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Set on a cluster of islands and narrow peninsulas, the port city of Cochin (Kochi) reflects the eclecticism of Kerala perfectly. With a rich past and a bustling present, it has been the business hub of the region from the very early days.
Chinese fishing nets along Cochin harbour
Cochin consists of mainland Ernakulam, the islands of Willington, Bolgatty and Gundu in the harbour, Fort Cochin and Mattancherry on the southern peninsula, and Vypeen Island north of Fort Cochin, all linked by ferry.
The influence of Chinese, Jews, Arabs and Europeans is evident in Cochin and its people. The oldest church in India, 500-year-old Portugese houses, old tiled houses built in the Chinese pagoda style, the famous Chinese fishing nets, a Jewish community whose roots go back to the Diaspora, synagogues and mosques all tell the fascinating story of this harbour town.
The harbour is still at the heart of the city and pepper, sea food, rubber and coir are exported from here. Despite this, Cochin is an attractive city with serene back-waters, lagoons overhung with feathery coconut palms and picturesque islands.
The older parts of Fort Cochin and Mattanchery are an unlikely blend of medieval Portugal, Holland and an English country village grafted onto the troppical Malabar coast. Cochin is one of India's largest ports and a major naval base.
What to See
Bolghatty Palace - Once a mansion of the British Resident and now a hotel, is in palm fringed Bolghatty Island
Mattancherry Palace - The palace (Dutch Palace) was built by the Portuguese in 1557 and presented to the Cochin Raja, Veera Kerala Varma. The Dutch renovated it after 1663, and hence the palace has another name, 'Dutch Palace'.
The most important feature of Mattanchery Palace is the murals in the bedchambers and other rooms, which depict scenes from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranic legends connected with Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Kumara and Durga. These murals are some of the most beautiful and extensive, and are one of the wonders of India.
The Shiva temple in Ettumanur ( near Kottayam) has similar murals.
Jewish Synagogue - Constructed in 1568, this is the oldest synagogue in the Commonwealth. A stone slab from Kochangadi synagogue (built in 1344, and has then disappeared), inscribed in Hebrew, can be found on the inner surface of the wall.
The synagogue has hand-painted, willow pattern floor tiles brought from China.
St. Francis Church - Built in 1503 by Portugese Franciscan friars, this is India's oldest European-built church. The original structure was wood, but was rebuilt in stone in mid-16th century. Vasco da Gama, the first European to reach India, died in Cochin in 1524 and was buried here for 14 years before his remains were transferred to Portugal. The tombstone still stands.
Chinese Fishing Nets - Lined along the sea-front, these fishing nets exhibit a mechanical method of catching fish, introduced by Chinese traders from the court of Kublai Khan. These nets are also seen along the backwaters between Cochin and Kottayam, and between Alleppey (Alappuzha) and Quilon (Kollam). They are mainly used at high tide.
Parishath Thampuran Museum - Housed in what was previously Durbar Hall, constructed in traditional Kerala style, the museum contains collections of 19th century oil paintings, old coins, sculptures and Mughul paintings and exhibits from the Cochin Royal family.
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