Cochin is divided into two parts, one the old town which was once the hub of all colonial powers and the other, the new city which evolved as the commercial center of the post independent India. The city tour is always referred to as the city tour of the old town where the old buildings of the colonial powers still exist with their very own Charm. With many rain tree canopies, the backwaters, the estuary, the Chinese fishing nets, the old European buildings, the passing ships, the ferry service to Vypin, and the red colored buses plying by the streets, all are peculiarities of Fort Cochin.
Cochin as a port town got its prominence when the old port town of Muziris was hit by flood and was destroyed. Men fled south and found Cochin with its natural harbor making it ideal for ships to reach for trade. The “Fort” was prefixed to Cochin when the Portuguese constructed the first fort at the estuary which no longer exist. The ruins of the fort could be seen when its low tide. It was the Portuguese who came to Cochin first as part of Vasco Da Gama’s second expedition for the black gold – Pepper, then came the Dutch and the British. All had their own interest for Cochin because of its strategic location and being a flourishing port with its maritime trade.
The below are the 9 places you should not miss during the city tour of Cochin.
Also see – 10 things you should be doing when visiting Kochi
1. St Francis Church
St Francis Church was the first European church in India, built by the Portuguese in 1503. Later it changed hands and finally was taken over by the British and declared as a protestant Church. Today the church is under the Church of South India (CSI). The original tomb of the Portuguese sailor Vasco Da Gama is inside this church, fourteen years later his remains were taken to Lisbon. The church has a wooden altar and a high ceiling, there are long stretches of linen hung with ropes tied, used as fans during olden days. The church still functions as a normal church, service is conducted every Sunday morning.
2. The Santa Cruz Basilica
One among the eight Basilica in India of the Roman Catholic Church is the Santa Cruz Basilica. The church is more than 500 years old and was built after the arrival of the Portuguese missionaries. The Church is very huge and is a fine example of the Gothic architecture. It underwent the fate of being partly demolished when power changed hands to the Dutch and later to the British. The building was later re-erected in the beginning of the 18th Century. It is worth a visit!
3. Dutch palace
The Dutch palace was where the royal family of Kochi resided. Built with wood, stones and tiles, the palace was initially built by the Portuguese in local style and architecture, and then gifted to the Raja of Kochi during the 1500s. Hundred years later, the Dutch carried out some major renovations, after then the palace got the name – The Dutch palace. The Palace has some of the best preserved mural wall paintings in India, depicting stories from the Hindu epic Ramayana. The palace also exhibits the portraits of the Kochi Rajas, their royal costumes, palanquins, swords, coins and stamps. The palace shares the compound with Pazhayanur Bagavathy temple which has a large pond. The palace is a protected site under the Archaeological survey of India. Try visiting in the morning just after 9, afternoons are quite hot.
4. Jew town
The Street which leads to the Paradeshi Synagogue is referred to as Jew town. This was once a Jewish Settlement. The Jew community in Kerala has a long history since the times of Muzuris – the port town. The Paradeshi Synagogue is the last Synagogue which has stood the test of time. After the formation of Israel, most Jews left Kochi for the holy land. Only less than 10 Jews still live in Kochi, mostly old people. There are many cafes, antique shops, designer textile and spice shops in Jew town.
5. Paredeshi Synagogue
Built in the sixteenth century, the Paradeshi synagogue is at the end of the Jew Town, sharing a common wall with the Dutch palace. The land to build the synagogue was given by the, then King of Kochi, Raja Rama Varma. Today the Synagogue is one of the most visited monument, there are still the old Chinese hand painted tiles and chandeliers inside the Synagogue. There is a nominal entrance fee for the upkeep of the synagogue, and you are advised to wear modest clothes when you to enter the Synagogue. Photography is not allowed and you need to keep cameras or other valuable at the cloak room before entry.
6. Dhobi Khana
Dhobi Khana means the launder’s colony. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British brought a few families of launderers from Trichinapally, Tamil Nadu – to launder the uniforms and other linen of British naval officers and merchants. These men belong to the Vannar – sub caste of the Hindu Vishwakarma clan, whose traditional job is to launder clothes. They start their day by 03:30 in the morning, they wash, dry, and iron the clothes to perfection and deliver it by evening. There are cubicles for washing and the clothes are then dried at the adjacent piece of land where there are long ropes to hang the clothes. Today they launder linen from local hotels, restaurants and households. A small donation could be dropped in the Dhobi khana welfare fund box when you exit from the Khana.
7. The Mattanchery Spice Market
Mattanchery was the trade centre of spices and other hill produce and was the commercial hub of old Cochin. The Bazaar (market) road and the warehouses still exist with the same trade, very much operational. There are many retail spice shops where you can weigh and buy spices according to your requirement. A drive or a walk through is enough to get your senses awakening with the pungent aroma of the spices.
8. Chinese fishing nets
The most iconic symbol to recognize Kochi is the Chinese fishing nets. Introduced during the fourteenth century by Southern Chinese traders, this is still carried on by the fisher folk of Cochin. This primitive way of fishing is found in most backwaters of the Ernakulum district. The net is dropped down into the water and is pulled up with ropes, and later the fish is collected from the raised net. Pulling the ropes of the Chinese net is a thrilling activity! it would be befitting if you could tip the fishermen at the end of the activity. Try visiting in the morning or Evening.
9. Trails of the Biennale
The Kochi Muziris Biennale was first held in fort Cochin in 2012, where more than a hundred artists around the world came to Kochi to exhibit their works. The city was in great color during the course of the Biennale which was held from December till March of 2013. There were 10 different venues of which the main one was the Aspin wall house. They painted and sketched around the walls of Kochi and all those still exist retaining the charm of the town. When you walk down the streets of Kochi, you stay still for a moment appreciating the art on the walls.
Written by Benjamin John