The Times of India: Orta’s Old Goa garden

Panaji: Garcia da Orta, one of the most illustrious Jews to have lived in Goa in the 16th century is known for the city garden named after him, but few know about the one he laid in Old Goa.

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The Times of India, By Paul Fernandes. Jan 28th. 2017

The garden in Panaji was inaugurated in February 1878, and is perhaps the oldest garden in Goa. But it was renamed as Jardim Garcia de Orta only after Portugal became a republic in 1910 and long after he died.

It has helped kept alive the memory of the pioneer of tropical medicine and ethnobotany, among other things. But facets of Orta’s brilliant career as herbalist has dimmed with passage of time. In Old Goa, he was the chief physician at the Royal Hospital, close to Mandovi river front.

The medicinal garden he laid in Old Goa, was possibly near the hospital.

On Tuesday, an Israeli delegation were seen exploring a parking lot, about 400 metres west of St Francis of Assisi church in Old Goa, as it looks very possibly the site of Orta’s villa and garden.

“There are two possibilities. The house may have been located near the fountain behind the post office. Or the site could be near the parking lot,” says K K Muhammed, former regional director, ASI, Delhi.

The Israeli team tramping around the parking lot were not exactly hoping to find some signature of Jewish heritage at the archaeologically-rich site, but verify the location from a copy of the map.

“This map prepared by Joshua Benjamin, a Jew and former chief architect of the government of India in the late 19th century was given to me by Jewish researcher, Nissim Moses,” Ivar Fjeld, a Goa-based researcher said.

The Israeli team, Muhammed and Fjeld examined the map together, as it cited Orta’s residence on the northern side of the first junction to the world heritage site from Panaji.

“We know that Jews were coming to India since the 5th century. A Jewish community lived in Kochi and had their synagogue there. In Goa, we know there was a small community. These are the bits and pieces of evidence of Jewish heritage,” Gideon Avni, head, archaeology division, Israel antiquities authority said.

The team also visited Rua dos Judeus, a street located west of St Augustine’s complex, where a Jewish settlement is said to have existed.

An excavation at the site of the parking lot will prove crucial to identify the landmarks, says Fjeld.

Source: The Times of India

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