Exploring Colonial Architecture in India

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Francis Assisi Church – Soham Banerjee via Flick

Though the British are often regarded as the main colonial powers in India, there are other European countries that have established their trade and cultural imprint on the Indian landscape. With a long coastline, India has over the years, been prone to docking of international trade merchant ships leading to a slow integration of their language, culture and architecture. Unlike the British colonization which is widespread across the subcontinent and also many a time engulfed in strong nationalism associated with the freedom struggle, the colonization by other European countries don’t adhere to much negativity. 

Dutch cemetery in Pulicat
Dutch Cementry, Pulicat – Saurabh Chatterjee via Flickr

This may be because the French, Portuguese and Dutch colonies concentrated their impact on regional areas. In some cases, their aim was not so much as ruling or casting control over these territories but was directed on the lines of economics, trade and religion. In other cases, where they did rule the territories there was not a disregard for the local culture and thinking. This is why the influence of the French, Portuguese and Dutch settlements on the respective areas is often seen as a seamless mix of both the local and outside cultures. Today, these regions exude a well balanced mix of festivals, cuisines and architectural wonders that define them and make them special from other parts of the country.

Portuguese Architecture in India

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Holy Spirit Church Goa – Ramnath Bhat via Flickr

The Portuguese landed in 1498 when Vasco de Gama docked ship at Calicut in Kerala. Jesuit Francisco Javier arrived about fifty years later to spread the catholic religious way and hence many of the early architecture of the Portuguese are manifested in churches, cathedrals and schools. Western India, especially Goa and Daman and Diu have seen the maximum influence of Portuguese colonization. Goa is in fact, where the Portuguese ruled for more than 400 years until in 1961 the Indian Armed Forces annexed the territory.

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St. Cajetan Church – Joegoauk Oldgoa via Flickr

Some of the Portuguese architecture today have emerged as leading tourist destinations of the state. Old Goa is home to a number of churches and cathedrals that have a distinct Portuguese style of architecture which corresponds to the architecture in its other colonies, such as, Africa, Brazil and Azores. The Basilica do Bom Jesus in Old Goa, with its three stories and baroque style reminds one of the late Renaissance architecture. The Cathedral de Santa Catarina is a mix of Tuscan and Corinthain styles and home to its big Golden Bell. Other religious structures that are heavily influenced with Portuguese style of building and were built during their reign include the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, Convent of Santa Monica, Chapel of the Weeping Cross, Sanctuary of Saint Joseph Vaz and more. Various historical sites such as, Fort Aguada, Reis Magos Fort as well as, many Goan homes are structured on the Portuguese style of architecture. Colorful painted exteriors that could be seen by sailors from far, the Goan homes with their pillared porches, wrought iron balconies and inner courtyards were built mostly during the 18th century.

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Fort Aguada, Goa

Though the Portuguese style of architecture was predominant in Goa and Daman and Dui, sporadic influences can also be seen in other parts of the country, such as, the Bandel Church in West Bengal on the banks of the River Hoogly. In Mumbai, the Madh Fort, Castella de Aguada and St. John’s Baptist Church are structures that remain from the Portuguese colonial rule. 

French Architecture in India

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French Quarter, Pondicherry – Richard Mortel via Flickr

French Establishments in India or the French colonies in India came after the Dutch and English colonization and in some parts of India the influence of the French is seen till date. The establishments were seen in Pondicherry, Karikal, Yanaon on the Coromandel Coast, Mahe on the Malabar Coast and Chandernagor in West Bengal. The town of Changernagor is rich in French architectural history. The town was divided into the French Quarter and Indian Quarter and the difference between the two is evident till date. The French architecture made use of local raw materials and took into account the climatic conditions of the place, unlike the early British architecture. French shutter windows, carvings on archways and narrow street fronts were the French style; however, they were integrated with the courtyards and backyard gardens of a typical Bengali home. 

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Church in Pondicherry – Saurabh Chatterjee via Flickr

The same can be said about Pondicherry too. The French architecture as well as culture is best witnessed in the Union Territory of Pondicherry which was under the French establishment for the longest time. With street boards both in Tamil and French, Pondicherry’s French Quarters also called the White Town is home to some of the most beautiful buildings painted in soft bright colors. It was almost 30years after the French first came to the country, that they acquired the area of what is Pondicherry today from a Tamil ruler. Though between the years 1693 to 1697 the Dutch took over, they handed the area back to the French East India Company. 

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Hôtel Le rêve bleu Pondicherry – Melanie M via Flickr

Pondicherry is fraught with the French essence that is seen in many of its street names and its museum. Some of the most prominent French architecture structures in Pondicherry besides the homes include the French Institute and Consulate-General, French Palace today called the Government Square, the Romain Rolland Library and Notre Dame des Anges church. An integration of the Tamil and French architecture style can be seen in the Franco-Tamil style buildings and homes of Pondicherry.

Dutch Architecture in India

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Bolgatty Palace Kochi, Kerala via Wikimedia

The Dutch came to India in the early 17th century and their influence and dominance is seen most in Kerala, though they occupied other parts of the country, such as, some areas along the southern Coromandel Coast and Gujarat. However, it is in Kerala, especially Cochin that Dutch architecture finds it existence. The Bolgatty Palace in Kochi is one of the oldest Dutch palaces outside of Holland, St. Francis Church, Old Harbour Hotel, the Dutch warehouse and headquarters ArchitectureArchitectureinside Fort Kochi are some of the most prominent Dutch architectural landmarks of Kerala. On the eastern coast, Pulicat was the first settlement of Dutch India and till date is home to the Dutch cemetery visited by tourists. 

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Old Harbour hotel in Fort Kochi – Tjeerd Wiersma Via Flickr

The influence of the European colonial powers that made India their home over the years is seen in the architectural and historical references of the places that they ruled. Their influence though not seen across the entire nation is pocketed in distinct areas and resonates in sync with the culture and social fabric of these same areas. The French, Portuguese and Dutch influences have made a strong mark on the different regions and places of the country. However, their integrated presence with the local ambiance merits and explains their long lasting impact.

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