One Nation’s Hero — Another Nation’s Thug

Sir Francis Drake sacked Cidade Vehla twice.  To the British he was a patriotic Privateer. To the people of Cape Verde he was a piratical thug.  His two sackings of the low lying Cidade Vehla plus a French attack later caused the Portuguese to move their Cape Verde Capital to Praia, on a plateau high above a more sheltered harbor.  But Cidade Vehla is still an active town, picking up its economy with tourism.

Cidade Vehla is the first European settlement in the tropics, founded in 1462.  It used to be called Riberia Grande, but lost the name to another Riberia Grande on another of the Cape Verde Islands.  There was too much confusion, and it was no longer the capital.  It is a delightful town with buildings made of volcanic stone, some of them faced with stucco and painted or white washed.  It reminds me of some of the Montenegrin towns near Kotor.  In the town square is a pillory which goes back to the Slave Trade.  Slaves were chained to the pillory for auction or punishment.  Cidade Vehla was a way station on the slave route where ships resupplied and re watered before traveling on to Brazil or the Caribbean.  Some remained to work the sugar fields of Cape Verde, but the islands were too dry to produce a viable crop.

Just on the edge of the town is Nossa Senhora do Rosario (Our Lady of the Rosary is the patron saint of black people) is one of the few Gothic buildings in Sub Sahara Africa.  In a Maputo post I wrote about the Manuelian style of architecture.  This is a building from the period when that style was full flower and has touches of it in the side chapel.  The church was built in 1495 and both Vasco de Gama and Christopher Columbus worshiped here.

Above the city is the São Filipe Fort, built to protect Riberia Grande after one of Frances Drake’s attacks in 1585.  It fell into ruins but has been restored in recent decades.  We visited on a day when a number of school groups were visiting.  One group was busking, drumming and doing hambone at the entrance.

From São Filipe Fort you get a good view of the Riberia Grande valley and the city below.

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