laid at Fort Cochin on May 3, 1505, on the old Feast Day of the “Invention of the Holy Cross”, the instrument of salvation. Hence, the church was called “Santa Cruz”. As we can observe, almost always in the early European explorations, religious and commercial motives were intertwined.


In 1506, the wooden Chapel of São Bartolomeu by the side of the 4-acre Parade Ground (formerly Barrack Ground) was pulled down and reconstructed into a permanent structure with gabled timber-framed roof covered with tiles.


While the façade of the Church in typical Portuguese style is flanked on both sides by a stepped pinnacle, the windows and doors displayed semi-circular arches.


The bell turret is divided into three compartments and must have been visible to the European sailors from afar during their arrival and departure. In 1516, the newly consecrated church was dedicated to Santo António, the patron saint of Lisbon. The original title deeds written on palm leaf (Ola) pertaining to the land gifted by the Raja of Cochin to construct this church is still kept in the church. It was here Dom Gama was buried with honours in 1524, bestowing the church with historic significance.



The method of construction using stone and masonry work for church edifices was unheard of during that period since construction of such imposing structures were solely limited to royal palaces or temples. Although this church does not have any architectural merits, it was during this period, when ornate monumentality of the European churches was introduced to India, which initiated the synthesis of Church art and architecture of an alien nation and religion to indigenous forms and techniques of Kerala’s artistic and architectural traditions.


With the Raja of Cochin residing at Mattancherry, the peninsula became a fusion of traditional folk art forms and culture of Kerala as well as the West, although, till today, the peninsula retains the predominance of Malayali identity, its spiritual and traditional values.


Europeans visiting Mattancherry “to pay their respects” to the Raja could not only watch the Raja’s numerous elephants with good features (Lakshanams), sometimes richly caparisoned, but also now and then enjoy performing arts like Sinkari Melam, Theyyam, Ottanthullal, Padayani, Maritheyyam, Peelikavadi, Karakattam, Kurathiyattam, Kathakali, Thiruvathirakali, Bharathanatyam, Pulikali, Margam Kali, kolkali, etc., – moments that were decisive in formulating a fusion of new and vital forms of literature and drama like “Chavittunadakam” (Stomping Drama) (f), etc.


Having spent months out on the rough seas with sea-hardened sailors and listening occasionally to their bawdy sea shanties, these occasions must have appeared so refreshingly fresh and unique to the Europeans.


Here they sometimes listened to discussions on the merits of Ayurvadic treatments, astrology, Vastu Shastra (Feng Shui), and about the delicious vegetarian food such as Sambar, Rasam, Puliserry, Aviyal, Thoran, Inji Curry, Kalan, Olan, Parippu curry, Kootu curry, Theeyal, Pachadi, Kichadi, Injithairu, Achaar, Pappadam, Payasam, etc, and mentally compared them to those of Europe such as fresh bread, beef stew, grilled sardines, cinnamon rolls, sauces, etc, cooked in their settlement in Fort Cochin. The world has become very small.


During the time of Raja Veera Kerala Varma (aka. Gangadhara Veera Keralan – 1537-65) in 1538, fourteen years after the death of Dom Gama, his mortal remains were removed from the Church of Santo António to Portugal.



However, the original gravestone of Dom Gama’s empty tomb can still be seen today on the ground floor near to the Southern sidewall (g).



The southernwall marks the gravestones of Dutch personnel while those of the Portuguese are fixed on the northern sidewall – shifted from the floor of the nave in 1886.


39Closely following the maritime accomplishments of the Portuguese, the Dutch were determined to take part in the valuable spice trade and establish their monopoly in pepper.

Cochin’s existence as a long-time Portuguese protectorate since 1503 finally came to an end when the Dutch laid siege to Fort Manuel and captured Cochin in 1663, almost a hundred years after the Jews of Kerala constructed their Paradesi (Cochin Jewish) Synagogue in 1568 (h) under the reign of Raja Kesava (Kesara) Rama Varma II (1565-1601) in the neighbouring Mattancherry.

Since the Portuguese posed a threat to the island of Ceylon which the Dutch had conquered not long ago, their conquest of the Malabar region was initially only on account of Cochin’s strategic importance. However, so as to make it easier to defend and maintain their settlement, they would reduce the size of Fort Manuel, and also demolish several houses to make the settlement narrower.




Soon Protestantism gained influence and the control of the Church of Santo António shifted from the Order of Franciscans. Having decided to rid of all Portuguese influence, all European Catholic priests were ordered to quit the territory. The Dutch demolished all Catholic convents and churches except the Church of Santo António (The contents of a placard before the church include the sentence: “From 1510 AD to 1663 AD the Portuguese officially called St. Francis Church as the conventional church of the order of St. Francis of Assisi”), and the Santa Cruz Cathedral, which they used as their arms storehouse (i).



Successively, when some of the Catholics practising their faith at the Church of Santo António/San Francesco shifted to the Roman Catholic Church of the Our Lady of Hope (Nossa Senhora de Esperanca) in Vypeen, the existing pulpit and some screens of the Church of Santo António were also shifted with them. In their place, a new communion table and the rostrum furniture were installed.



According to a report, on January 8, 1664, the Dutch celebrated the first service with a parade of all arms commemorating their initial entry into the city after capturing Fort Manuel in January, 1663. Likewise, a tablet just above the main entrance relates to some restoration works the Dutch made in 1779.



During the time of the Dutch, Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein (1636-1691) served as the Governor of Cochin (1670-1677). In 1674 he began working on his book Hortus Malabaricus (Garden of Malabar), a pioneering compilation of 740 plants of economic and medical value in the Malabar Coast and published its first volume in 1678 (j). The book is also reputed to have the first printed words in Malayalam.



The British captured Cochin after occupying Fort Manuel in October of 1795. In spite of their supremacy, the British were lenient enough to let the Dutch, who had controlled Fort Cochin for 132 years, to retain possession of the Church of Santo António/Cochin/San Francesco.


Eight years later after the British took over, Fort Manuel was blown up by the British East India Company in compliant with the orders to destroy all fortifications and public buildings and the leading Dutch families who resided there with every degree of splendour started to desert the place.


In 1804, after the Dutch had voluntarily handed over the Church of Santo António to the Anglican Communion it was rededicated to San Francesco. It was eventually placed under the Ecclesiastical Department of the Government of India.



Some more renovations took place during the 19th century as confirmed by a tablet indicating that “Repaired by The Government of Madras. Anno 1887. Being the Fiftieth Year of the Reign of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India”.


According to the “Imperial Gazettee of India – Volume IV”, “the facade of the church was surmounted by an ornamented bronze cross and a weathercock, 6 feet high, which could be distinctly perceived some 10 miles off at sea; but in 1865 these were pulled down.”



Since 1923, the church is treated as a protected monument of national importance under the Archaeological Survey of India and now remains under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 although it is owned by the Church of South India (CSI), the successor of the Church of England in India, that came into existence by a union of Anglican and Protestant churches in South India.


One symbol of British days which can still be seen today is the continued use of manually operated large swinging cloth fans on frames called “Pankhas” suspended above the congregation.



But history lovers would also love to have a peek at the “Doop Boek(k) of the church. It is the old Baptism and Marriage Register of the diocese covering the period 1751-1804, the most authentic record of the Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC or more colloquially as The Seventeen) and others who strode on the turf of the history of Fort Cochin.


I understand that the original of that Het doop-en trouwboek is in the department of the India Office Records forming part of the VOC archives of the British Library in London, the very repository of the archives of the British East India Company (EIC).


63In the aura of the colonial past stands a cenotaph before the church, erected on October 21, 1920, in memory of the residents of Cochin who fell in World War I. You can also see a clock that was set up on the façade on November 13, 1923 in memory of Hal Harrison Jones, a former Managing Director of Aspinwall & Co., Ltd, who died at Cochin.

The land before the church is now occupied by constructions including some colonial bungalows situated amidst landscaped grounds forming part of a club which commenced operation in early 1900s with admission privileges restricted to the British and men only (presently Cochin Club).


What there is left of the beach that has had many cultural influences on these colonial powers exist on the west beyond the club grounds – its past glory diminished like the Fort Manuel, the remnants of which can be seen along the beach, like the symbol of a bygone era steeped in its historic significance and heritage value.


The few occasions we had to interact with the locals during our visit to Portugal in 2006 had offered me the understanding that the bygone grand era is looked back by them with pride though they are at wonder about how they had managed to attain it.


Even so, the fact remains that history should be seen in the context of its time – to the moods, attitudes, and conditions that existed during that time – as much as it is due to the farsightedness and pro-activeness of the illustrious explorers and adventurers; it is not unconventional to be aware that greed and brutality also played its roles to sustain this achievement, until more smarter and more able European powers appeared on the horizon and took over.


The changes that took place by stages in the colonial period had greater impact on Fort Cochin. In point of fact, the spirit and character of Fort Cochin is largely defined by its unique history and heritage. While it is no longer fashionable to think of history in terms of kings and captains, we cannot ignore the truth about the past communities of colonial times and even the one that predates the Western conquerors. The cantilevered Chinese fishing nets that still raise their heads are a tangible signpost to that period.


I recently attended a seminar on the heritage of Fort Cochin. There prevailed a sense of anticipation in the air – like a promise that something positive would eventually come out of it. Given that heads of historical monuments, prominent historians, archaeological experts, local populace and enthusiasts are roped in to participate, such seminars and activities of organisations are positive steps to regenerate and conserve the eco-cultural landscape of the area, its historical monuments, etc., and to watch out and curtail all actions that wipe out traces of the ancient civilisation.



The active involvement of dedicated personalities like Dr. Charles Dias, MP and Dominic Presentation, MLA, and official departments like the Department of Tourism, etc, is commendable. Of the various protective measures being considered, languages like Cochin Creole Portuguese which has originated during the colonial times, and other kinds of intangible cultural heritage that are becoming extinct must also be given due attention.


While the golden sands of the beach, still a distant dream, has to be definitely rejuvenated and there can be merit in establishing a community swimming pool – a public facility to enable visitors, especially low-budget travellers, etc, who like to swim safely in the ambiance of the beach and the Arabian Sea.


Understanding is a two-way street. Following that Seminar, a short walk I took around the old Fort area provided me with the opportunity to examine how much of its character and quality has been preserved. Sure enough, one of Fort Cochin’s blessings is its partial isolation and you can stroll at a leisure pace in the quiet streets. That cool and quite ambiance is what makes this “sweet spot” so charming and endearing.


Even now, you will not miss its charisma displayed so prominently on the doorways, walls and facades of the Portuguese, Dutch and British buildings from colonial periods lining the streets. Regrettably, many from the public, the tourists and heritage enthusiasts are still left unaware of several salient features of Fort Cochin’s history and monuments.


Through awareness programmes and encouraging research, many ambiguities can be clarified and questions answered: Where were the real boundaries of the Fort Manuel, or where each of the seven bastions, renamed by Dutch as Groningen, Friesland, Utrecht, Zeeland, Holland, Gelderland, Stroomburg (names of Dutch provinces) was situated? Where was the smaller bastion called Overijssel or riverside entrances to the fort – Water-Gate, Bay-Gate, and New-Gate, located? Where is the Loafer’s Corner? Why is it that there are hardly any Dutch surnames compared to those of Portuguese; etc.



The vestiges of three former European colonial powers that line the Burger Street (Burgerstraat), the Princess Street (Prinsesstraat); the remnants of the Fort; the huge, shady trees lining the lanes; the garden bungalows with large rooms, high ceilings and verandas, arched doorways, carved doors, colonial windows; the few edifices such as the Old Harbour House, Koder House, Vasco House, David Hall, the Bishop’s House (once the residence of the Portuguese Governor), Thakur House (Kunal or Hill Bungalow); the playgrounds, etc, – all extend their roots to a bygone era.



As the spice race is long over, it is the tourism that had opened its door to Fort Cochin’s history. As the tourism industry in Fort Cochin encompasses many different areas, any tendency to cash in on its tourist potentiality by overpricing on services would have a negative impact on Fort Cochin and deter the tourists from returning. Besides, certain visible “not so goody-goody” problems that have cropped up with the encroachers, illegal shack vendors, the dumping of garbage, etc., are aspects that are being addressed.


Although there are isolated incidents connected with the sale of drugs and abuse towards the visitors, the police have shown exemplary effort to curb these unsocial elements which are a menace in any part of the world.


Development is part and parcel of a society whose requirements and demands change when society changes. Nevertheless, I would say without fear of contradiction, that development must not ignore the past, socio-economic attitude of the people and their culture. No doubt, it’s a blessing that the restrictions and lack of opportunities for haphazard development has preserved this area to a remarkable degree even though intrusiveness can be seen popping its head up in some places. It reminded me of the policies implemented at places of historical importance like Assisi, Siena, Firenze, Toledo, to name a few, where preservation is given the highest priority to maintain the connection the present has with the past.



More than aides-mémoires of the collective past, historic place like Fort Cochin has social, economic, educational, and other values. I hope the renewed interest in this area would not only provide an incentive to our efforts for the welfare and protection of Fort Cochin and its surroundings but also bring in the essential cultural pride. Until next time. Ciao, Jo



84a)   It seems that Gaspar Corrêa’s (1496-1563) Lendas da India, an indispensible contemporary source on India’s history or the story of Portuguese expansion, was not published until the 19th century.

b)   The names of Rajas vary in different publications.

c)   Dom Manuel was called “the Fortunate” because of the great wealth he earned from Portugal’s maritime discoveries.

d)  The second part of the name Cochin might have derived from kochazhi which in local language Malayalam stands for “small estuary”.  

e)   Dom Manuel I was bestowed with a Golden Rose by Pope Julius II in 1506. By receiving a second Golden Rose from Pope Leo X in 1514, Manuel became the first individual to receive more than one Golden Rose, which is a gold ornament traditionally blessed by the popes annually and conferred as a token of reverence or affection.  The street must have been named “Rose Street” by the Portuguese as a mark of respect to their king during the above mentioned period.

f)   Chavittunatakam: The first documentation and publication of this art form is planned by South Zone Culture Centre and Kerala Folklore Academy.

g)   In the writings of Gaspar Corrêa also, it is mentioned that Dom Gama was buried in the principal chapel of the monastery of St. Antony while in some writings it is referred as Monastery of St. Francis, Cathedral of Cochym . In an article of the Boletim do Governo, Goa, December 21, 1858, on the subject of Dom Gama’s tomb, he was buried in the principal chapel of the church of the Franciscan monastery of Cochym.

85h)   According to Cochin State Manual by C. Achyutha Menon, the first synagogue was established at Muziris but it does not exist today.

i)    This arms storehouse of the Dutch fell into the hands of the British who demolished it when they took over Cochin in 1795 under the rule of Rama Varma (Sakthan Thampuran – 1790-1805).

j)    Colóquios dos simples e drogas da India” (Conversations on Indian Herbs and Drugs) was published in Goa on April 10, 1563 by Portuguese Jewish physician/naturalist Garcia da Orta, a pioneer of tropical medicine, nearly a hundred years earlier to the publication of “Hortus Malabaricus”.

k)   The Doop Boek was maintained for 40 years and was sent to London in 1932 for repairs. Having rebound in the original style, it is unavailable for public scrutiny although a Photostat copy of the original book is, I understand, available to satisfy their curiosity.

l)    For more details on Kerala: http://www.keralatourism.org

m) A special thanks to Ms. Pearl Prakash.

n) This article presents only sign posts from the history of Fort Cochin. The excuse for its appearance at this time is my attempt to summarise these events at this juncture when much discussion on Fort Cochin’s importance and protection are progressing.  Although certain proposals are mentioned here, I have not included all the various proposals and implementations currently being addressed by the Government, other institutions and enthusiasts.

(© Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)