8 Things to See and Do in Fort Kochi
On the Kerala coast is a little corner where Indian, Portuguese, Dutch, and several other cultures don’t just meld but make a brilliant, multi-hued montage. That’s Fort Kochi, where Chinese fishing nets, a Jewish synagogue, a Dutch Palace, and for a while, the remains of Vasco da Gama effortlessly share space. Moreover, this is a place that enables visitors to let their hair down or kick back and take things slow. Every other year, it also becomes the staging area for the prestigious Kochi Biennale. Here’s what to see in this captivating place.
Kochi Biennale, Fort Kochi
Once every two years, Fort Kochi, along with a few places nearby, revels in waves of art and creativity during the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB). Being held after four years because of the pandemic, the fifth edition opens on December 12, 2022, to much anticipation and expectation, while the theme – In our veins flow ink and fire – reflecting the trying times and the hope and joy that are still possible despite despair. The artworks will be on display at various venues until April 10, 2023.
Just a grid of a couple of streets, Jew Town is filled with shops selling antiques, spices, and a gamut of knick-knacks, including a full-size kettuvallam, or wooden rice boat! Tucked into one of the lanes is the Paradesi Synagogue, a mid-16th century synagogue built by the local Jewish community. Look for the Hindu and Christian features that sit together on its facade. Break up your tour of Jew Town with refreshments at one of the many lovely eateries such as Mocha Art Cafe. If you are here around lunchtime, try the local biryani at Kayees Rahmathulla Cafe.
Princess Street, Fort Kochi
Possibly the best place to hang out in Fort Kochi, apart from the seaside, is Princess Street, which is also called Loafer’s Corner. Full of European/colonial style buildings and a vibe that is definitely continental, the street is not too long but is stacked with interesting sights. A must-visit place here is the storied Kashi Art Cafe; don’t miss their carrot cake if it's on the menu.
Dutch Palace - Mattancherry, Fort Kochi
Don’t go expecting a grandiose monument. Rather, the palace is bound to underwhelm at first sight. It is petite with a predominance of wood, small, and without any outward embellishments. The mid-16th century mansion, built by the Portuguese and presented to the Kochi royal family, was added on to by the Dutch and hence the label. It is built in the local style with a central courtyard but with distinct European influences. There is a temple dedicated to the patron deity of the royal family, as well as temples to Shiva and Krishna. The most spectacular thing is the mural room with its exquisite depiction of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Also on display are royal artefacts, costumes, and weapons.
Chinese fishing nets and Fort Kochi beach
On Fort Kochi’s beach, the chineese fishing nets are not only pretty but pretty hard to miss. The Chinese fishing nets are both stunning and imposing, and Kochi’s icons. Sometime in the 14th century, they were gifted by the Chinese emperor and continue to be in use. At sunset, you can watch local fishermen haul in the catch. Walk along the path parallel to the beach which has several maritime objects such as anchors, and continue to Vasco da Gama Square, a buzzing place in the evenings.
St Francis Church, Fort Kochi
Considered to be the oldest European church in India, the 16th century St Francis Church is closely associated with the Portuguese. In 500 years it has undergone a lot of changes, going from a wooden structure to a brick-and-mortar edifice, starting as Catholic but later converting to Protestant, initially consecrated to St Anthony and later to St Francis. When Vasco da Gama died, it was here that he was buried, but his remains were exhumed and later moved to Lisbon. A gravestone marks the spot.
Santa Cruz Cathedral and Basilica - Fort Kochi
Elegant and majestic, more so than St Francis Church, Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica also goes back to the mid-16th century. A beautiful Gothic-style church in white and pastel colours with twin spires that are visible from a distance, the interiors are even more breathtaking. Graceful arches, a stunning altar, and beautiful murals and frescoes greet the visitor. Don’t miss the reproduction of Da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Indian Naval Maritime Museum - Fort Kochi
An evocative narrative of the country’s maritime history, the Indian Naval Maritime Museum is situated inside two bomb shelters. The museum traces the history of India’s maritime exploits going back to the Dutch and Portuguese. Battleship replicas, weapons, and memorabilia form the mainstay of the museum.