This particular cape had remained uninhabitated and isolated over the centuries. It is possible that there may have been some human habitation in the earlier centuries, but as it is a densely forested area, there are no signs of earlier settlers. The beauty, solitude, uniqueness and strategic features of the Cabo, now Rajbhavan were not lost during the Portuguese time. A small chapel was constructed at the very end of the cape dedicated to Our Virgin Lady of the Cape, Nossa Senhora do Cabo. It has been used as landmark by the sea-farers, for centuries. It still exists as a landmark for the sea farers.
The exact date of the first construction is not known but in a note dated 30 June 1541, there is a proposal to locate a Franciscan priest at the chapel which already existed. In that note it is stated that ‘Since the house (namely the chapel) of Nossa Senhora de Cabo is in a deserted place and there is a need for someone who can take care of it and its repairs, the alms being little, there will always be a hermit who lives there and he will reside continuously for which he will be paid’. It would be reasonable to deduce that the chapel had been there for some years before 1541. A date mentioned in some records is 1534. So 1534 A.D may be deduced as the first date of construction at this cape.
Conversion into a Fortress
As early as 1540, the strategic location of the “Cabo” was discovered by the Portuguese. In 1540, the eighth Governor, D. Estevao de Gama, mooted the idea of constructing some fortifications at this strategic spot to guard the entrance to both the Mandovi and Zuari rivers. The Cabo was converted into one of the better equipped and important fortresses over the years.
Transition to a Monastery/ Convent
In the meantime, the chapel had also attracted the attention of Viceroy D. Matias de Albuquerque (1591-97) who became one of its ardent devotees. He was a protector of the reformed Franciscan Friars known as Recollects. The Viceroy decided to reconstruct the chapel and build a monastery attached to it. He bore all the expenses involved in its construction. He imposed a condition that the Franciscans would look after the chapel and in the event that they abandoned the place, it would be handed over to the Archdiocese for proper upkeep.
The construction was carried out remarkably fast. The foundation stone was laid on 5 February 1594 by Bishop Andre de Santa Maria. It was completed within six months, precisely on 14 July 1594, and its occupation coincided with the Feast of Santa Boaventura. All the construction was of laterite stones which is available at the site. The entire cape is on a rock of laterite and it was extracted from the rocky promontory on the spot. The pits formed by the extractions of stone were then covered to form cisterns to which rain water was carried via the sloping roofs of the edifices. This provided excellent storage tanks for water. A similar type of system was adopted when building the other forts in Goa. The church and the fortress existed side by side.
As in 1633
An eloquent description of this is given by Antonio Bocarro, Head Archivist of the state Archives of Goa. In a book he completed in 1633 he has described the Cabo as Follows:
At the top of the hill is the Church of Our Lady of Cabo which belongs to the reformed friars of St. Francis. This Church is at the height of 70 bracas (i.e. 154 meters) from the sea level and it occupies a circular plot of fifty bracas (i.e. 120 square meters) where there are cisterns of water. These three cisterns can hold thirty thousand barrels of water. To a distance of 20 bracas (44 meters) from the base of the hill towards the seaside there is a fortress where one can go by a road which is at the back of the said hill at the inner side, its length being 1000 paces (820 meters), which leads to a door of the said fortress. This door leads to a platform the length of which is 1000 paces (82 meters) and its width being 25 paces (20 meters). This platform is walled at the sea side by arampart of six palms (1.32 meters) of height with places for artillery. At the side of the hill – which is very high and lofty – there are seven storied houses sufficient for being inhabited by any person serving as captain. And below in the square, near the northern side, there are twelve small houses for soldiers and the bombardiers. These houses have not yet been completed.
No captain or soldier stays in the said fort and only one person of African origin is there as a watchman. On the said platform there are four bronze guns of 15 to 20 pounds of cannon ball, with gun-carriages. The friars are frequently visiting the spot and there is sufficient ammunition in the convent for the said 4 guns. Warning is received from these friars in case they see anything suspect in the sea. And, always when it is required, steps are taken to send to the Fort, captain and bombardiers. However, this fort is not without the risk of being ruined by the heavy rainy waters which run down the hill.
Significance of Description
Besides the description, it is interesting to note that the Portuguese certainly felt Goa to be secure at that time as specific mention is made that no captain or soldier stayed in the fort and that only one person of African Origin was there as a watchman. None of the Indian rulers had stated to use the sea as a means of attack. The Dutch were still to arrive. It is also apparent that the Africans were in Goa, and well trusted by the Portuguese.
House of Friars
The chapel and the attached convent went through enlargements and improvements at different periods of time. By and large, it continued to remain as a convent housing friars of the Franciscan order. As days passed, the number of the community of Franciscan friars increased. With this increase, the Noviciate House also secured the higher status of a Guardenate. By the year 1635 there were fifteen inmates. In 1713 the number went up to twenty.
The chapel and the Noviciate House were far from habitation and inaccessible. The friars therefore relied on alms from seafarers who would disembark nearby, and from the Catholic parishioners in the vicinity. They lived a very secluded life as per the custom of the Franciscans. The inmates were subjected to perpetual abstinence. They had regular meditation periods extending to three hours per day. Meat was never served. In times of emergency, if a friar was seriously ill, the inmates would go to the Infirmary of St. Francis Friary in Old Goa.
The Chapel and the convent, inspite of upheavals, continued to retain its importance both strategically and as a place of veneration. On 20 April 1773, under a Royal Order, the Cabo was declared a fortress. The chapel and the convent were however not disturbed.
Cabo under Britishers
The equation between the European powers had its impact in India as well. By the seventeenth century, the Dutch, the French and the British were also active in India and Asia. The British had gone to war with France at the end of the eighteenth century. A secret convention was signed between France and Spain to divide Portugal between them and Spanish troops were positioned on the Portuguese frontiers. The Portuguese made an urgent appeal for help to England which was promptly rendered in terms of money and men. This hostility was immediately extended to India. The French entered into an alliance with Tipu Sultan in India with a view to driving out both the English and the Portuguese. The Marquess of Wellesley, who was then Governor-General of British India, took appropriate measures against the French . Goa was small and Vulnerable. The British undertook the protection of Goa.
Wellesley proposed to the Portuguese Governor –General of Goa, Francisco Antonio da Viega Cabral, that an English garrison be sent to Goa. On 7 September 1799, a detachment of British troops consisting of about 1100 rank and file under the command of Colonel Sir Willam Clarke took up position in Goa. They stayed on till 1815. The troops were housed at three strategic points: Fort Aguada, the Cabo and the fort at Mormugao. For these fifteen years the convent at the Cabo housed British troops and replaced the Franciscan Friars who were left with only three inmates.
It was with some difficulty that the British were persuaded to withdraw as by then they had established a dominant position in India. When they went, the Cabo was left in a very bad shape. A hospital and barracks had been constructed revealing that they had come for a prolonged stay. Soon after the departure of British troops, these structures were demolished. The Portuguese wished to wipe out all evidence of British occupation. Dom Diogo de Souza, Count of Rio Pardo, repaired the convent as he was a staunch Franciscan. It was therefore not by a mere coincidence that when political changes took place in Portugal in 1821, and there was a revolution in Goa, the Count of Rio Pardo was arrested and confined in the fort of the Cabo.
First Use as Residence of High Authorities
On 25 June 1844, religious orders in the Portuguese occupied areas of Goa were abolished. Consequent to this the convent at the Cabo was handed over to the Archbishop of Goa to be used as a residential palace. The Viceroy, Visconde de Villa Nova de Ourem (1851-1855), renovated the chapel and he also restored a big fountain of drinking water within the cloisters of the old fortified citadel. Between 1855 and 1864 the Governor, Count of Torres Novas, undertook major renovations of the convent. He converted the cells into spacious halls. He reconstructed the outhouses into a beautiful palatial residence with a setting which would give a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea, the two bays and the hill ranges. On 19 June 1866 the entire area was passed over to the Governor-General of Goa, Sr. Jose Ferreira Pestana, as his country residence. The Governors shifted permanently to the Cabo Palace some years later. After it became the residence of the Portuguese Viceroys/Governors-General, Cabo was the seat of power of the administration. All evidence of the fort were removed and an area of about eighty eight acres was set aside. The Governor’s residence was referred to as the Cabo and an invitation to the Cabo was the ultimate status symbol in Goan society. It has since then remained the official residence of the Head of State of Goa even after its liberation in 1961.