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One unique feature about a Goan house is that it appears to merge with the landscape.
Even before the Portuguese arrived in Goa the society here was sophisticated organized and had
a sense of order we have to go back in history in the pre Portuguese Goa to understand what
houses were like before Goa was colonized and show how the things drastically changed.
In the presence of advances and withdrawals, Indo
Portuguese architecture was based fundamentally
on the interconnection and reciprocal social
intercourse between the two architectural models;
the local Hindu model. Contrary to what happened
in Africa and in Brazil, the Portuguese were
confronted in Goa with an ancient culture involving
a social structure which was strongly hierarchical, as
well as customs defined by extremely strict rules. If
conversion to Catholicism brought a new set of
behavioral patterns, the persistence of the caste
system in the local population perpetuated many of
the social codes, especially those relating to domestic
life. Within this interconnection; whilst Portuguese architecture acquired a position in relation to the
structure the design of the faade, the Hindu architectural controlled the interiors, displaying a
strong resistance to the Portuguese spatial styles.
In the 19th century, however, English architecture began to influence the architecture of Europe.
Curiously, this had a little or no impact on the architecture of Goa. Perhaps the Italianate,
Baroque and Rococo styles suited the Goan temperament and Goas hot and humid climate.
Perhaps Goas political climate allowed only a small amount of interest in the adaptation of
British architectural styles.
The house design in Goa was affected by the following factors:

Protecting oneself from the fierce monsoons was the basis of the architectural form.
The European lifestyle was encouraged in an attempt to separate newly converted Goan
Christians from their cultural roots; they adopted a European outlook but did not cut
themselves off from their Indian roots completely. The resulting cultural fusion affected the house
Portuguese rule allowed Goans to travel abroad, when they returned they bought with them
ideas and influences, making the Goan house a mixture and adaptation of design elements and
influence from all over the world.


The houses in the pre Portuguese Goa was build on a principal of considering it as a temple
for the mind and body, a place where physical and spiritual cleansing and nourishment can
take place.
The construction and decoration of homes, are governed by traditional customs and practices,
social customs left an important mark on the architecture of the house.
Hence, houses in those days were inward looking with small windows this reflected the
secluded role of women as they were not allowed to move freely outside, so the inside of the
house was her domain.
Hindus in that era believed that the four corners of the house were symbolic of the four
corners of the world that are assumed to be dominated by the Agni God of Fire according
to the Hindu mythology.
They also considered it auspicious to have the house planned in square; which were based on
Vastu Shastra, the ancient science of architecture and design.
One of the most distinguishing features of this house is that it appears to merge with the
The primary material used to build a house in those days was MUD which has a property of
becoming malleable when wet and rigid when dry and cow dung which was used to make the
flooring of the house due to its antiseptic properties.
The potential of mud as a building material must have been apparent at an early stage of
human development.
Usually wet mud is used directly, mixed with cow dung and perhaps gives more body by
adding chopped straw, gravel or stone.
A wall is built up in courses about a foot high, each left to dry until it can bear the next layer.
In the pre Portuguese architecture of Goa the architectural influence was more on religious
buildings (which were built in stone with rich carvings and embellishments) rather than the
residences which were build with mud bricks and thatch or tiled roofs.
The rooms receive light only through the door and through small windows with wooden
balusters in the large houses.


The Portuguese houses built in the middle of the 18th and 20th centuries were more outward
looking and ornamental, with balcaos (covered porches) and verandahs facing the street.
The balcaos had built in seating, open to the street, where men and women can sit together
and they had a concept of see and be seen chat with their neighbors or just enjoy the evening
The balcao first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century as a feature added to the
houses which were built in the 18th century, and did not blend with the existing facades.
These early balcaos were simple in structure and with the roof being supported with two plain
circular or square columns and seats built into only the sides.
The steps leading off the balcao grew wider as one descended, resulting in a single curvature
masonry railing.

Houses built during the later half of the 19th century were designed with the Balcao,
intergrating it into the faade.
Visually the balcao with its pyramidal roof and decorative staircase added the much needed
third dimension to the other linear, faade oriented architecture.
With the passage of time it evolves in the feature with elaborate Western style detail.
The stairs began to assume various shapes and the sizes and the single curvature railing was
replaced by the multiple curvatures Baroque railing.
The seats that were earlier restricted to the floor of the balcao started appearing on the
stairs and gradually took the different forms and extended to the entire stairway.
These ornamental balcaos usually indicated the status of the owners.
Some of the major architectural features of the typical Indo Portuguese houses are as follows:


In Goa the front doors provide an opportunity for embellishment.

They serve to divide spaces, to add to the character of the building and to exhibit the tastes
and preferences of the owner.
The front doors were flanked by columns or pilasters. They were simple in design, wider and
larger than internal doors and they were left open during the day to welcome guests and shut
only at night.
The doors were only partially visible during the day so people did not spend much on the
decoration and the carving on them.
Large planks fitted with battens served the purpose reasonably well.
Gothic arches over the doors were another feature that served to exaggerate posture.
These arches were also a logical extension of the fashion to adapt the Gothic revival
architectural style.


The windows make up an imaginative style that is yet another

contribution from Goa to the architecture of the world.
Large ornamental windows with stucco mouldings open into
These may appear purely decorative; but have their origins in
similar mouldings in the windows of Portuguese houses.
These windows were actually the devices to help sailors identify
their homes at a distance as they sailed in. windows gradually
became more decorative, ornate, and expressive.


Railings were the most intricate embellishment in a Goan house.

Pillars, piers and columns do not seem to be influenced by any other style in particular, rather
they confirm to a mixed bag of architectural styles; cast iron railings were direct imports from
British India.
Ornamental railing often combined Greek key and Gothic motifs to make up some of the most
exclusive railings designs in the world.
Floral motifs were added on it at the intersection of the wooden strips.
The wooden railings with turned bolsters were executed by Goan craftsmen who often copied
motifs from Hindu temples.


Eaves boards are the gable ends and eaves of timber roofs decorated with carved timber
These eaves boards are used on the verge of Gables where the coverings of roof extended
over the wall. The plain edge is just nailed to the roof on the rafters.
The planks are first sawn, an organic or geometric design drawn on the plank and then the
pattern is drawn out.
Goan Catholics often used motifs and symbols from temples in their domestic architecture.


Tiles are a unique feature of Goan houses; the floors are made with a perfect blend of
Portuguese and Italian tiles..


To protect the house from draughts and to cover the tiled roof these ceilings were used and
they gained popularity in the 1700s.
At the entrance of few houses there were sitting halls (known as Sal in Portuguese), there were
intricately carved false ceilings.


There were few Goan families which displayed the heritage of this beautiful land known for
creative sensibility by decorating their walls with paintings on miniatures on the walls which
have today become the part of the Goan heritage.