Fort Kochi and Mattancherry are two historic neighborhoods located in the city of Kochi (also known as Cochin) in the state of Kerala, India. These areas are known for their rich cultural heritage, historical significance, and unique blend of Indian and European influences.
- Fort Kochi:
Fort Kochi is a charming coastal area situated on the Fort Kochi peninsula. It was the first European settlement in India and has a long history of foreign influence. The area is characterized by its colonial architecture, narrow streets, and picturesque surroundings. Some of the main attractions in Fort Kochi include:
- Chinese Fishing Nets: These iconic fishing nets are a symbol of Fort Kochi and can be seen along the coast. They are operated using a unique mechanism introduced by Chinese traders centuries ago.
- St. Francis Church: It is the oldest European church in India, originally built by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. The church holds historical significance as the burial place of the famous explorer Vasco da Gama.
- Santa Cruz Basilica: A beautiful Roman Catholic Church known for its Gothic architecture and stunning interior decorations.
- Fort Kochi Beach: A popular spot for locals and tourists alike, offering a serene atmosphere, beautiful sunsets, and various seafood stalls.
- Fort Kochi Palace: Also known as the Dutch Palace, it was built by the Portuguese and later renovated by the Dutch. It now houses a museum showcasing historical artifacts and artworks.
Mattancherry is adjacent to Fort Kochi and is another neighborhood with a rich historical legacy. It was once a bustling trade hub and has been influenced by various cultures and communities over the centuries. Some notable attractions in Mattancherry include:
- Mattancherry Palace: Commonly known as the Dutch Palace, it was constructed by the Portuguese and presented to the Raja of Kochi in the 17th century. The palace showcases exquisite murals depicting Hindu mythology and exhibits royal artifacts.
- Paradesi Synagogue: The oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth of Nations, it was established in the 16th century by Sephardic Jews who migrated to Kochi. The synagogue houses unique hand-painted Chinese tiles and a collection of historical artifacts.
- Jew Town: Located near the Paradesi Synagogue, Jew Town is a vibrant area known for its antique shops, spice markets, and quaint cafés.
- Mattancherry Market: A bustling local market where you can find a variety of spices, textiles, handicrafts, and fresh produce.
Both Fort Kochi and Mattancherry are known for their vibrant cultural scene, with art galleries, cafes, and cultural festivals that showcase the region’s rich heritage. The area is also famous for its traditional Kathakali dance performances and is a hub for artists and performers.
Fort Kochi and Mattancherry Best for Culture and Architecture – My first port of call at Fort Kochi, as we get off the ferry, is ‘my house’. There it is, sitting on a grassy patch that slopes downwards from the New Sea Wall. The simple, Portuguese-style villa façade has two curved, turret-like corners into which a round dining table would fit perfectly, and French windows that look out beyond the Chinese fishing nets to the sea.
The house has belonged to me (or rather, my imagination) since I first visited this tiny island off Ernakulam, which holds more objects of interest in a square meter than the biggest Indian city.
One day, perhaps, I will really own it. For now, I can only gaze at it and the row of lovely, similarly-built villas that line the New Sea Wall, and silently thank whoever is responsible for giving Fort Kochi its heritage zone status, which protects its Jewish, Portuguese, and Dutch buildings, the wide, canopy-forming rain trees on the Parade Ground, and the sweet charm that defines Fort Kochi.
Fort Kochi is one of the handful of islands, which, along with the mainland – Ernakulam – makes up Kochi. Larger in comparison to its sister islands but still pocket-sized, Fort Kochi has such an array of sights, restaurants, art galleries, and antique shops that you’re likely to waste time just deciding where to go. But mornings in Fort Kochi belong to the Kashi Art Café. There are a few interesting eateries that have sprung up in the area that we’re willing to explore as lunch or dinner options, but Kashi Art Café offers the best breakfast menu: inch-thick slices of buttery toast, fresh juice, and peace.
Sleepy afternoons are perfect for diving head-first into the cool, dusty world of antique shops that line the streets of Jew Town, but morning is when you should see the best of Fort Kochi – its architecture. Start at the New Sea Wall and walk till you get to the dilapidated but atmospheric.
Dutch Cemetery. Then head down Church Road to St Francis Church, India’s oldest, whose elegantly simple façade is a far cry from the comparatively new Santa Cruz Basilica, with its gilded interiors, lofty ceiling, and magnificent stained-glass windows.
Mattancherry, at the other end of the island, is more obviously touristy, with antiques stores and art galleries lining the streets. There are more touts here as well, but that doesn’t take away from its charm. The Dutch Palace is a chunky building with a plain exterior and stunning frescoes within. You’ll probably find yourself lingering in the 400-year-old Paradesi Synagogue to admire its willow-patterned Cantonese tiles, Belgian chandeliers, and golden pulpit.
We walk back to Fort Kochi via fragrant Bazaar Road, whose dingy spice shops are made vibrant by the pungent potpourri of smells they release, telling you the story of Kerala and how this began over a handful of pepper, making Fort Kochi the ideal start to a Keralan odyssey. We linger in Fort Kochi for a few days, following our noses through its network of lanes that never fail to surprise before we somewhat reluctantly move on.antique