Fort Kochi is a historical neighbourhood at the edge of the modern city of Cochin, or Kochi. Kochi was an obscure town until the 14th century, when a devastating flood in the Periyar river propelled it into prominence. There was a major port for spice trade called Kodungallur about 30 km to the north of Kochi. The deluge permanently blocked that port and created a new natural harbour in Kochi. And all that flourishing spice trade shifted to Kochi, which started attracting the attention of the various European powers looking for a monopoly in the region.
In the 15th century, the famous Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived on the Malabar Coast via a maritime route. He was the first European to do so. The Portuguese quickly negotiated an agreement with the local Rajah of Kochi, set up a trading post here and built a small fort that gave this area the name Fort Kochi. In the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company captured Fort Kochi after a siege and a century later, they ceded it to the British, with whom it remained until independence.
Because of its rich history, Fort Kochi is crammed with influences from different parts of the world. It’s a very small and compact neighbourhood though, so the best way to experience it is to walk, walk, walk. Here are some nice things to do and see in this picture perfect quarter 🙂
1. Stroll through Fort Kochi’s pretty streets
Princess Street, Burghar Street, Napier Street, Rose Street, Lilly Street – Fort Kochi’s charming cobblestoned lanes have names as pretty as them. They are full of beautiful colonial homes that have been restored and converted into heritage hotels, home-stays, cafes, boutiques and art galleries. It is a joy to wander about these photogenic streets with their bright colours, beautiful architectural details, quirky street art and pops of greenery.
2. Beautiful colonial era churches
The St. Francis Church was built by the Portuguese in 1503, just a couple of years after Vasco da Gama’s first visit, making it the oldest European Church in India. Vasco da Gama died during his third visit to the Malabar Coast, and was buried in this church. His remains were moved to Lisbon a while later, but you can still see his original burial site.
The Santa Cruz Basilica is just a 5 min walk away from the St Francis church. It was built by the Portuguese, and rebuilt in its current form by the British.
3. The Indo-Portuguese Museum
Honestly, this museum isn’t very interesting. However, the cool thing about it is that in its basement, you can see a bit of Fort Kochi’s (now sunken) fortification originally built by the Portuguese.
4. The Old Jail Complex
This is a prison with 8 cells in it, and during India’s struggle for independence, freedom fighters from Kerala were imprisoned in them by the British government.
5. Dutch Cemetery
There’s a Dutch Cemetery with more than a hundred graves just a couple of minutes from the beach. It is usually kept locked, so you can only take a peek through the gate.
6. Parade Ground
Fort Kochi’s Parade Ground has been in use right from the days of the Portuguese occupation. The armies of all three colonial powers used it until independence. Today, you’re more likely to find a bunch of local kids playing football, but the VOC gate overlooking the ground was built by the Dutch East India Company in 1749. VOC stands for Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, which is what the company was called in Dutch.
7. Fort Kochi Beach
The original seaside fort that stood here is mostly gone, but there are traces of it like the remains of a gunnery, a couple of steam boilers, etc. The seashore isn’t the cleanest, but is lovely to walk along during a downpour, with the sea and the sky taking on a thousand shades of grey. The biggest attraction here are the Chinese fishing nets. They say Chinese traders who came to these parts in the 13th century introduced the cantilevered fishing nets here.
8. Kerala Kathakali Centre
If you’re in the mood to catch a traditional performance of Kathakali, Kalaripayttu, Mohiniyattam, etc, this is where you need to go. And if you get there early, you can catch a demonstration of how Kathakali dancers put on their makeup. You can find the schedule on their website here
WHERE TO EAT
I’m a vegetarian, and not a very knowledgeable foodie, so I’m probably not a very good person to write about food, but I still thought I’d share some of the places that I really enjoyed in Fort Kochi.
David Hall Gallery Cafe
This was my favourite because not many things in the world are better than eating a hot, yummy wood-fired pizza in a pretty garden, watching the pouring rain. David Hall was built in the late 17th century by the Dutch East India Company. It first served as the residence for one of their governors, and later as the home of a Jewish merchant. Today, it houses an art gallery with a charming garden cafe. The pizzas here are quite well known, and with good reason. Do try the Green Pizza – it is soooo delicious, piled with spinach, basil, parsley and coriander. And the best part – you can almost convince yourself that you’re only eating salad 🙂
This is the most darling cafe ever, so I think I might do another post about it. True to its name, it is decorated with a huge collection of antique teapots. The menu has quite a big selection of teas, and simple, hearty food. My favourite was the yummy blueberry cheesecake.
Another charming art gallery with good food – this is a breakfast-all-day, soups, salads, sandwiches, cakes kind of place. I loved their lemonade flavoured with a local herb called narunandi (also called sarsaparilla or nannari). It is used in Ayurveda as a coolant, and is said to help alleviate many disorders.
During the non-tourist season in Fort Kochi, many places work limited hours or shut down altogether, so late dinners can get a little tricky. The Saffron restaurant in the Spice Fort Hotel is a nice option as it is open from 7:30 AM to 10PM. They claim to be an organic restaurant, which is another plus. The menu is quite huge and I really enjoyed their appams and stew.
Many more places like Oy’s Cafe, Dal Roti and Loafer’s Corner Cafe are highly recommended, but since we were there during the off season, they were closed most of the time.
I hope you liked this mini guide to Fort Kochi! I’m going to do a few photo-posts too, with pictures from Fort Kochi and the adjacent neighbourhood of Mattancherry – please do come back to take a look 🙂