“The Real Goa is found in her Houses”
The houses at Calizz

Even before the Portuguese arrived in Goa the society here was sophisticated organized and had a sense of order we have to go back in history in the pre Portuguese Goa to understand what houses were like before Goa was colonized and show how the things drastically changed.

In the presence of advances and withdrawals, Indo Portuguese civil architecture was based fundamentally on the interconnection and reciprocal social intercourse between the two architectural models; the local Hindu model. Contrary to what happened in Africa and in Brazil, the Portuguese were confronted in Goa with an ancient culture involving a social structure which was strongly hierarchical, as well as customs defined by extremely strict rules. If conversion to Catholicism brought a new set of behavioral patterns, the persistence of the caste system in the local population perpetuated many of the social codes, especially those relating to domestic life. Within this interconnection; whilst Portuguese architecture acquired a position in relation to the structure the design of the façade, the Hindu architectural controlled the interiors, displaying a strong resistance to the Portuguese spatial styles.

In the 19th century, however, English architecture began to influence the architecture of Europe. Curiously, this had a little or no impact on the architecture of Goa. Perhaps the Italianate, Baroque and Rococo styles suited the Goan temperament and Goa’s hot and humid climate. Perhaps Goa’s political climate allowed only a small amount of interest in the adaptation of British architectural styles.

“One unique feature about a Goan house is that it appears to merge with the landscape”.

Ambient serenity

The house design in Goa was affected by the following factors:
  • Protecting oneself from the fierce monsoons was the basis of the architectural form.
  • The European lifestyle was encouraged in an attempt to separate newly converted Goan Christians from their cultural roots they adopted a European outlook but did not cut themselves off from their Indian roots completely. The resulting cultural fusion affected the house design.
  • Portuguese rule allowed Goans to travel abroad, when they returned they bought with them ideas and influences, making the Goan house a mixture and adaptation of design elements and influence from all over the world.

Basic Construction of a typical Goan House

There are various steps involved in building a Goan house which are very scientific and practical because of the weather conditions of Goa which makes it very special and unique in the world.

The first step involves “Digging of the Well”. Once the location of the house is decided, the water diviner is consulted. The water diviner then directs the house owners to the exact spot where, in his opinion, water would be found. It is only after the well has been dug and the presence of an abundant supply of water confirmed that the house owner would put his building plans into action. In other words the houses are built around wells.

Second step involved in the construction is the selection of the right material to build the house. The building materials used in Goa have remained virtually unchanged over the years: Red laterite found 50-70 m below the ground level is the most favored material for the house building. It is available in plenty in Goa; it could be cut and dressed with ease and becomes hardened on weathering thus improving with age. These stones are used in the construction of the walls, pathways, and even pillars. The other materials used for construction includes wood, iron and in limited amount, marble. The Goans had developed considerable skills in working wrought iron.

The third step involve the making of the roof of a Goan house for which the material has to be selected carefully.Goa’s forests offered its house builders bamboo, coconut palm and hardwoods that gave rise to technically unique roof system. Basically simple thatched roofs made from palm fronds and bamboo frames gave way to the roofs covered with hand crafted country tiles. But due to the fierce monsoons of Goa palm frond thatching was found to be flimsy and unable to withstand the harsh weather. A hardwood framework covered by country tiles was a perfect alternative to palm fronds to withstand these conditions.

The technique of making pottery tiles is simple. Clay is excavated from the banks of the rivers and mixed with water to form viscous dough. This dough was then split into two halves which are then used as an individual tile to cover the roof.

Finally for the plasters of the walls crystalline limestone is used which is rich in Magnesium (an important mineral used in the manufacturing of cement). Which is first grinded and then mixed in right proportions with water and sand and then plastered on the walls to the final finish.

The house builders, bundbuilders, masons, and other artisans are given a gift of a vest or a shirt, coconuts, lump of palm jaggery and some cash on the completion of their contracts in Goa even today.

Pre-Portuguese houses

The house of laxmibai in the pre Portuguese Goa at Calizz was build on a principal of considering it as a temple for the mind and body, a place where physical and spiritual cleansing and nourishment can take place, most aspects of life, including the construction and decoration of homes, are governed by traditional customs and practices, social customs left an important mark on the architecture of the house that is the reason why most of the houses in those days were inward looking with small windows this reflected the secluded role of women as they were not allowed to move freely outside, so the inside of the house was her domain. Hindus in that era believed that the four corners of the house were symbolic of the four corners of the world that are assumed to be dominated by the “Agni” God of Fire according to the Hindu mythology. They also considered it auspicious to have the house planned in square all these rules and principles were actually based on “Vastu Shastra”, the ancient science of architecture and design. One of the most distinguishing features of this house is that it appears to merge with the landscape.

The primary material used to build a house in those days was mud which has a property of becoming malleable when wet and rigid when dry and cow dung which was used to make the flooring of the house due to its antiseptic properties. The potential of mud as a building material must have been apparent at an early stage of human development. Usually wet mud is used directly, mixed with cow dung and perhaps gives more body by adding chopped straw, gravel or stone. A wall is built up in courses about a foot high, each left to dry until it can bear the next layer. In the pre Portuguese secular architecture of Goa the architectural influence was more on religious buildings (which were built in stone with rich carvings and embellishments) rather than the residences which were build with mud bricks and thatch or tiled roofs.

The rooms only receive light through the door and through small windows with wooden baulsters in the large houses.

Portuguese houses

The Portuguese houses built in the middle of the 18th and 20th centuries were more outward looking and ornamental, with balcaos (covered porches) and verandahs facing the street. The balcaos had built in seating, open to the street which can be seen at Calizz outside the consultancies of the Doctor and the Lawyer, where men and women can sit together and they had a concept of see and be seen chat with their neighbors or just enjoy the evening breeze. The balcao first appeared at the beginning of the 19th century as a feature added to the houses which were built in the 18th century, and did not blend with the existing facades. These early balcaos were simple in structure and with the roof being supported with two plain circular or square columns and seats built into only the sides. The steps leading off the balcao grew wider as one descended, resulting in a single curvature masonry railing.

Houses built during the later half of the 19th century were designed with the Balcao, intergrating it into the façade. Visually the balcao with its pyramidal roof and decorative staircase added the much needed third dimension to the other linear, façade oriented architecture. With the passage of time it evolves in the feature with elaborate Western style detail. The stairs began to assume various shapes and the sizes and the single curvature railing was replaced by the multiple curvatures Baroque railing. The seats that were earlier restricted to the floor of the balcao started appearing on the stairs and gradually took the different forms and extended to the entire stairway. These ornamental balcaos usually indicated the status of the owners.

Some of the major features of the typical Indo Portuguese houses found in Calizz are as follows:

Front doors

In Goa the front doors provide an opportunity for embellishment. They serve to divide spaces, toad to the character of the building and to exhibit the tastes and preferences of the owner. The front doors were flanked by columns or pilasters. They were simple in design, wider and larger than internal doors and they were left open during the day to welcome guests and shut only at night. The doors were only partially visible during the day so people did not spend much on the decoration and the carving on them. Large planks fitted with battens served the purpose reasonably well and are illustrative not only of the social health of Goan forest wealth. Gothic arches over the doors were another feature that served to exaggerate posture. These arches were also a logical extension of the fashion to adapt the Gothic revival architectural style.


The windows are make up an imaginative style that is yet another contribution from Goa to the architecture of the world. Large ornamental windows with stucco mouldings open into verandas. These may appear purely decorative; but have their origins in similar mouldings in the windows of Portuguese houses. These windows were actually the devices to help sailors identify their homes at a distance as they sailed in. windows gradually became more decorative, ornate, and expressive. At Calizz the windows in the Portuguese houses is made with mica sheets because instead of using glass or window coverings made from the materials like silk, velvet, or lace which were not practical to use due to the humid climate of Goa instead they used windowpane shells, these provided the privacy and elegance to the local people. These windows are found mostly in very old houses of the 19th century.


Railings were the most intricate embellishment in a Goan house. Pillars, piers and colours do not seem to be influenced by any other style in particular, rather they confirm to a mixed bag of architectural styles, cast iron railings were direct imports from British India. Ornamental railing often combined Greek key and Gothic motifs to make up some of the most exclusive railings designs in the world. Floral motifs were added on it at the intersection of the wooden strips. The wooden railings with turned bolsters were executed by Goan craftsmen who often copied motifs from Hindu temples, the perfect example of these railings can be seen outside the Tobacco House in Calizz.

Eaves Boards

Eaves boards are the gable ends and eaves of timber roofs decorated with carved timber fascias. These eaves boards are used on the verge of Gables where the coverings of roof extended over the wall. The plain edge is just nailed to the roof on the rafters. The planks are first sawn, an organic or geometric design drawn on the plank and then the pattern is drawn out. Not abashed about revealing their Hindu ancestry, Goan Catholics often used motifs and symbols from temples in their domestic architecture.

Goan floor Tiles

Tiles are a unique feature of Goan houses and at Calizz the floors are made with a perfect blend of Portuguese and Italian tiles that still look as glowingly fresh as when they were first installed in the main house of Dona Bertha as well as the consultancies of the Lawyer and the doctor.

False ceilings

To protect the house from draughts and to cover the tiled roof these ceilings were used and they gained popularity in the 1700’s. At the entrance of Dona Bertha’s house there are two sitting halls (known as Sal in Portuguese). Both the sitting halls have got a typical false ceiling which is intricately carved by the Goan carpenters.

Wall paintings

There were only few Goan families in Goa like Dona bertha’s which displayed the heritage of this beautiful land known for creative sensibility by decorating their walls with paintings on miniatures on the walls which have today become the part of the Goan heritage.

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