Great Figures of the Missionary Work – The Christian city of Bassein

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Geographically situated 70 kilometers from the city of Bombay, Bassein is today a place invaded by the bush, but has been already one of the most important strongholds of India, even rivaling Goa. Before the Portuguese occupied it in 1535, it was already a fortified bulwark, but not enough to prevent mines and other artillery weapons from breaching its wall. Incidentally, let us recall here the episode of the Greek artillery infiltrators, paid for by the Venetian Lordship, who would pass over to the side of the Turks and aid them in the frustrated siege they imposed on the city of Diu.

From very early on, the various religious orders with proselytizing functions in the East settled in this city. The buildings that remain today translate this passage well. This is the case of the convent of São Domingos (founded in 1552) and the convent of Santo António, both in relative state of good conservation; but also the convent of St Augustine and the church of the Society of Jesus (completed in 1564). The latter is characterized by a very tall tower, protruding from the rest of the structure, seeming to appear through the dense vegetation that grows spontaneously there. The Holy House of Mercy, the parish church of St Joseph (built during the viceroyalty of D. João de Castro, one of the best rulers that the State of India had) and the church of Our Lady of Life are other very relevant religious buildings. What remains of the House of the House, symbol of the local power, resembles the buildings with the same function still existing in the Iberian Peninsula. It was a two-story building, with ground floor and arches in stonework. With regard to the urban network itself, a closer look — and without the need for the eye of an expert — one notices the layout of the streets and the town square, a public space of choice that, like the villages and cities in Portugal, was located near the House of the House (or Senate). The robustness of its ten polygonal bastions, connected by “robust curtains with inner and outer escarpments surmounted by wide open parapets and canhoeiras, sidewalks and round walks” – being due to its particularity and distance, the Port of the Sea – explain that the works have lasted for three decades, provoking the discontent of the population, which has manifested itself in this respect on several occasions. All its structure is to emphasize the Port of the Sea. Built some distance from the sea, Baçaim would only return to the hands of the marathas, their legitimate lords and rivals of the Portuguese, in 1739.

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