Goa's Reis Magos: Echoes of a Portuguese past

The Reis Magos Fort and the Reis Magos Church are two well-known structures located in the charming village of Reis Magos, which means ‘three wise men’, writes Savitha Karthik
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 22:39 IST
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 22:39 IST

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Standing at the foot of Reis Magos Fort in Bardez, North Goa, it is hard to imagine what the site looked like 500 years ago when Europe was abuzz with the spirit of exploration.

It was the Age of Discovery, when the Spaniards and the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English raced to discover new routes and new lands. It was also an era of colonisation, with exploitative slave trade and imposition of the coloniser’s ways of life on the colonised. 

The arrival of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama at Cochin (now Kochi) in 1498 was a pivotal moment in the history of colonisation and Portuguese dominance in Goa. In 1510, the Portuguese, led by governor Afonso de Albuquerque, defeated Adil Shah to claim control of the Goan region. The Portuguese stayed till 1961 before Goa became a part of the Indian Union.

Much water has flown under the bridge since De Gama set foot in India. Portuguese culture has been assimilated into the Goan way of life — the architecture, ways of life, and cuisine all have a distinct flavour.  

It was a beautiful morning with the sun beating down on the gleaming white facade of the Reis Magos (‘three wise men’) Church and the laterite slope of the Fort, with dozens of school children trudging past the ticket counter and other tourists. The air was punctuated with snatches of Marathi, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi. There were the ubiquitous Instagram reel makers of course. But who would blame them — the views from the fort are rewarding. Credit must go to the Helen Hamlyn Trust and INTACH who took up renovation of the fort and completed it in 2012. Architect Gerard da Cunha was brought in for the restoration. 

The laterite stronghold on the banks of the Mandovi offers stunning views of the vast expanse of water, lush greenery, thatched roofs and coconut trees grazing the skies.

Reis Magos, older than the more famous Aguada Fort, was an armed outpost during the Adil Shahi times. The Portuguese fortified it in 1551 under the administration of Viceroy Afonso de Noronha. The fort was expanded several times before it was re-erected in 1707. At the base of the fort is the Reis Magos Church built by the Franciscans in 1550 and is said to be among the earliest churches in Goa. 

Enter the fort and a flight of stairs lead you to solitary cells — the fort was used as a prison after the 1900s. In a large courtyard at the fort’s lower level is a thatched cottage with a long flight of steps flanked by white and flaming pink bougainvillaea. A shapely frangipani in one corner of the courtyard adds further charm. 

The upper level of the fort has airy halls with windows that open out to the sea. The rooms have been converted into a gallery that exhibits Goa’s reputed artist Mario Miranda’s works. There are also other posters and maps that chart the Portuguese rule in Goa. It’s hard not to linger for a bit and think of all those from another time treading this very land — you want to stay still and try to catch the whispers from centuries. Like Lucie in A Tale of Two Cities who imagines the “continual coming and going of people throughout the years.” 

Getting there

The fort is in the tiny village of Reis Magos and is a little over 5 km from Candolim. It is also just over 8 km from Panjim, so you can rent a cab or a bike and head to the fort and church. If you are in Goa during the monsoon, you will be treated to lush greens wherever you turn. A wholly different experience from your regular beach and sun Goan holiday. 

Published 11 May 2024, 22:39 IST

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