How to Read Monuments

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In her lecture titled ‘The Introduction to Ancient History’, delivered in August 2014, historian Romila Thapar – current D. D. Kosambi Chair at Goa University– suggested that there is a conceptual difference in imagining the past through historical monuments as compared to reading about them in historical texts. ‘Texts’ are abstract concepts, she explained, which must be ‘read’, their meaning understood, and only then can one locate their content in the historical context. In comparison to such abstraction, historical monuments have physical presence which can be seen, touched and felt. But one cannot simply visit a historical location and expect to be enlightened by the experience. An architectural appreciation of monuments requires meaningful engagement with their history and context. It is here that a well-researched guidebook can make a difference. One such book relevant to Goa is the recently released Portuguese Sea Forts: Goa, with Chaul, Korlai and Vasai (2015), by architectural historian Amita Kanekar.