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Decode Panaji's many colours

Located on the banks of the Mandovi River, every part of old Panjim (now, Panaji) reeks of its Portuguese heritage and design philosophy. While one is awestruck at its stunning white churches, the rows of public and private buildings that line the waterfront of the river (now, a road were been built on reclaimed land) reveals an equally interesting insight of the Portuguese architecture and design influences.

From Art Deco buildings like Panjim’s State Bank of India office to Portuguese structures that were once accessible through its many waterways, we were amazed as our eyes wandered through this slice of Goa’s capital. Yellow and white, red and white, blue and white — every building has a distinct colour and facade. As we were to find out soon enough from architect Tallulah D’Silva, also co-author of the book Walking In and Around Panjim, a colour code was put in place to distinguish churches from residential and public offices. “While all churches were painted white, residences were permitted to use colour. All buildings had to repaint their facades once a year, post monsoon. The lime washes were originally used with natural pigments like laterite stone powder, yellow oxides and indigo,” she says.

D’Silva shares that the colours were natural, and that the lime was prepared by burning and hydration of sea shells, thereby giving it a bright hue. The buildings were constructed using laterite stones and mud as an infill. On the ground floors, pillars were mostly made of cast iron and those with access to boats through waterways used granite stones to create archtrives (beams). The second floor used a combination of wood and iron. “Another important characteristic of old Panjim’s buildings is that they all had colonades, where one could use to walk past during the monsoon, when it rained heavily ,” says D’Silva.

Blue & White: Wide archways
“Some buildings had a waterway under the main large arched openings where a boat could access the building. This is evident from the large archways which were perhaps walled up later with windows when the area was reclaimed and the road was built,” says D’Silva, adding that the older administrative and large mansions of the time had their main archways/doorways framed with granite stone architraves while others used laterite stone
and local lime plaster over it.

Art Deco: The arrival of reinforced concrete cement
Art Deco buildings like Hotel Mandovi and the yellow-and-white building style flourished as a modern style when Reinforced Concrete Cement (RCC) arrived in Panjim. “These buildings were typified by curvilinear edges, thin cantilevered projections which were impossible to do in stone previously and terraces,” says D’Silva. Panjim’s State Bank of India building (above) is a fine example of Art Deco architecture.

Maroon & white: Portugal’s pride
“This is a fine example of a building that came up at the peak of Portuguese rule, and the capital of Panjim was established (post 1850). Many such structures were residential two-storey buildings that lined the water front,” says D’Silva. The details reveal use of cast iron for its posts, railings, etc. These perhaps replaced wooden elements that were used earlier. “The first floor is wooden supported on a composite wall made of local laterite stone and mud as an infill,” she adds.

As white as a church
Originally, paints were derived from natural materials like laterite stone for red, yellow oxides for yellow, and indigo for blue buildings. While white was the fixed shade for churches, some Goans claim that the colour code was implemented to distinguish public offices from residential buildings. “Most public offices and government buildings were painted in blue, whereas residential buildings of officers were painted in maroon and white. Yellow and white were common colours for private establishments as well as for residences,” says Durgesh Nair, Goa Customs Officer and
Panjim resident. 

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