Backwaters and Portuguese architecture in Kerala

Kerala, a state located in the southwestern region of India, is renowned for its picturesque backwaters and unique Portuguese architectural influence. This region’s rich history and cultural diversity have left a lasting impact on its architecture, making it a fascinating destination for history enthusiasts and architectural admirers alike.

The backwaters of Kerala are a network of interconnected brackish lagoons, lakes, and rivers that stretch along the state’s coast. These serene water bodies are surrounded by lush greenery, making them a captivating sight. The backwaters serve as a crucial means of transportation for the local people, with traditional houseboats known as “kettuvallams” gliding peacefully along the waterways. These houseboats were traditionally used to transport rice and spices, but today they offer tourists a unique and immersive experience of Kerala’s natural beauty.

The influence of Portuguese architecture in Kerala dates back to the 16th century when the Portuguese arrived on the Malabar Coast. Their influence can be seen in various structures such as churches, forts, and palaces. One prominent example is the Santa Cruz Basilica in Kochi, which was originally built by the Portuguese in the late 15th century. This beautiful church showcases a blend of Portuguese, Dutch, and British architectural styles, with its impressive facade and ornate interiors.

Another notable Portuguese architectural gem in Kerala is the Fort Kochi area. This historic neighborhood is dotted with charming colonial-era buildings that reflect a fusion of European and local architectural elements. The iconic Chinese fishing nets, believed to have been introduced by the Chinese explorer Zheng He, further enhance the unique ambiance of this coastal area. Strolling through the narrow streets of Fort Kochi, visitors can admire the colorful facades and intricate detailing of the Portuguese-style houses, some of which have been converted into boutique hotels, art galleries, and cafes.

One of the most significant contributions of Portuguese architecture to Kerala is the style of the traditional Kerala houses, known as “nalukettu.” These ancestral homes are characterized by a central courtyard surrounded by four wings, each representing a different element of nature. The influence of Portuguese architecture is evident in the ornate wooden carvings, sloping roofs, and the use of lime plaster for the walls. These houses are a testament to the blending of local and foreign architectural traditions, creating a distinct style unique to Kerala.

Apart from individual structures, the overall urban planning of some towns in Kerala also reflects Portuguese influence. The town of Mattancherry, for example, showcases narrow streets lined with colorful buildings, reminiscent of European towns. This historic town is home to the Mattancherry Palace, another architectural marvel influenced by Portuguese design. Originally built by the Portuguese as a gift to the King of Cochin, the palace exhibits a mix of European and traditional Kerala architectural features.

the backwaters of Kerala and Portuguese architecture are two captivating aspects that define the state’s rich cultural heritage. The tranquil backwaters offer a glimpse into Kerala’s natural beauty, while the Portuguese architectural influence adds a unique charm to the region. From the iconic houseboats floating on the waterways to the grand churches and forts, the fusion of local and European styles creates an architectural tapestry that is both visually stunning and historically significant. Exploring the backwaters and immersing oneself in the Portuguese-inspired structures of Kerala is truly an enriching experience for any visitor.