No matter how many times you go to Goa, you will discover something new. So next time you head there don’t forget to go to the leafy village of Gandaulim around 15 km away from Panjim, where you will come across the Church of St. Blaise. This little outpost is all that remains of Goa’s Croatian connection. It is hard to imagine that a small trading town in the Balkans, in Europe, had an outpost in Goa, 500 years ago.
The story of this link between Goa and Croatia is fascinating.
From the 14th century onwards, Croatia, in Eastern Europe was a collection of independent trading towns of which the most prominent was Dubrovnik. These trading towns had links across the world and it was the quest for Indian spices and textiles that brought traders from Dubrovnik to Goa. The spice trade from India to Europe was extremely profitable for these Croat merchants. For instance, pepper purchased in Calicut for 4 Ducats, was sold in Venice for 56 Ducats! To facilitate this trade, they established a settlement or a ‘colony’ where the Gandaulim village stands today.
There was a good reason why the Croats settled in Goa, because in the 16th century, it was the hub of Portugal’s trading empire in Asia. The fame of ‘Goa Dourada’ or ‘Golden Goa’ known for its wealth of spices and diamonds, spread around the world. The grand churches, mansions and boulevards of what is today known as ‘Old Goa’ were said to rival Lisbon in splendor. As a result, it became a magnet for merchants, travellers and adventurers from around the world. In fact, today’s Gaundalim village, once the site of the Croatian colony, is located just 3 kms from Old Goa and may well have been a suburb of the medieval metropolis.
Sources suggest that the Dubrovnikers arrived in Portuguese Goa sometime between 1530 -1535 CE and later founded their own colony, Sao Braz, named after their patron saint St. Blaise. This church was built around 1563 CE.
Sao Braz was a thriving colony with 12,000 residents but pretty quickly, disputes with the Portuguese spelled trouble. By the 1570s trade between the Croats and Indians began to decline.
Over time the settlers also dwindled. We do not know how many settlers actually remained there. The last straw was the great earthquake of 1667 CE, which completely destroyed Dubrovnik and its prosperity. After the earthquake, it no longer had the financial or the military power to trade with India or establish any presence here. Another factor for the decline of the Croatian trade in Goa was the fact that by 17th century CE, Portuguese had lost their monopoly over spice trade to the Dutch and the British, who favored other ports. Goa was no longer a major trading hub.
People had forgotten about this Croatian colony, until 1999, when a Croatian Indologist Zdravka Matisic discovered texts that spoke of the colony in Goa. This created a flurry of interest in Croatia. However, even today, very little research has been done on the colony, when it began, how it was and when it was finally abandoned.
Today, Goa has once again become an international tourist hub and this has reignited interest in its unique past. The Church of St Blaise now gets inquisitive visitors who come to see this quaint church and how it connects Goa and Croatia.
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