The famous Fort of São Sebastião of Ilha De Mozambique is the oldest complete fort still standing in sub-Saharan Africa. The construction of the building started in 1558 and took 50 years to complete.
Though the island was discovered by the Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, the fort was built by the Portuguese nobleman and fourth Viceroy of Portuguese India, João de Castro. The decision was made to build the fort so that the Portuguese could strengthen their position on the island which had become their most important trading port along their route from Portugal to India.
Sadly, the 50 years of construction would have been at the hands of slaves.
It is situated on the North-Eastern side of the island, which is now known as Stone Town. Cannons and cannonballs are still found on the upper perimeter of the walls. Visitors are permitted to go to the top upper level of the fort and venture within its walls.
The fort is recognised as one of the most significant buildings on the Ilha De Mozambique, by UNESCO, who in 1991, awarded the island a World Heritage Site.
The Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte is located within the walls of the Fort São Sebastião from which it can be reached through a gate.
Built in 1522, it is believed that this is the oldest European Building in the Southern Hemisphere.
It was the first Christian building in Mozambique and built with the influence of the Portuguese “Manueline Style” of Gothic vaulted architecture, which was common in Portugal and East Africa during that period.
The vaulted design of the roof of the church was designed to collect rainwater, which helped in providing fresh water to the island, as there was no other natural source. This water was then channeled down to underground vaults which served as a lifeline for the islands residents during the attack of the Dutch in the 1607 and 1608. The local community still actively collect water from the church today.
The Palace of Sao Paolo, now commonly known as the “Red Museum”, is a very prominent terracotta bricked building that is located by the island pier.
The palace was built in 1610 as a Jesuit College, and by 1759 was converted into the former governor’s residence, which served its purpose until 1898.
Today it is a very popular Museum, sharing interesting insight into what life was like for the upper class and aristocrats in the 1800s. There is an excellent collection of furniture, art, and pieces from all around the world, including Portugal, China, Arabia, and India.
Make sure you have a knowledgeable and qualified guide to truly take you back in time as you browse through the various chambers.
While visiting the palace, make sure to visit the Museum of Sacred Art, which is situated just behind the palace and has a further selection of art, ornaments, and carvings to see.
The island of Ilha de Mozambique is divided into two halves. The northern part of the island is known as Stone Town, where most of the historic sites mentioned here are to be found.
It is a magical place, as it feels like time has frozen over the past 400 plus years; however, there are glimpses of rejuvenation taking place that bring an air of excitement, but still keeping that (very) old world charm.
The streets are narrow, with hidden courtyards and a beautiful clash of Portuguese colonial architecture with old traditional Swahili architecture. Some areas are very colourful, and others are quite dull. It all feels unplanned, which makes it so very interesting.
In recent years many buildings have been restored, and a new breath of life is found in boutique hotels, restaurants, and even art galleries.
Step back in time, but make sure you have your camera with you when you do!