Fort Kochi – The Ultimate Guide

By Ankita Sinha

Fort Kochi, a small enclave in the South Indian town of Kochi and the first European colony in India, has a culture uniquely evolved over the centuries. Boasting a cosmopolitan culture, the streets of Fort Kochi have many long-forgotten stories to tell. It has churches dating back to the times of Vasco-da-Gama, synagogues preserving Jewish history in India, houses and streets crafted in old Dutch and Portuguese style, and many other peculiarities that give it the distinctive essence of an older and richer time. A visit to Fort Kochi is an overwhelming experience for anyone who spends a few days here.

The Kochi international airport (43 kms away) connects it to major cities all around the world quite conveniently and the three railway stations in Kochi keep it linked to the neighbouring as well as distant cities. The best time for a Fort Kochi tour is from the month of October to March, owing to cooler weather and lesser humidity which makes the stay and the exploration tranquil and pleasant.

Fort Kochi hotels have a wide range, starting from cheap and comfortable to pricey and luxurious, which makes it a perfect retreat for people with low as well as high budgets. You can book a hotel in Ernakulam (the 16 km away) or go for a Fort Kochi hotel local to the area. Below goes the list of must visit places for your Fort Kochi trip.

Maritime Museum:

Established inside the INS Dronacharya School, Maritime museum narrates the tale of glorious origination and evolution of Indian navy in the form of ages old documents, paintings, maps of trade routes, artefacts, and letters from prominent personalities. The murals painted and preserved here tell the story of Vasco-da-Gama’s discovery of Indian subcontinent and the various trade routes linked to Fort Kochi in the most captivating manner.

St. Francis Church:

This church was constructed in 1503 by the Portuguese, destroyed and then rebuilt by the Dutch in 1776. The wooden structure is the first European church in India which now harbours gravestones of countless colonists and the prominent people in history from the times of Portuguese to the Dutch rule.

The most interesting feature of the church is the gravestone of Vasco-da-Gama who died on Christmas eve 1524 in Kochi. Though his mortal remains were transported back to his homeland Portugal later, the gravestone lies there in the church even today, reminiscing the major turns of history he gave birth to. A comparatively simpler architecture, the church maybe devoid of much architectural ingenuity, but it has unprecedented historical value, owing to the times it has stood through, as a result of which it serves as a major Fort Kochi point of interest. It is at a walking distance from the Beach road and offers services every Sunday.

Dutch Palace:

As a reimbursement for the destruction of a temple in the territory of King of Kochi, the Portuguese government built the Mattancherry palace of Fort Kochi in 1545, accompanied with a Lord Shiva and a Lord Krishna temple. Later, the palace was renovated by the Dutch government, thus renaming it to the Dutch Palace. The specific reason for it being one of Kochi points of interest is attributed to the magnificent paintings and murals that adorn each and every wall of the palace. The depictions in these paintings are from the stories of Ramayana, Puranas and of Lord Shiva, Krishna as well as many other Hindu deities, covering an area as large as 300 square metres. Parts of the palace also have paintings of the royal family of Kochi on display.

Jew town and Synagogue:

This area of the town has a special history to it, making it another Kochi point of interest. Even though Jew families here can be counted on fingers today, their essence and history has its imprints on the streets, local handicrafts shops and the cafes offering local delicacies and rejuvenations. The establishment that takes substantial credit for making this area one of the prominent Fort Kochi places to visit is the Paradesi synagogue.

Built in 1569, this is the only one that withstood the test of time and is standing erect till date, while the rest of the seven crumbled over time. The tiles used to craft the building are said to be of the Chinese origin, no two tiles having the same pattern. On the outer wall hangs an ornamental tablet that used to be one of the tiles from the first ever synagogue built in India in 1344. The building has been dearly preserved by the World Monuments Fund and the Jewish Community after its renovation. The house of worship can be visited from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm on all days except Fridays and Saturdays by paying a nominal entry fee.

Fort Kochi Beaches and the Chinese Fishing Nets:

Beach of Fort Kochi is the holy shrine for tourists visiting it. A treat to your entire being, Fort Kochi beach bestows upon you an exhilarating experience among the soothing site of waves, grooving palm trees, and various games and activities to pursue like swimming, surfing, badminton with co-travellers or merely sitting beside the waves watching them take their course. What differentiates the Fort Kochi beach from all other beaches in the world is the presence of Chinese Fishing Nets, which can be seen only here apart from China in the entire world. Apart from their peculiar cantilevered structure and the much-debated history of how they landed in Kochi, these nets offer a spectacular view of the sunrise and sunset through them, worth leaving imprints on your soul for a lifetime. Another attraction here is a patch on the beach called Vasco-da-Gama square where you can enjoy exotic seafood and local delicacies from an array of shops. The Fort Kochi beach has great commercial importance as a trading port, given that 90% of pepper is exported to the various parts of the world from here.

Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica:

One of the two churches that are erect till date in Fort Kochi, Santa Cruz Cathedral is the latter one built in 1905 apart from St. Francis Church. A white building from outside, the interior of this church is alive and vibrant with colors. The striking feature that holds it among the best Fort Kochi places to visit is the paintings of Antonio Moscheni that give spectacular hues to its walls and the pillars. Regular services and prayers are organised here, Sundays experiencing greater levels of participation. The adjoining area has a shrine of Old Lady of Fatima which sees pools of worshippers all the year round.

Indo Portuguese Museum:

The Indo-Portuguese museum of today was built in 1910 out of an extension of what once used to be the resident of the Bishop Dr. Joseph Kureethara, the person who takes credit for the museum’s existence. Divided into five sections, namely Alter, Cathedral, Civil life, Procession and Treasure, the museum unveils the lifestyle, art and religious evidences of Portuguese India. The most eye-catching among the preserves is an old lock called Manichitrathazhu with religious symbols carved on it. The lock was used to lock old and huge doors in Portuguese rule and is now safeguarded in the museum as a historical jewel. The museum charges and entry fee of Rs.5 for Indians and Rs.25 for foreigners. Visits on Thursdays are free of cost and Mondays are closed.

Kerala Kathakali Centre:

To go further close to the culture of South India, add Kerala Kathakali center to your Fort Kochi places to visit and spend and evening watching professionals getting ready and grooving on local music. To the dance-form lovers, it is the Fort Kochi go-to place and for the wandering souls, it is an experience worth a try.

The entire Fort Kochi is full of restaurants and eateries spread on its geography, serving mouth-watering dishes and cuisines to try and drool over. Exotic joints like Mosaic, Sky Grill, Trilogy, Fusion Bay, Qissa Cafe and Kashi Art Cafe are a must try.

Shopper’s stops in the area are Anokhi for souvenirs and traditional Indian outfits, Manvi-the Handmade for handicrafts and dresses, FabIndia for Indo-western clothes and Cinnamon boutique for cheap but quality handloom.

Image Credits:
Kochi, Kathakali performance flickr photo by Arian Zwegers shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license
Church of St. Francis – Old Cochin – Kochi – India flickr photo by Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license
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