The beach at Fort Cochin is exotic and teeming with life. People come here for walks and while away looking across the sea to see ships awaiting berth at port and the beautiful sunsets that turn the sky into a play of colours.
Fort Cochin is the site of the famous St. Francis Church, which was built in 1510 by Portuguese Franciscan friars who arrived with Afonso de Albuquerque in 1503. This Church, said to be the oldest European church built in India, was also the burial site of Vasco da Gama in 1524. Fourteen years later, his body was exhumed and sent to Lisbon in Portugal. Later, the church was taken over by the Protestant Dutch, then the British to become Anglican and finally by the Church of South India. Telling this historic tale are gravestones inside the church as well as an 18th century register of marriages and baptisms.
Also in Fort Cochin is the Santa Cruz Basilica, a Roman Catholic Church that dates back to 1902. It was also built by the Portuguese and is said to have suffered severe damage when the British fought with the Dutch to take control of Cochin. Its attractions include pastel-coloured interiors with beautiful paintings and a decorative ceiling.
Built by the Portuguese in 1555, the ‘Mattancherry Palace’ better known as the ‘Dutch Palace’ was presented to the Raja of Cochin, Veer Kerala Varma (1537-61), as a gesture of goodwill and probably as a means of securing trading privileges. The Palace was renovated by the Dutch in 1663, hence the alternate name of 'Dutch Palace', though at no time did the Dutch actually stay there! It is a two-storey building that surrounds a courtyard containing a Hindu temple. At the centre of the palace is the Coronation Hall that has a display of dresses, turbans, palanquins and weapons from that era. There are also 17th century murals of Gods and scenes from the Ramayana and other epics.
Located at Mattancherry, this synagogue built in 1568 by the prosperous Jewish community, is the oldest in India. It was partially destroyed by the Portuguese in the war of 1662 and was rebuilt by the Dutch. One of its interesting features is the hand painted willow pattern floor tiles brought from Canton in China in mid 18th century and no two tiles are alike.
The interior offers many delights: a Belgian chandelier, scrolls of the Old Testament, copper plates on which are recorded the grants of privilege made by the Cochin rulers to the Jewish community in the 4th century and finely wrought gold and silver crowns gifted to the synagogue by various patrons. The area around the synagogue is known as Jew Rown whose winding by-lanes offer charming sights of houses built in Dutch, Portuguese and British styles.
Located in mainland Ernakulam, is an archaeological museum that houses interesting 19th century oil paintings, old coins, sculptures in stone and plaster of Paris, copies of murals and collections of the Kochi royal family. It is housed in a traditional building that was once the Durbar Hall.
Willingdon Island is another of Cochin's famous islands and is named after Lord Willingdon, one of the British Viceroys. It is a man-made island created using soil obtained while dredging the Kochi harbour to allow vessels with deeper draughts to dock. Situated between Ernakulam and Mattancherry and separated from both by the backwaters, the Island is the site for some of the City's best hotels, the Indian Navy's Southern Naval Command Headquarters, the Cochin Port Trust and the Customs House apart from various other industrial and commercial houses.
Bolgatty Island is a narrow stretch of an island, easily accessible from the mainland. This Island is the site of the Bolgatty Palace built by the Dutch in 1744. Later it became the seat of the British Resident of Cochin. Today it is a hotel run by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation. The grounds contain small golf links and has several vantage points for lovely views of the harbour and the sea.
Ferries shuttle across the narrow strait from Fort Cochin to Vypeen Island. The interesting sights here are the Lighthouse at Ochanthuruth, the 16th century Pallipuram Fort and some good beaches.
Spread across an area of 5 acres, this is the smallest island around Cochin. The only building here is a Coir Factory run by a co-operative society. Here can be observed the process of manufacturing Coir from coconut fibre, with weavers making colourfully designed doormats and floor coverings.
Museum of Kerala
Located about 8 kms from Ernakulam, the Museum of Kerala is the best place for a quick trip down the ancient lanes of Kerala's history.
Greeting the visitor outside is a statue of Parasurama, the mythological sage who's said to create Kerala by throwing his axe into the sea. Important historical episodes ranging from the Neolithic age to the modern era are depicted through life-size figures.
Hill Palace Museum
Located in Tripunithura, 12 kms southeast of Ernakulam, displays the erstwhile wealth and prosperity of the Royal families of Cochin, including the King's throne and crown. Also on show are other trappings of royalty like majestic beds, paintings, carvings and samples of epigraphy.
Parur & Chennamangalam
Located about 35 kms north of Cochin, this town encapsulates the cultural and religious harmony of this region. There is a synagogue built around the same time as that of Mattancherry. Nearby is an Agraharam (place of Brahmins), a small street of closely packed houses, a settlement of the Tamil Brahmins. Parur also has a Syrian Orthodox Church, a Krishna temple and a temple to the Goddess Mookambika.
Located 4 kms away from here is Chennamangalam, which has the oldest synagogue in Kerala, apart from a Jesuit Church, a Hindu temple, a 16th century Mosque as well as Muslim and Jewish burial grounds.