About Ilha de Mozambique


Chappel of Nossa senhora de Baluarte , A.D. 1522

Arab, Indian and Portuguese architectural influences are blended in the port of Mozambique. Once a trading post on the sea route from Europe to the East Indies, this island harbour was placed on UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1991.

The little island of Mozambique, which lies four kilometres off the coast of Africa just opposite Madagascar, was for hundreds of years a major centre of intercontinental maritime trade. It was occupied by Arab merchants from the tenth century until the end of the fifteenth, and in the sixteenth century became a port of call on the route from Europe to the East Indies opened by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama. In 1507, the Portuguese built a fortress on the island where the Customs House stands today. A later fortification that has survived is the fort of St. Sebastian, which was built between 1558 and 1620 and is inspired by Italian Renaissance military architecture.

Mozambique harbour grew rapidly during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Its business houses stood on the sea front, along a rocky belt where boats with a shallow draught could land at high tide. Over the years a town of twisting streets lined with flat-roofed houses took shape around a central square.

The town as it appears today has a strong architectural homogeneity which is largely due to the use over the centuries of the same building materials, mainly limestone from quarries in the south of the island. and wood for beams and framework. The decorative style of the facades, with their cornices, high rectangular framed windows and rows of pilasters, is equally homogeneous. The flat roofs, designed to collect rainwater and compensate for the island's lack of freshwater springs, and a rectangular ground plan in which space is divided into six square rooms also uphold a general impression of unity which encompasses the smallest houses roofed with palm leaves--the macuti that constitute around a quarter of the city--as well as the most luxurious residences. The preponderant architectural influence is that of southern Portugal, although there are undeniable Arab and Indian elements.

 

 

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