Praia, Cabo Verde
We spent April 14 docked at Praia on Ilha de Santiago, the capital and largest city of the Cape Verde Islands.
The Portuguese discovered these islands in the mid-15th century and in 1462 established the settlement of Ribeira Grande, the first European colony in the tropics. Despite their name these islands have a very dry climate and are not very green; the name was taken from the nearest point on the African continent, Cap Vert in Senegal (where Dakar is situated). Most European colonial settlement involved suppression and/or enslavement of the indigenous population but the Cape Verde Islands were uninhabited when the Portuguese arrived. The absence of an indigenous workforce to exploit was soon overcome by the importation of slaves from western Africa so that by 1582 there were 100 Europeans and 13,700 slaves. Situated at the crossroads of shipping routes among Europe, Africa and America, Cape Verde became an important re-provisioning stop for slave ships and later a warehouse for slaves destined for the Americas. Independence from Portugal was achieved in 1975.
Our excursion took us first to the center of Praia, a fairly small city for a capital with a population of about 135,000 (about a fourth of the country’s population). The city was founded in 1615 on a spot where an earlier settlement had been destroyed by Sir Frances Drake in 1585. We walked down a pedestrian street called Avenida 5 De Julho (the date of independence), where they are trying to develop a canopy betweem trees on each side (not quite there yet). It was still early morning so the streets were largely empty.
We visited the market, consisting of many food kiosks contained in a large building on this avenue. Even though it was early morning this place was already bustling. It must get quite crowded later in the day. A plaque inside seemed to indicate that it was built in 1924.
We continued south to Alexandre Albuquerque Square, the center of downtown. We visited the Igreja Nossa Senhora da Graca, built 115 years ago to serve a diocese several hundred years older. At the southern border of the square is the city hall, built in the 1920’s, and beyond it the Presidential Palace, built at the end of the 19th century to house the Portuguese governor and recently renovated.
We passed a huge obelisk commemorating the discovery of Cape Verde in (it says) 1460, then came to a large statue of Diogo Gomes. He was a Portuguese navigator who has been credited with discovering these islands, but that claim is now in considerable doubt. But the statue is there next to a wall overlooking the expanse of Gamboa beach and its neighborhood. A new casino built by the Chinese (or maybe someone from Singapore) is in this area. By the statue was a black and white mosaic sidewalk of the type we have seen in many other Portuguese areas.
At the left in the photo above is an island about 130 yards from shore called Ilheu de Santa Maria (formerly Quail Island). Praia was the first stop on Charles Darwin’s famous voyage on the HMS Beagle in 1832. At that time this area was Praia’s harbor and the Beagle anchored at Santa Maria island. Darwin made his first geological observations on Santa Maria island. The island is uninhabited today, but on the island are the ruins of some buildings built hurriedly in the 1850’s to house the victims of a cholera epidemic on one of the other islands.
The Supreme Tribunal of Justice was built for Cabo Verde’s highest court. This building is still in use at least for criminal matters. Our last stop in Praia was the Quartel Jaime Mota, a military barracks built in 1826 and still in use (can’t recall whether its for police or military today). It is one of the oldest buildings in the city.
We drove just a few miles to visit Cidade Velha, the “old town,” which was established as the first settlement on Cape Verde in 1462. Its original name was Ribeira Grande. Vasco da Gama stopped here in 1497 on his way to India, Christopher Columbus stopped here in 1498 on his 3rd voyage to America and Ferdinand Magellan stopped here in 1522 on his voyage around the world. It was sacked twice: by Sir Frances Drake in 1585 and by the French in 1712. Then over ensuing decades much of its population moved to Praia and in 1770 the capital was officially moved there from Ribeira Grande.
Our first stop was at the fort, Real de Sao Filipe, that overlooks the town from above a 3500 foot hill. Built in 1590 after Drake’s sacking of the town, it was intended to prevent a recurrence, but the fort itself was sacked by the French in 1712. Near the entrance was a group of young people intermittently singing as we walked by.
From the fort were some great views, both of the town below and of the river valley to one side where there is some agriculture being done. From the fort we could see the ruins of the old cathedral in Cidade Velha, completed in 1693 and presumably razed by the French in 1715.
We drove down (the path probably would have been more fun) to visit the town. We walked up a street called Rua de Banana, the oldest street in the town built in the 15th century. It is lined with restored small stone houses with thatched roofs.
Up a hill and a block over from Rua de Banana is the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosario, the first church built in the tropics in 1495. There are 16th and 17th century tombstones in the floor and the remains of perhaps 1,000 more people are buried under the floor. The walls have many old tiles and the step in front of the entrance appears to have been made out of an old tombstone as well. The church has been restored and is still actively used today.
We walked down to the central square of the town past numerous houses with flowers and succulents outside. A craft market had been set up in the square but the most interesting thing was the Pelourinho, a column with four metal arms extending from the top. First built in 1520, this is a pillory where disobedient slaves were tied to the metal arms for public whipping. It is preserved as a momento of the town’s history in the slave trade and a memorial to those who suffered here.
After leaving Cidade Velha we drove through the dry and rugged interior and up into the mountains where we ate lunch at a spot with excellent views.
After lunch we drove through the island’s interior to the botanical gardens, located near a town called Sao Jorge dos Orgaos. It was not the best botanical garden we have ever seen but included some nice flowers and a lot of cactus.
We drove back to the ship through some scenic landscape and a few towns along the east coast of the island.
We had a lovely sail away just as the sun was setting. There was a party going on in the Lido (which we understand ended with passengers jumping into the pool) but watching the sail away from the aft deck was more appealing. We spotted a nearby vessel labeled CIA, but it turns out to be just a ferry that transports people and cars among the islands.
As the ship sailed west we retired sometime after dinner, in the comforting knowledge that there would be five relaxing sea days before we reached our next, and last, port.