14 Oct 2022  |   06:08am IST

Architectural treasures behind veils of wilderness

Portugal based Nuno Lopes’ English book, ‘Heritage of Defence’ gives new life to the old defence system in Goa from 1510-1660. Considered an architectural heritage, these structures are a legacy of a constructed territory. With drawing as the key investigation tool, this book shines light on structures long forgotten
Architectural treasures behind veils of wilderness

Dolcy D’Cruz


uno Lopes holds a PhD in Heritage of Portuguese Influence (Architecture and Urbanism) from the University of Coimbra and he recently released the English edition of his book, ‘Heritage of Defence Goa 1510-1660’. Turning the pages of history, it is information on the fingertips of the hard labour that went into building these architectural wonders with the sole purpose of defence. However, to make this information accessible, Nuno had to walk through wilderness and trace ruins of some of these structures to study them.

Written by Nuno Lopes, translated by Júlio Martins and published by Goa 1556, Heritage of Defence focuses on the old defence system in Goa. Nuno is a researcher and Executive Co-ordinator of the UNESCO chair on Intercultural Dialogue on Heritages of Portuguese Influence. He is an architect and works mainly with the tools of this profession, with special emphasis on drawing.

“I have always had a special fascination with topics such as cultural heritage, urbanism, landscape and development. Heritage not as a legacy or as a mandatory inheritance, but as a set of assets that, under the valorisation that people who hold it intend to attribute, can contribute to the development of these places. In 2010, I completed a master’s thesis on the Fortified Structures of Diu (India). In 2017, I completed my PhD thesis (Course Heritages of Portuguese Influence, from the University of Coimbra) entitled Defensive System of Goa (1510-1660): influence on the composition of contemporary territory. And that brings us to the question of territory and landscape: the way in which an old defensive system contributed to the organization and composition of what Goa is today. How it aggregated this territory and the Goan identity, how it can continue to contribute to the appreciation of this South Asian uniqueness. This thesis gave rise to a publication in Portugal (Coimbra University Press, 2020) and now, in a reprint, an English version, through Goa 1556, so that its dissemination can be made to the population that hold this cultural heritage,” says Nuno.

He travelled to Goa in 2014 but before that he did a lot of research and collected all the necessary information. He travelled hundreds of kilometres by car and on foot, surveyed all the fortified structures exposed in the book, using laser measuring devices, metric tapes, among others. “It was very hard work, but it resulted in a kind of inventory of what remains of the fortifications built or renovated during the first 150 years of Portuguese occupation in the territory known as the Old Conquests. Unfortunately, the publications are not large enough to be able to see each survey in detail, the material I have are dozens of drawings in A1 or A0 format, with everything quoted up to the level of the gunboats. The doctoral thesis displays this material and can be consulted in the collection of the library of the University of Coimbra,” he explains.

‘India Portuguesa’ by Antonio Lopes Mendes was an important source, like so many others for Nuno and he found it quite useful, above all as a reference to a large set of structures that today were not identified but which, in situ, he was still able to locate and, whenever possible, identify and collect data. “All the archives consulted (in Portugal and in Goa), with various references to all these structures, some of which no longer exist, there are now tools such as satellite imagery, which guided me in my in situ research and allowed me to present data so far apparently unknown,” he says.

Explaining in brief, the difference in the defensive system between the old and new conquests, Nuno says, “The territory of the New Conquests is much wider, it extends to the interior, obeying other chronologies and local realities. My chronological choice was based on the ‘beginning’ of this Portuguese occupation which, within the territory of the Old Conquests, had as the main structures of the defence system those that I have presented and which, roughly speaking, were completed in those first 150 years (1510-1660). I got to know other fortified structures, within this territory and beyond. However, as in most cases were erected from the 18th century onwards, I chose to mark out my study in some way and they were admittedly disregarded. “

The Portuguese version of this book was published in 2020. The final editing work of the English version took place in 2022, with the pandemic already in the phase of deflation. Speaking about the response to the book, he says, “This book could spark the interest of both local/regional decision-makers, academics, researchers and those curious about Goa’s cultural heritage. Maybe it doesn’t contain exactly smooth language, but it’s a book for Goa and for the Goans, before anyone else. For me, the most important thing is that its dissemination takes place, especially in Goa. If this happens, I believe it is a sign that my work was useful.”

From research to teaching, Nuno has sometimes worked in cooperation projects that have resulted in publications in Portugal, Mozambique and Cabo Verde. He is focused on the idea of architecture as a function of public service, based on heritage as a key to formulating planning strategies for sustainable development. “I hope to return to Goa soon and continue to collaborate with everything you feel that I can be useful in some way,” says Nuno, with hopes of returning to Goa.


Iddhar Udhar