Cidade Velha

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Praia, Cape Verde

Cidade Velha Praia Reviews

Toonsarah Toonsarah
566 reviews
First capital of Cape Verde Feb 12, 2018
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 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.

On a hill overlooking the city a fortress was built, the Fortaleza Real de Sao Filipe, to defend the colony from attack by the French and English. Most visits to Cidade Velha start here, and it's the only part of the city you have to pay to visit, albeit only a small sum. You can see a video in the small ticket office / information centre which shows the work that went on to reconstruct some of the buildings here, including the fort, around the start of the 21st century. Then go inside and walk round the ramparts for great views of the city below and the coast. You can see some old cannons (not the originals but taken from English 'pirate' ships) and a restored water tank.

Cidade Velha was 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.

You can visit the restored church and see the ruins of the cathedral and another, possibly even older church (Nossa Senhora da Conceição). You can also see the restored pillory, where in the past slaves would be flogged for misdemeanors, and walk the oldest street in the settlement and indeed the first street of Portuguese urbanisation in the tropics, the pretty Rua de Banana. There are a couple of cafes for snacks or a light lunch, and the overall atmosphere is very peaceful, despite the increasing number of tourists who visit from Praia's beach resorts or on a day trip from Sal.
Fortaleza Real de Sao Filipe, Cida…
Fortaleza Real de Sao Filipe, Cida…
Fortaleza Real de Sao Filipe, Cida…
Fortaleza Real de Sao Filipe, Cida…
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