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Project Profile


2008 Honourable Mention

Archiepiscopal Palace

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Project Title: Archiepiscopal Palace

Location: Goa, India

Size: 1,800 square metres

Cost: Approximately US$ 375,000

Responsible Party: The Arch Dioceses of Goa and Daman

Heritage Architect: Vikas Dilawari

Contractor: Arsenio & Associates

Date of Completion: November 2004

Project Synopsis

For 451 years the state of Goa, located on the west coast of India, was the primary Portuguese colony on the Indian subcontinent. From 1510, the city of Goa was the administrative capital of the Portuguese Vice-Kingdom in Asia, presided over by a viceroy. The settlement served as the hub for all Portuguese commercial activity and colonial expansion. It was also a centre of Portuguese culture and religion.

The history of the Archiepiscopal Palace is closely linked to that of the city of Goa. In 1560 the Roman Catholic Church elevated Goa to the status of an archbishopric. The palace was subsequently constructed, in the late sixteenth century, to serve as the residence for the Archbishop of Goa and Daman. In 1843, the church moved the archbishop’s seat to Panaji, which had become the new capital of the state of Goa. The palace subsequently became the residence of the canons and chaplains of the Council of the Patriarchal See.

The Archiepiscopal Palace conveys a strong sense of its historic origins. Situated immediately adjacent to the Sé Cathedral of Santa Catarina, the building adheres to the style of a Portuguese quinta (country estate), with a large central block and two projecting wings flanking a semi-enclosed courtyard. The ground floor functioned historically as a cellar, kitchen and servants’ quarters, with the lofty living spaces of the piano nobile (first storey) above. An attached chapel linked the palace directly to the east end of the Sé Cathedral.

The building follows many of the conventions of Portuguese construction, while also revealing the distinct adaptations of Portuguese architecture in the Indian context. The principal building material is laterite, bonded with lime and mud mortar. Tile roofs, supported by laterite piers, surmount the upper walls. Laterite, flagstone and wood serve as floor coverings. A striking feature of the interior is its teakwood false ceilings. Interior decoration is simple, consisting of a stencilled fresco dado beneath a moulded cornice and carved wooden trusses.

Rarely possessing sufficient funds for repair, the diocese neglected the periodic repairs necessary to maintain the structure. Also, as many of the rooms remained unoccupied after the archbishop’s move in 1843, much of the interior space was unventilated for many years, a condition that encouraged deterioration from moisture and termite infestation. Monsoon rains contributed to the site’s deterioration and by the end of the twentieth century timbers had rotted, cracks had appeared in the masonry, plasterwork had been damaged by rising damp and sections of the roof had collapsed.

In 1986, the churches and convents of Goa were listed as World Heritage. Although the religious structures of Old Goa are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India, associated secular structures, such as the palace, are not, and therefore lack the financial support given to the religious monuments. The costs of the restoration of the Archiepiscopal Palace came directly from Archdiocese funds. Direction for the project was the responsibility of a conservation architect engaged by the diocese.

Conservation Approach

The building was in very poor condition when the conservation project began. Given the limited financial resources of the Archdiocese and the great expense of the project, conservation progressed in phases over an eight-year period. 

The palace had been the subject of an insensitive effort at repair in 1977, which had involved shoring up weak areas with concrete and bracing timbers with steel. Also, cement rendering had been used instead of plaster, giving both the interior and exterior walls a harsh appearance.

The first step in the latest conservation project was the stabilization of the laterite walls, which bulged due to the weight of the roof and had cracked in places. Although the wall stabilization could have been achieved through traditional external buttressing, this kind of treatment was considered obtrusive. The conservation architect made the decision to install steel tie rods and turnbuckles and to apply stitching to the failing walls as an alternative treatment.

A key step was to make the building watertight. To this end, workers dismantled the roof, replacing rotted teak members with teakwood that was for the most part salvaged from other sites. Given the expense of teak, in several areas the conservation architect specified local matti wood as an appropriate substitute. To treat against future termite attack, the roof structure was left exposed to the sun to dry out. Technicians then applied chemical preservatives and a traditional coating of tar for added protection. Inside, the workers removed the false ceiling, replacing damaged materials and also treating for termites and future moisture problems. This process took a great deal of time, due to the high price of teak and the amount of labour required.

The floor of the piano nobile required stabilization in several areas where the substructure supporting the heavy flagstones had failed. Workers replastered the laterite piers and replaced rotted wood. Where former repairs had been carried out with modern cement, this cement was replaced with traditional lime-based plaster, with help from local artisans trained in this traditional technique. The restoration of the palace was the first large-scale restoration project in Goa to employ locally produced shell-lime plaster instead of lime imported from elsewhere in India, helping to reintroduce this traditional Goan technique.

A local artist retouched the stencilled decoration of the dado and false cornices of the palace, particularly where replastering had obscured the original work. Local carpenters repaired the elaborate Baroque altarpiece of the chapel, dismantling it, treating it for termite infestation and carefully reassembling it; reapplying the original gilt highlights. The same crews also repaired the traditional shell windows of the palace, a process that required inserting translucent oyster shells into a teakwood lattice. This is a window type that is fast disappearing due to a modern preference for glass and the high cost of installation.

Conservation and the Community

The Archiepiscopal Palace is a significant marker in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Goa. It serves a unique community, one that remains devoutly tied to its religious and political past. The restoration work has returned this monument to the Catholic community and other residents of Goa. Although the palace did not receive the state-sponsored care accorded the religious monuments of the World Heritage-listed site of Old Goa, it is nevertheless an integral part of that historic collection of buildings, as reflected in the value attached to the building in the community.

The palace today houses the Museum of Christian Art; adaptive reuse that promotes the historic structure’s continued viability by generating funds for its continued maintenance. The church’s leadership intends for the palace to have a future use as a conference centre, archive and museum of Indo-Portuguese furniture.

Quote from the Project Team

“The restoration and adaptive reuse of the Archiepiscopal Palace has played a very instrumental role in laying the foundation for heritage conservation work and philosophy in the area of Old Goa.”