Kochi’s multi-cultural history has given it several landmarks to take pride in. Influenced by Europe and the Keralan state’s indigenous culture, here are seven must-visit attractions in the Indian city.
Watch Kathakali – the traditional dance-drama art form of Kerala – at the Kerala Kathakali Centre. Kathakali is traditionally performed at night on the premises of a temple, but you can watch it at the centre indoors. Here, the nuances of Kathakali are explained to the visitor, such as the hand gestures, the traditional storylines and the identification of the characters. You can also take photographs of the artists as they undergo their elaborate makeup rituals.
The Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica is an ancient structure from the Dutch regime and renowned for its Gothic architecture. Originally built by the Portuguese in 1558, it was destroyed by the British and later rebuilt in 1887. It was ordained a Basilica in 1984 by Pope John Paul II. The church is striking in its appearance, wearing a bright cream-ish-white coat of paint. The main altar inside it is decorated by the acclaimed Italian painter Fra Antonio Moscheni.
Walk along the sea face of Fort Kochi marvelling at the Chinese Fishing Nets that date back centuries. These 10 m (33 ft.) high structures are operated by a team of around six fishermen. The nets, compared to the more conventional ones, are outstretched over the sea with large stones suspended from ropes as counterweights at the other end. They do not yield a large catch and mostly contain only some fish and crustaceans. Other than Kochi, these Chinese Fishing Nets are found in Kollam, another district of Kerala.
The largest archaeological museum in Kerala, the Hill Palace Museum, built in 1865, was the official residence of the erstwhile rulers of Kochi. Oil paintings, murals, sculptures, manuscripts and belongings of the Kochi royal family are exhibited here. Make a day of it by visiting the deer park, children’s park, prehistoric park and heritage museum, while exploring the numerous rare species on medicinal plants, all to be found on the Hill Palace premises. About 10 km (6.2 mi) from the city centre, the attraction is approachable by road and rail.
The St. Francis Church is the first European church built in India, dating back to 1503. It is here that the remains of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama were first buried. Originally made with mud and wood, the church was later reconstructed in stone in 1516 and declared a protected structure in 1923. This is the only remaining Portuguese church in Kochi, as the rest were destroyed by the Dutch during their reign over the city. Services are conducted here only on Sundays and commemorative days and it is open for visitors on weekdays.
This hidden beauty is a temple dedicated to Goddess Vana Durga. It is nestled amid an evergreen forest called a kaavu –sacred grove, which has remained undisturbed until today. According to a local myth, it is protected by the trees within the grove who are gods themselves and are there to protect the deity. The 50 acres of forest area surrounding the temple is home to 44 species of birds and a number of endangered animals and insects. A pond near the entrance of the premises houses numerous turtles, fish, birds and butterflies.
The oldest Jewish Synagogue in the country and the only functioning one in the city, the Paradesi Synagogue dates back to 1567 and is attributed to the Spanish-speaking Cochin Jews. Considered one of the biggest tourist attractions in Kochi, the synagogue is renowned for its centuries-old blue and white Chinese tiles. The place of worship can be accessed with a small entrance fee. The ticket collector, Yaheh Hallegua, is the last surviving woman from the latest generation of Cochin Jews.