If you are visiting Kerala and have interest in the medieval history of India, Fort Kochi is for you. Situated in the historical area of Kochi city, Fort Kochi enjoys a beautiful setting by the sea. Kochi city is spread over mainland, peninsula, and several islands. Fort Kochi occupies the north-western tip of the peninsula, and faces the Arabian Sea. It is in fact a warren of old streets by the sea. Walking along these peaceful streets is like travelling a few centuries back. Though a lot of new constructions have replaced the old structures, a tinge of colonial flavour is still present in the atmosphere of the town. Mattancherry, adjacent to Fort Kochi, has Dutch Palace, Jewish Synagogue, and a jetty.
Travel Tip: While Fort Kochi and Mattancherry can be done in a day, giving two days would allow you to get a feel of the place.
This 3-min video of Fort Kochi offers an introduction of the place:
Attractions in Fort Kochi:
Fort Kochi Beach
In Fort Kochi, you are never very far from the beach. From wherever you are, a leisurely stroll through the historical streets will lead you to the beach. Standing there you can watch the vessels entering the Kochi harbour. A promenade runs along the beach; walking on it is the best way to take in the entire area.
Chinese Fishing Nets
These large fishing nets line the shore adjacent to Fort Kochi beach. They have become the prime attraction for domestic tourists. Each net is operated by a team of people. One side of the net is anchored to the land. The opposite side is held by the wooden poles that can be tilted to push the net into the water. Fishing is an old business in this region. These nets were introduced in the 14th century. It is believed that Chinese traders had brought them. The best time to watch the fishermen in action is morning, till 11 am. But the nets appear striking in the evening especially from the deck of the boat.
St Francis Church
The 16th-century St Francis church was built by the Portuguese. It is one of India’s oldest European churches. The design of its facade has been adopted by most of the later churches. This church is a witness of the European struggle for power in colonies of India. Initially it was a catholic church, then it was transformed into a Protestant Church. And eventually British turned it into an Anglican Church. Inside there are many tombstones with inscriptions. Vasco-da-Gama, who had died in India, was buried in this church. Some 14 years after the burial, his remains were transferred to Lisbon.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica
This cathedral was originally built in the early 16th century but the current structure dates back to 1904. Along with various artefacts, the cathedral is also adorned with the colourfully painted interior.
Kashi Art Cafe
This attractive cafe, housed in an old Dutch building, has an art gallery. It is a good place to hang out for artists and travellers. The front room hosts exhibitions, and refreshments are served on the rear side.
Dutch Palace (also called Mattancherry Palace)
Of all the attractions in Fort Kochi, the Dutch Palace is most amazing. This palace was orginally built by the Portuguese around 1545 and was gifted to the king of Kochi, Veera Kerala Verma. Eventually it came under the control of Dutch who added to the structure. This two-storeyed building looks passable from outside but inside its interiors, profusely covered with murals, are a delight to watch. The murals covering the walls of several chambers narrate the story of Ramayana. The palace has traditional Kerala flooring which is done with a blend of charcoal, burned coconut shells, lime, plant juices, and egg white. Mattancherry is about one km from Fort Kochi.
For more information: www.asi.nic.in
Named as Jew town, this area is a collection of a few streets near the Jewish Synagogue. Jews, fleeing from the middle-east and Europe as early as 1st century AD, had found a safe haven in Kerala. The arrival of Portuguese had put them in trouble, but as Dutch took over they could settle comfortably in Mattancherry. But today, Jew town has been reduced to the streets lined with shops selling artefacts and knick-knacks.
Jewish Synagogue (also called Paradesi Synagogue)
Situated at the end of a narrow lane, this is the oldest synagogue in India. A sect called ‘Paradesi Jews’ (also called ‘White Jews’) arrived in Cochin in the 16th century and settled on the land offered by the king. This synagogue was orginally built in 1568 but was destroyed by the Portuguese in 1662. The present structure, with its clock tower, was rebuilt in 1664 with Dutch help. Inside, there are crystal chandeliers, hanging oil lamps, beautifully crafted brass pulpit, and hand-painted tiles.
For more information on Synagogues of Kerala: www.cochinsyn.com
The main jetty in Mattancherry is for the government-run public ferries. Situated nearby is another jetty from where private boats take tourists on a backwater tour. In contrast to the rural backwater tours of Kerala, these tour takes you along the islands and port-terminal of Kochi. If you are out to explore Fort Kochi, you should opt for this backwater tour.
This palace-turned-hotel is situated on a small island with splendid views of the bay. Set amidst 15 acres of lush green area, this palace was built in the mid-eighteenth century by the Dutch, but eventually it came under the control of British. It is now a hotel managed by Kerala Tourism Development Corporation. They allow non-residents in their restaurant.