Fort Cochin, the grid of old streets at the northwest tip of the peninsula, is where the Portuguese erected their first walled citadel, Fort Immanuel, which the Dutch East Indian Company later consolidated with a circle of well fortified ramparts. Only a few fragments of the former battlements remain (the outline of the old walls is traced by the district’s giant rain trees, some of which are more than two centuries old), but dozens of other evocative European-era monuments survive.
A good way to get to grips with Fort Cochin’s many-layered history is to pick up the free walking-tour maps produced by Kerala Tourism and the privately run Tourist Desk. They lead you around some of the district’s more significant landmarks, including the early eighteenth-century Dutch Cemetery, Vasco da Gama’s supposed house and several traders’ residences.
Walking around the old quarter you’ll come across several small exhibition spaces and galleries – evidence of Fort Cochin’s newfound status as one of India’s contemporary art hubs. The scene takes centre stage in mid-December when the annual Kochi-Muziris Biennale (w kochimuzirisbiennale.org) draws artists and collectors from across the country with its mix of film, installation, sculpture, painting, performance art and new media hosted by half a dozen different venues.