Kochi (Cochin) is the (upcoming) metropolitan city of Kerala and the second largest city in the state, next to its capital Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum). Kochis is the ‘bollywood city’ of Kerala with most of Malayalam actors building their cocoon in this ever-growing port city.
Kochi known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea and ‘The Gateway to Kerala’ was a major trade center especially for spice (after the port of Muziris ceased to exist) esp during the 14th century and on until the British decided to leave India.
Kochi became the second capital of the Cochin Maharajas, who were also known as Perumpadappu Swaroopam, after the Zamorins of Calicut invaded their capital Perumpadappu (the town where I hail from in Kerala, now in the Malappuram District)..
Fort Kochi or Fort Cochin is the tourist hub of Cochin and most of those who visit Kerala – God’s Own Country. This place is shrouded in history with the most projected from the era whence the Portuguese & Dutch walked this land and left their mark…
During my recent visit to Kerala I managed to steal some time to visit the much famed Fort Cochin with my brother. We took a ferry across to Fort Kochi from the mainland. The colonial charms of Fort Kochi with traditional Dutch and Portuguese bungalows doting the streets… I felt as though I’m walking the streets of Melaka (Malacca is a state in Malaysia that has a strong Portuguese imprint) with those Crimson buildings showing off the typical yet attractive Colonial architecture, standing sturdy since the 1500’s. Most of these buildings have been turned into boutique hotels wherein you can experience an old world charm.. The place is quite touristy with not just foreigners but also Indians from other states visiting round the year..
Top attractions in Fort Cochin
1. Beach Road
As you exit the Ferry and turn right, you will see a street dotted with street hawkers selling souvenirs and show pieces to adorn your living room, mini stalls with colorful cotton dress, few cafes to chill and savor the sunset by Arabian Sea. This road leads to the beach which is not very pleasant to be at.
2. Chinese Fishing Nets
You can also see few surviving Chinese Fishing Nets – known as Cheenavala in Malayalam, the icon of Cochin. (These nets were once the mainstream income). There is bridge built in the shape of these nets located at Marine Drive (mainland Cochin).
3. St Francis Church
Constructed by the Portuguese in 1503 and was then named Saint Antonio Church. Later when the Dutch came in, they made few additions within the church thus turning it inot a Dutch Church. Finally it was turned into an Anglican Church by the British and thus named St Francis Church.
The renowned explorer Vasco da Gama was laid to rest in this church though his remains were transferred to Lisbon after fourteen years. His tombstone can be seen inside the church.
The church has a large cemetery which serves as resting grounds of many Portuguese army officials and soldiers. The church is the only Catholic Church not demolished by Dutch which was handed over to British to re-establish an Anglican church. A large war memorial can be seen on its backyard to honor the unknown soldiers who sacrificed their lives for World War-1 .
The church visiting hours are from 08:30 – 17:00.
4. Dutch Cemetery
A few steps down the lane from St Francis Church stands the Dutch Cemetery, with its heavy walls, 104 tombs of the Glitterati of the era and dilapidated gates which are always locked. The cemetery, which was consecrated in 1724, is believed to be the oldest in the country.
Most of the sites and blogs said that upon request from the visitor, the gates are opened by the caretaker but unfortunately, I couldn’t find the gatekeeper there and hence couldn’t make a visit inside.
5. Princess Street
Stated as the most famous street of Fort Kochi which gives you a slice of authentic colonial European architecture. Princess street is a prefect destination for evening walk with numerous western styled hotels and cafes, souvenir shops, art galleries and heritage complexes. You can find a branch of the Kerala Tourism Office on this street.
I came across a couple of graffiti on this street.. a real treat for a graffiti lover… I love seeking out graffiti and sculptures in every city I go to… but finding one in Cochin was a bit of surprise.
6. Jew Street & Paradesi Synagogue – Mattancherry
The Paradesi Synagogue was built in 1568 by descendants of Spanish, Dutch and other European Jews. It has served as a functioning Synagogue throughout the centuries and preserves a unique record of Jewish presence in India. The Clock Tower was added later in 1760. This is one of the very few functional synagogues in India and the structure is unique due to influence of native Hindu-Christian architecture as well as the only synagogue having two bimahs.
Jew Street spanning between the Dutch Palace and the Synagogue is a heritage zone with several antique/handicraft shops mostly run by Gujarati and few native Jews.
The visiting hours to Paradesi Synagogue is from 10:00 – 17:00 except Friday, Saturday & Jewish Holidays.
7. Pierce Leslie Bungalow
The only surviving bungalow built in authentic Portuguese style, it was the home and office of famous English merchant family- the Leslies. Currently it has been restored into a boutique hotel. The hotel management however allows tourists to explore the grand exteriors and public interior spaces.
8. Dutch Palace
Constructed by the Portuguese in 1568 as a gift to Maharaja of Kochi, Veera Kerala Varma, after he granted permission to construct Fort Immanunel but was later possessed by the Dutch and renamed as Dutch Palace.
The Palace has a typical Keralite Naalukettu architecture and looks more of like a simple old house or government office rather than a palace.
A large throne and coronation costumes are on display and there is an extensive collection of royal chariots, swords and other artifacts. The most interesting part is the mural room, which has the entire Ramayana and Mahabharata depicted in a single mural.
The visiting hours are until 17:00.
9. Santacruz Basilica – (opposite Children’s Park).
The first European Church built in Asia, by the Portuguese in 1502, also the first Cathedral of Asia and seat of second Catholic Diocese in India. The British modified the structure and added oil paintings. Today, it serves as the primary seat of the Latin church of Kerala. Pope John Paul II declared it a Basilica in 1984. It houses several historical paintings, decors and artifacts
PS: Did you know that there exists a city named Kochi in Japan???
Have you visited Kochi? Do let me know your thoughts..