Cochin (Kochi) is the great, old Keralan spice city. It consists of mainland Ernakulam, islands of Willingdon, Bolgatty and Gundu in the harbor, Fort Cochin and Mattancheri on the southern peninsula and Vypeen Island north of Cochin. Because of the area’s dense tropical forests, extensive ridges and ravines, it has been sheltered from invaders and the rest of India. This encouraged Keralites to welcome maritime contact, and therefore influence from the outside world. In Cochin there is still a small community of descendants from Jewish settlers who fled Palestine 2,000 years ago. When the Portuguese arrived here some 500 years ago, they were surprised to find Christianity already established along this coast. People from far-off lands have been coming to Kerala since ancient times in search of spices, sandalwood and ivory. Such long contact with people from overseas has resulted in the blending of various cultures and has given Keralites a cosmopolitan outlook.

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