David Hall is an old Dutch-style bungalow that sits at the southern edge of the Parade Ground. It was believed to have been built in the 1670s-1690s and is the only one of its kind left here. It is not clear if this is a residence or a hospice for the Dutch military originally. It was called David Hall by the Jewish Koder family who resided here for a time.
The first visual tour of Cochin takes us through the heart of Fort Cochin.
This was the site of the original Portuguese fortified settlement here, which was subsequently expanded by the Dutch, and then taken over by the British. This was the European civic and residential centre.
The tour takes one around the Parade Ground to visit some of the major religious and civilian monuments in the city. From the southwest corner of Parade Ground, we literally circle the square, before heading up north and ending our tour by the Fort Kochi waterfront, near where the Chinese Fishing Nets are.
The Parade Ground was the heart of the city for the more than 500 years since it was first occupied by the Portuguese. This was where the occupiers would conduct their military drills and exercises.
Around the Parade Ground sat private residences primarily – the commercial and trading heart of town was further north by the waterfront. Because the city wasn’t one of the major metropolises of the British Raj, the British era saw comparatively less investment into the urban planning of the city.
As a result, Fort Kochi still retains is distinctively Portuguese and Dutch air. Around the Parade Square, the “feel” is most definitely Dutch, with a few Dutch-era residences scattered here and there on the edge of the Square. Alongside these stand many examples of Portuguese-era residences, and many more boasting an eclectic Indo-Portuguese-Dutch style architecture.
Towering over everything are the many rain trees. These are un-clipped and un-manicured here, unlike in Singapore, and so they grow unbridled, with canopies that are sprawling, somewhat gothic and always magnificent.
North of the Parade Ground, the urban landscape, with its narrower streets through low-rise buildings, recalls Lisbon or Fontainhas in Goa – the “feel” here is a wee bit more Portuguese, though most of the buildings here probably also date from the Dutch era. Certainly, the general outlook of the city here is relaxed, laidback and almost Mediterranean.
I really liked this city and would have loved to stay longer, not least because of all the places I had visited on this Subcontinental Grand Tour, Fort Kochi was really the least congested and most welcoming place. Coupled with just how green it was, it really reminded me of home away from home.
Around the Parade Ground
Heading south from David Hall down Napier Street, we walk into a residential quarter.
Here’s where one finds the Dutch Cemetery, consecrated in 1724. This is the oldest European cemetery in India. Dutch governors, military officials and colonials who died in Cochin are laid here. The British had preserved this monument for the Dutch, who refused to leave and preferred to stay under British rule.
Nearby stands the Indo-Portuguese Museum, which sits within the compounds of the Bishop’s House. The Museum specialises in Christian Art with Portuguese influences.
In the same compound sits the Art Deco Mount Carmel Petit Seminary, built in 1960.
Outside the compound of the Bishop’s House stands the campuses of the St John de Britto Anglo-Indian High School, established in 1945.
Hotel Victory Dawn occupies a colonial bungalow previously owned by a tea company. It likely dates from the British era.
Around and down Lilly Street sit many examples of charming Portuguese-era houses, such as this delightfully gingerbread-house-like specimen.
Two immaculately restored houses with Portuguese and Dutch influence stand on Lilly Street. This is the first. The configuration of the house – with wooden and shuttered upper levels recall Indische-style architecture in Oud Batavia (Jakarta) and Malacca.
This is the second immaculately restored house on Lilly Street. Again the second floor with its large balconies recalls Dutch East Indies architecture.
Back on Parade Road, we encounter Rosa-Rio Home Stay, occupying a house that probably
Spencer Home occupies a colonial bungalow with interesting Hindu-Christian architectural elements inside.
Bernard Bungalow occupies a Dutch-era building along the Southern edge of Parade Ground.
Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica, near the southeastern edge of Parade Square, is the main church of the Diocese of Cochin. The church was established in 1505, but this version was consecrated in 1905.
Interior of Santa Cruz Cathedral Basilica.
Nearby stands the Santa Cruz Higher Secondary School, established in 1888 and one of the oldest schools in Kerala. It reeks of Oxford.
Across from the school stands this wonderful building from the Dutch-period with its sloping Dutch East Indies style roof.
Nearby is another example of the Dutch-style architecture.
Along Ridsdale Road, on the Eastern flank of Parade Ground stands the VOC Gate, the only gate standing from the Dutch period and still boasting the coat of arms of the Dutch East India Company. It dates to 1740.
Unfortunately the building the Gate protects dates from the modern era (probably 1970s or later), and houses a cafe.
View of the Parade Ground towards Ridsdale Road.
Between Ridsdale Road and Rose Street on the northeastern edge of the Parade Ground stand a few private residences that date from the Portuguese to the Dutch era. This one probably dates from the late Dutch and early British period.
On the northwestern edge of the Parade Ground stands St Francis Church. Built in 1503, it is the oldest European church in India and once housed the remains of Vasco da Gama and St Francis Xavier.
North of the Parade Ground
Near the Northwest edge of the Parade Ground stands the Cochin Club, founded in 1914 during the British era. The Club stands on a splendid seafront location overlooking the Arabian Sea.
We dive into the area just north of the Parade Ground, with its quaint, slightly narrower streets and lovely Portuguese-Dutch-influenced buildings. This is Vasco House, on Rose Street.
Loafer’s Corner, on Princes Street is one of the most popular hangout places here.
The Delta Study is a high school located in a former Dutch-era warehouse built in 1808.
View down some of narrower, but still well-planned streets in the city. Note the seating just outside the main door of this building which probably dates from the Dutch period.
Walton Hall, on Princes Street.
Koder House, on Tower Road, is a 19th century mansion built by the Jewish Koder family. Today it is a heritage hotel.
Right beside Koder House on Tower Road stands the Old Harbour Hotel, occupying an 18th century Dutch colonial building that had been used as a residence to
The Bastion Bungalow is said to have been built in 1667 in the Indo-Dutch style. It is located on the site of the Stromberg Bastion of the city’s Dutch fortifications.
Near the Bastion Bungalow stand the row upon row of Chinese Fishing Nets.
We amble along River Road, along the waterfront to the Brunton Boatyard, a former shipyard built in the British era (probably late 1800s), and today a luxury hotel with a splendid waterfront view.
And we end this part of the walking tour at Aspinwall House, established in 1867 by the English trader John H Aspinwall as the headquarters of his firm Aspinwall & Co. Ltd. Today, it is the primary venue of the Kochi Biennale, though it appears to largely be left alone in off-Biennale years.
Part one of our tour of Cochin completed, we glance back at David Hall again, where we began our tour.