Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A brief history of Cape Verde

It is often mistakenly said that the uninhabited islands of Cape Verde were first discovered by the Portuguese. However, according to the official Portuguese records, Cape Verde was initially discovered around 1456 by the Italian explorer, Antonio de Noli (who was later named Governor of Cape Verde by the Portuguese King). Portuguese explorers arrived shortly after de Noli.

It is true that Cape Verde was colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century. Portuguese settlers arrived in 1462. They initially settled the island of Santiago and founded the first European settlement south of the Sahara. They called the settlement Ribeira Grande. It is now called Cidade Velha (or "old city"). Also of note, two well known explorers, Vasco di Gama and Christopher Columbus also passed through this historic settlement.

Cidade Velha, is still standing to this day, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Be sure to visit if you get a chance (about 1-2 km further up the coast, there are two wonderful hotels - one is Espaco Por do Sol, and the other is Limeira. See the Hotel topic for a more in depth perspective on hotels in Cape Verde). Cidade Velha is a remarkable little village filled with historical relics including the oldest colonial church in the world. And, take the tour of the old fort including a narration of the history of Cape Verde in the quaint reception area. Don't forget to tip the guide (2-3 euro per person is adequate) - I found them knowledgeable and friendly. Plus they are typically multi-lingual in case you don't speak Portuguese.

Cape Verde subsequently became a trading center for African slaves and later an important coaling and resupply stop for whaling and transatlantic shipping. Following independence in 1975, and a tentative interest in unification with Guinea-Bissau, a one-party system was established and maintained until multi-party elections were held in 1990.

Repeated droughts during the second half of the 20th century caused significant hardship and prompted heavy emigration. As a result, Cape Verde's expatriate population is greater than its domestic one.

So before you visit, go find a Cape Verdean in your community and get the inside scoop.

1 comment:

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