Grandiose History of Fort Kochi: A Local’s Guide

This blog is written by Thushara, a resident of South India. (Read about her at the bottom of the blog). She writes lucidly about destinations close to her heart and home.  This is her detailed coverage of the History of Fort Kochi, as well as a local’s guide to the area.

Fort Kochi: A Fascinating History 

Watch closely and you can see the centuries spin past in these very unique fishing islands that boast an enchanting burst of old-world Europe reminiscent of the days of Portuguese rule only a stone’s throw away from the city of Cochin.

Fort Kochi, a keeper of History's secrets
Fort Kochi, a keeper of History’s secrets

Portuguese Rule

Fort Kochi gains the first part of its name from Fort Immanuel which was built on its waterfront by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. Granted to the Portuguese in 1503, Fort Kochi was under their rule for 160 years. The legacy of Portuguese rule in the region can be seen in its art and architecture. Christian art from the period in particular can be studied at the Indo-Portuguese Museum, which houses a small but fascinating collection and is located on the grounds of The Bishop’s House in Fort Kochi.

Local Tip: Schedule your visit to the museum from Tuesday through Sunday and avoid lunch hour – they’re closed on Mondays and from 1-2 pm on all other days. Don’t miss a tour curated by Mr.Joseph – the manager and caretaker  – for the wealth of knowledge he can offer on the subject.

Read about more places to visit in Kerala here, as suggested by a local, Thushara.

Dutch Possession

Moving on, the Dutch captured Fort Kochi in 1683 and destroyed much of its Portuguese architectural legacy – including Fort Immanuel,  and held it in its possession for 112 years before the British took over in  1795 and ruled over it until India gained its independence from them in 1947, thus ending 444years of European rule over Fort Kochi.

The most important surviving Dutch legacy on the island is seen in the form the Dutch Palace at Mattancherry. Built to appease the then Rajah of Cochin after the destruction of a nearby temple, some of the best exhibits of Hindu temple art in the country, in the form of murals, are to be found here. The palace is  built in the traditional Hindu “Nalukettu” style, with a courtyard in the middle.

Read about Fort Kochi and places to visit in Fort Kochi here.

 

history of Fort Kochi: Jew Cemetary
history of Fort Kochi: Jew Cemetary

Jew Town & The Jewish Synagogue

It is told that the Jewish settlement in Kerala dates back to over 2500 years when Jewish sailors and exiles found refuge on the Arabian coast of India. The Jews here, as in other parts of the world, were enterprising and built close relationships with the then Indian rulers. They sealed a deal with the then Hindu king to allow them to live freely on the land “until the sun and moon exist”, acquire property, build synagogues etc. They lived principally in Crangannore, an ancient port near Cochin. A disastrous flood in 1341forced most of them to move to Mattancherry, where they quickly set up their community and the famous Jewish Synagogue – the oldest synagogue in all the Commonwealth Nations.

The Synagogue stands adjacent to Jew Town – a charming street filled with age-old stores selling curios and antiques . The colonial style buildings lining the street add magic to this part of town. Jew Town is a crowd-puller and a must-visit if in the locale. The Synagogue itself was built in the year 1568 and shares a wall with the Fort Kochi.

Belgian chandeliers, hand-painted tiles and brass pillar welcome you as you enter this place of worship known for its architectural beauty.The clock tower stands tall at 45 ft with numerals inscribed in Malayalam, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic, displayed on four different dials. The synagogue also houses articles of value such as dazzling Torah crowns and scrolls of the Old Testament.

Local Tip: Owing to the influence of Hindu culture, one is required to leaves one’s shoes at the entrance. The Synagogue also calls for a strict dress code – trousers and full-sleeved shirts for men and skirts below knee length for women – and remains open from 5:00 am till 1:00 pm and then it opens again by 5:00 pm in the evening till 7:00 pm

 

This blog is written by Thushara, a traveller and  writer who believes that the ability to express oneself lucidly is among the greatest pleasures available to mankind. She seeks to find and make her voice heard, and maybe even find some kindred souls along the way!

 

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