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Coining the past

The old Mint House bears witness to the history of Goa by housing as much currency as it has people over the last two hundred years.

india Updated: Nov 07, 2009 20:25 IST
Chryselle D’silva Dias

In Panjim’s Post Office Square stands Casa da Moeda (the Mint House). Literally meaning ‘house of coins’, the building functioned as a mint from 1834-1841. Flanked by the Mandovi river on one side, and the red and white buildings of the post office on the other, Casa da Moeda is an important witness to Panjim’s

Antique architecture
With its tiled roof, attic windows, wooden verandah and striking yellow arches, the house evokes the architecture and grandeur of a bygone era. After being used as a mint, the building was owned variously by individuals, the public exchequer, and even housed the telegraph offices of the British and the Portuguese before it was purchased by General Dr Miguel Caetano Dias, whose descendants still live there. It may be one of the few buildings in India that was occupied by both the Portuguese and the British governments. From its high ceilings, Dutch doors, wooden floors and fragile window panes, this is an edifice that has retained much of its antiquity.

Dr Luis Dias, the great-grandson of General Dr Dias remembers how, as a child, his brother Victor and he scoured the house looking for coins. Luis recalls his father telling him how they used to take tables and chairs to the river bank next to the house (before that land was reclaimed for the bridge) where they dined alfresco.

A slew of mints
According to texts, the Viceroy of Goa, Dom Manuol de Portugal e Castro, was unhappy with the coins minted in Velha Goa. So he ordered that the mint be shifted to Panjim in Nova Goa. The Portuguese had minted coins in Goa since the time Afonso de Albuquerque laid claim to Goa in 1510. Over the next two centuries, mints were also set up in Cochin, Bassein, Daman, Chaul (60 km south of Mumbai in Raigad district), and Diu.

The coins struck in Goa were round and had no edge-milling. Compared to coins in the Portuguese empire, the British empire or even other parts of the subcontinent, the coins of Goa displayed poor technical ability — there were disparities in weight and shape, and the designs were shabby.

In 1841, the mint moved to the arsenal in Panjim after which production was suspended for a while. Meanwhile, the Daman mint, closed for more than a century, began to function again. The new Nova Goa mint functioned from 1845-1869. In 1870, coins were requisitioned from the Bombay Mint. In 1878, all existing coinage became obsolete, and silver and copper coins from the Calcutta and Bombay Mints were introduced as an Anglo-Portuguese treaty.

The who’s who of Goa
Several eminent personalities lived and worked in Casa da Moeda after it became a private residence in 1904. General Dr Dias was the first and only Goan to be designated as General by the Portuguese. He held several portfolios in Portugal, Mozambique and Goa, including the Director of Health Services and the Director of Escola Medica and Military Hospital in Panjim.

Dr Victor Manuel Dias, the eldest son of General Dr Dias and a distinguished physician, is remembered for heading the Saneamento de Velha Goa — an ambitious plan in 1948-49 to eradicate old Goa of its scourge of malaria and disease. He was also an inventor. He had his own laboratory (Laboratório Sida) from which he conducted the first radio broadcast in Goa in 1946. He was in charge of the body of St Francis Xavier for more than 15 years.

His siblings include the eminent engineer Luis Bismarck Dias, who is credited with designing Vasco da Gama, the Praça do Comércio in Panjim and the Dona Paula Miradouro among others; Dr António Dias, a surgeon who revitalised Hospicio Hospital in Margão; and Álvaro Dias, an eminent judge.

Grand ceremony
To commemorate 175 years of Casa da Moeda, the Dias family is organising a three-day festival in their house starting tomorrow. The festival will include talks on numismatics, architecture, local history and Indo-Portuguese furniture.

There’s also a Fado concert by Sonia Shirsat and a quiz on numismatics and heritage by the Sunday Evening Quiz Club.
An exhibition on Casa da Moeda with posters, vintage and recent photographs, and an exhibition of paintings will also be held.

If you’re interested in taking a dip into the rich history of Goa and this building, head to http://casadamoeda for details.

Chryselle is a freelance writer who lives in Goa