Cape Verde day five
12.02.2018 - 12.02.2018
Cidade Velha from the Fortaleza Real de Sao Filipe
Today we had another tour booked with the excellent Luis, so after breakfast we met up with him in the hotel lobby. The plan was to visit Cidade Velha, the original capital of the islands, but when I mentioned an interest in the African market in Praia, the Mercado de Sucupira, Luis offered to take us there first.
Mercado de Sucupira
Beauty shop in the Mercado de Sucupira
So we had an interesting stroll through this sprawling maze of alleys with him, as the stall holders were mostly setting up for the day. Many of the stalls sell clothing (cheap imported clothes from the US or China, and famous brand rip-offs), shoes, fabrics etc. There is a produce section, one area selling furniture, another electrical goods and so on. Locals can buy most of the necessities of life here, at low prices, but there is little to entice the tourist to shop apart from the colourful African fabrics. However it’s a great place to come to soak up some local atmosphere. As in many such markets, people aren’t too keen on having their photo taken so I grabbed just a few, mostly ‘shot from the hip’.
In the market
Tailor's sewing machine
Near the market is a park, the Parque 5 de Julho, where we got a close-up look at another grey-headed kingfisher which seemed remarkably comfortable with the passing people and let us get quite near to take our photos. Unlike most kingfishers, the grey-headed one is not aquatic, and rather than fish it eats insects and small lizards. It can often be seen perching immobile on a branch for long periods so is relatively easy to photograph, but this one seemed especially ‘tame’.
Two sides to the same bird!
Then it was back to the car for the drive to Cidade Velha, about half an hour away.
This was the first capital of these islands, settled in 1462, soon after the island of Santiago was first discovered. It was originally named Ribeira Grande, because of its location in a wide river valley, and you still hear it referred to as such, but the name was officially changed in the late 20th century to avoid confusion with Ribeira Grande in Santo Antão.
Landscape near Cidade Velha - the river valley
Cidade Velha is considered to be the first European colonial settlement in the tropics and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009.
Cape Verde’s location on the maritime routes between the Americas and the south of Africa had great strategic importance. The city supplied passing ships with water, fresh food and repairs, and was a centre for trade between the two continents. Several of the great explorers of the Age of Navigation are known to have stopped here, including Vasco da Gama (in 1497, on his way to India), Christopher Columbus (in 1498, on his third voyage to the Americas) and Ferdinand Magellan (in 1522 on his circumnavigation of the world). By the mid 16th century it was already a substantial settlement, with several churches, and construction of the cathedral was underway.
Sign on a pub in the town
On a hill overlooking the city a fortress was built, to defend the colony from attack by the French and English. One notable attack was in 1585, by Francis Drake, who seems to be still well-remembered here!
Later Cidade Velha became an important port for trading slaves from Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone to Brazil and the Caribbean, becoming the second richest city in the Portuguese empire and a cradle for the emergence of the Creole culture. But after attacks by French pirates intensified in the 18th century many of its inhabitants fled to the island’s interior. The capital was moved to Praia in 1770 as Ribeira Grande was considered too dangerous to remain in, and much of the population moved there, though some stayed on here.
Gradually the city’s buildings fell into disrepair and ruin, and it became little more than a village, with the occupants focused on agriculture, e.g. sugar cane, living away from the shore. But in the mid 20th century people started to move back and build new small houses by the sea. At the end of that century a programme of restoration of some of the ruins was initiated, in which the local people collaborated with the experts to rebuild the fort and the old church of Nossa Senhora do Rosario using the original traditional building methods.
Today Cidade Velha is becoming increasingly focused on tourism, although you could hardly call it overrun, and on agriculture, with crops such as sugar cane (used in the production of the local grogue, bananas and mangos. There are also a number of fishermen working out of its small cove.
Fortaleza Real de Sao Filipe
Restored walls of the fort
We started our visit at the hilltop fortress, the Fortaleza Real de Sao Filipe. We watched a video in the small ticket office / information centre which showed the work that went on to reconstruct some of the buildings here, including the fort, around the start of the 21st century.
Then we went into the fort and walked around the ramparts, where Luis pointed out the English rose symbol on some of the cannons - showing that these are not the originals but were taken from English ships. We also saw the reconstructed storage tank for water and the stones marking a chapel and other buildings that would once have stood here.
On the ramparts
English rose on a cannon
In the fort - the water storage tank
This was the first fortification in Cape Verde, built to protect the city below largely from attack by sea but also land – some of the cannons point inland, not towards the sea. Luis told us that the French and English pirates sometimes landed elsewhere on the island and tried to take the city by surprise ‘from behind’. It was built between 1587 and 1593 as a response specifically to the assaults led by Sir Francis Drake. In 1712, both city and fort were ruined by the French under the command of Jacques Cassard. There were some attempts at rebuilding a little after that, but with the city largely abandoned attention was more focused on defending the new capital of Praia. Some restoration was done in the late 20th century but the main effort, which we had seen on the video, was from 2000 onwards, financed by the Spanish International Cooperation Agency. The walls were rebuilt, using traditional methods and stones imported from Portugal, as they would have been originally, and a water channel and adobe water cistern restored.
Visiting Cidade Velha
It’s possible to drive down to the village below but we had all morning - this half-day tour normally also takes in Plateau but we had opted to explore that independently as it was within easy reach of our hotel. So Luis proposed that we followed the path down, walking in the footsteps of the slaves who would have trodden this route. The path was quite steep and very stony, but worth the effort for the great views of the town below us and the bay beyond. Apparently on a clear day you can see the neighbouring island of Fogo from here, with its still active volcano, but today was too hazy.
Looking down at the cathedral ruins
Arriving at the foot of the hill we visited the ruins of the cathedral which unlike the other churches here has not been restored. It gives a good idea of the state of decay into which the buildings fell at one point. This was the first cathedral built by the Portuguese in Africa. It was started in 1555 but only finished in 1693.
Side door of the cathedral, and fishermen's cove
Behind the cathedral is a little cove used by fishermen and here we instigated a rescue mission! A hen was pecking around with three fluffy chicks, but we spotted two more chicks which had got entangled in a fishing net left lying on the beach. Luis proceeded to try to free them. The first was soon rescued and restored to its mother but the second was badly caught, with one strand of the net tight round its throat. Chris joined the rescue efforts but to no avail. But help was at hand. We started to attract the attention of a few villagers, one called to some nearby fishermen and one of these produced a penknife with which he cut through the line - the chick was free! Not that he seemed too grateful, as during the rescue procedure he had pooped on Luis’s hand!!
The rescue mission
Returning to our explorations we walked through the main square where the pillory or pelourinho stands. This was first erected in 1520, damaged extensively during the raids of Drake and Cassard, and restored in the late 20th century. It is of marble and granite, in the Manueline style. The first slaves had been imported here from Portuguese Guinea on mainland Africa (now Guinea-Bissau) in order to work for the settlers, but when later Ribeira Grande became a centre for onward sale of slaves to the Caribbean and Brazil, it was here that the slave market was held, and also slaves brought here to be flogged as punishment for transgressions.
We stopped for cold drinks in a little café near the square (it had turned into a pretty hot day) before continuing to nearby Rua de Banana - Banana Street. This is the oldest street in the settlement and indeed the first street of Portuguese urbanisation in the tropics, and is very picturesque. According to Luis various explanations are given for the name – some think it relates to its gently curved shape but he favours the theory that attributes it to the roofing material used on most of the houses – banana leaves.
Rua de Banana
On Rua de Banana
The Rua de Banana led us to the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosario, famous as being the world's first colonial church, and the first in the western portion of Sub-Saharan Africa (although Luis told us that the ruins of another, recently discovered, may be even older). Nossa Senhora do Rosario was built originally in 1495 and was the diocesan church for Santiago until the building of the cathedral here in 1693. It is thought to have survived the earlier raids on the city by Sir Francis Drake but was destroyed in 1712 during the attack by Jaques Cassard. It is one of the buildings that has been fully restored by local people working with the Spanish and other experts. Inside it is simple and quite light, with a wooden ceiling and white-painted walls lined on the lower part with traditional blue, yellow and white tiles. These are mostly copies of the originals but Luis showed us where, by the stars leading down to (I assume) the crypt, some older ones remain intact. The polished floor is inset with old gravestones and another forms the step at the main door. The small chapel to the left of the entrance has a Manueline Gothic ceiling - a rare example of this style of architecture in sub-Saharan Africa.
The bell tower
In Nossa Senhora do Rosario
Chapel ceiling, and gravestones in the aisle
Ruins of Nossa Senhora da Conceição
From here we walked up a dry river bed to those potentially older ruins, the church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição. While nothing much to look at they are set in a peaceful grove. My research since returning from the trip corroborates Luis’s comment that this church could be even older than Nossa Senhora do Rosario, with a December 2014 headline on a Portuguese-language news site stating ‘Archaeologists Find Traces of First Church Built in Sub-Saharan Africa’ and going on to say:
‘The archaeological team of Cambridge University of England, led by Christopher Evans, discovered traces of the old Church of Our Lady of Conception, the first built in the Ribeira Grande of Santiago and sub-Saharan Africa.’
Another website, again in Portuguese only, gives 1462 as the original building date of this church, pre-dating Nossa Senhora do Rosario by around thirty years.
Above these ruins lies the restored convent church of Sao Francisco. This was locked (according to Luis it usually is) but we could peer in from several points. And besides, it was worth the walk for the peaceful setting and good views of the surrounding area which is full of small-holdings and crop trees such as mango, coconut palm and citrus. The church itself dates from around 1640 and is in a tranquil location a little out of the village, where few of the visitors to Cidade Velha seem to stray. Many come on day trips from Sal, and have only a few hours to see the main sights here and in Praia before they must catch the flight back. Luis, Chris and I had this spot all to ourselves.
Sao Francisco details
This was our last stop in Cidade Velha. We returned to the car and drove back to Praia where Luis dropped us off in Plateau so we could get some lunch. We thanked him and our driver, tipped them well for their efforts on the two tours, and said our farewells.
Lunch in Praia
Having enjoyed yesterday’s lunch at the Café Sofia we decided on a return visit. This time I had a tuna sandwich while Chris had ham and cheese. There was no passion fruit juice available today but the pineapple with mint I chose in its place was almost as good.
After lunch we had a stroll around town to take some more photos and change some money. Later we got a taxi back to the hotel to rest after our walk, check emails and sort photos. We spent some time on the roof terrace but again the water was too chilly for me to fancy a swim even though the morning had been hot.
We had reserved a table for dinner at this restaurant in Plateau while passing at lunch time, having read that it was a good choice if you fancied meat as a change from all the fish and seafood, which we did (actually, Chris always prefers meat!) It has a modern upmarket vibe and quite a short menu which was unfortunately only in Portuguese, but we were able to understand enough to make our choices. Incidentally, I find written Portuguese quite easy to guess at because it has many words not dissimilar to French or Italian, but when spoken it is very hard to understand.
In Noventa Bistro
We decided to skip the starter course as I had heard portions here were large, but I ordered a caipirinha to have while I waited for my main course, while Chris had a beer. We were a little surprised that our food arrived so quickly that I had barely started my drink - I would like to have enjoyed it a little longer beforehand. But that would be my only criticism of an otherwise excellent dinner. The Argentinian style steak we both ordered was really tasty, and served with rice, well-flavoured black beans, nicely-dressed salad of tomato and cucumber, and crisps, as well as an interesting seasoning to sprinkle on the meat. This looked like sand (!) but tasted good and I realised afterwards that it was farofa, seasoned cassava flour, which I had last eaten in Brazil some years ago.
Having skipped the starter we were able to indulge in dessert. I had the brownie with ice cream and Chris had fresh fruit - kiwi, pineapple and orange. Our bill was a very reasonable 4,400 escudos, a around €40 or £35, which included my cocktail, Chris’s beer and some water. Definitely one of the nicest meals we had on this trip.