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The region that is known as Goa today changed hands several times, from the Kadambas to the Islamic Deccan to the Portuguese occupation which lasted 451 years from 1510 to 1961. The Portuguese played a considerable part in shaping the architectural identity of Goa. When the Portuguese arrived and during their period of conquests from 1510 till 1750, Goa’s houses became copies of European architecture, combined with the ingenuity and traditional skills of the local people.

The use of local materials, crafts and skills make the Western-influenced Goan house a unique architectural expression.Most communities made homes out of local materials and the nature of the people was such that there was a strong tradition of building skills in the region. Being on the coast, much of the lime used for house building was mixed with ground oyster and sea snail shells.

One legacy of the Indo Portuguese era rule found across Goa are the magnificent mansions.

Laterite Stone

The chief building materials involved in a typical Goan house were all very local and indigenous. Laterite and stone were widely used along with wood, metal, and tiles of different patterns and varied styles. What appear to be red bricks below are in fact quarried blocks of laterite, a porous red stone common in India and other countries.

 In Goa the laterite blocks are usually grouted and then cemented or plastered over and painted.Unplastered laterite has historically never been used in Goa as an architectural element. And for good reason. A porous stone that performs unpredictably when exposed to water, laterite is not suited to the humid conditions of Goa.

Laterite Chira (or laterite stone) is designated by the Govt. of Goa as a Minor Mineral along with laterite rubble, laterite boulders, Sand, Basalt, and river pebbles.

However, its abundance in Goa has made it a popular choice of stone for construction and plastering is the best way to protect it from the elements. The effect of the lime plaster on this porous stone allows for the buildings to effectively combat the build-up of humidity within the building. Traditionally, Goan houses were painted with natural dyes mainly red oxide, yellow ochre and indigo.

Delhi-based architecture firm Viya Home designed Moira By The Church in Goa, to try and explore the possibilities of vernacular architecture and materials through a simple design.

Mother of Pearl Shell Window

Goan Architecture used windows as an expression of art, made with ‘nacre’ or ‘carepa’, oyster shell windows were an intrinsic and enigmatic characteristic of the traditional upper–class dwellings. The mother-of-pearl, which is otherwise waste material, was then cut into lozenge shapes and slid into wooden battens to give windows added value and beauty. 

Window pane oysters are bi-valved with translucent shells, ranging from colorless to silvery white, that are flat, thin, smooth, rounded and glossy.

Translucent like paper yet not as transparent as glass the passing light through them felt kaleidoscopic and warm. For 400 years harvesting oyster shells for windows was a traditional occupation for the fishing community in Goa and a thriving business for traders who exported them to Brazil. The flat part of the shell is cut to fit into wooden window pane frames traditionally used in Goan homes. Window-pane oysters take about 4-5 years to mature fully when their muddy brown shells turn translucent white.

Windowpane oysters are now a rarity due to restricted supply. 


Azulejo—pronounced as ah-zoo-le-zhoo in Portuguese, are hand-painted ceramic tiles. These alluring and scintillating tiles are a result of extreme dedication and passion. A hidden gem of Goa that is due for its fame and spotlight. Hand painted and bright in colour, it is a technique that was first introduced by the Portuguese but which quickly adapted to become something of an entirely Goan characteristic.For it is in those tiny tiles that one continues to tell the stories of a community built centuries ago that somehow still captures all of the effortless charm of Goa today. 

Azulejos along sidewalks in Lisbon, Portugal

Portuguese brought the hand painted tiles to the state, but they never brought the skills to make them locally. Azulejos used to be handcrafted in Portugal and then shipped to Goa for installation. So, these tiles were never made in the state during Portuguese rule. The azulejos are a typical form of Portuguese painted, tin-glazed, ceramic tile work. Classically, it is a square plaque of ceramic material, one side of which is decorated and glazed. 

An Artist creating azulejos tiles

To make these tiles, first clay and water are mixed into a dough, spread on a tray, cut to size, dried and fired in a kiln. It is, then, glazed with powdered glass. When the tile is set and ready, the drawings are transferred through tracing paper by sprinkling the perforations with powdered charcoal. Some just draw straight on the tile and paint it. The paint used in Azulejos is made of glass powder and oxides that prevents it from fading with time. Once the painting is completed, it is fired again at 1,050 ºC to fuse the glaze, setting the painting. 

The process involved in making these tiles is to buy a biscuit, glaze it, sketch  & paint on it and bake it in an oven for 5 hours.

In India, Azulejos is exclusive only to Goa. For the longest there was a lack of Azulejos artists in Goa, that almost led to its extinction, until the art was restored back into the state.

Azulejos art in Panjim Chapel

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