| Where It's At
Mozambique Island (Ilha de Moçambique),
two miles off the Northeastern coastline of mainland Mozambique,
is connected to the mainland by a two-mile bridge. The island
is only one-and-a-half miles wide and one mile long.
Mozambique Colonial History in Mozambique
Mozambique Island is a UNESCO heritage site. It is the oldest
European settlement in East Africa, then controlled by the
Portuguese, and was formerly the capital of Mozambique. Once
dubbed 'Africa's meeting point of civilizations' for its crossing
points with Persians, Indians, Arabs Portuguese, Dutch and
English, this is one of the main trading points in the Indian
The beautiful Portuguese colonial architecture pays testimony
to the terrible ruling hand of the Portuguese. Vasco de
Gama arrived in Mozambique in 1498 when the Portuguese
made a concerted effort to colonize the land. They were experiencing
hostility from the Arab traders who had already settled in
the country well over a thousand years ago and wanted to secure
their trade in gold and ivory. As the trade flourished they
required slaves to work for them; many Mozambican men were
enslaved and sent to neighboring countries. Many centuries
later people fled from here when the fascist leader Antònio
Salazar was in power between 1932 and 1968 in Portugal.
An already failing Mozambican infrastructure was crippled
by the introduction of cash crops. These events eventually
helped to trigger the war of independence.
The ensuing war between the liberation front in Mozambique
and the Portuguese lasted ten years and was followed by 20
years of instability when the Portuguese suddenly withdrew
from the country creating economic and social chaos. Mozambique
Island went from being the main artery into mainland Mozambique
to being totally cut off from the mainland, which allowed
its historic sites and architecture to be preserved.
Visiting Mozambique Island Today
Mozambique Island has an exotic atmosphere from hundreds
of years of trading between many cultures. The island is a
mass of narrow streets which beg to be strolled around to
soak up the vibe.
Most of the historic sites are in Stone Town in the
north of the island where life seems to have changed little
in the last 400 years.
- The Palace of Sao Paolo has been restored to its
former glory. Its European architecture is an example of incredible
faded grandeur from when it was the residency of the governor
in the 1700s. Arab chairs, carpets, Chinese porcelain, Portuguese
wall-hangings and chandeliers adorn the building and it gives
a great insight into what upper-class life was like in the
island's heyday in the 18th century.
- The 400-year-old Sao Sebastian Fort is the jewel
in the crown of the UNESCO treasures on the island. This important
defense fort to protect against invasion was built by thousands
of slaves. 400 cannons still point out to sea. The Portuguese
converted many of the Bantu people in Mozambique to
- The Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte is the oldest
European building in the southern hemisphere and is within
the walls of the fort. There is no fresh water on the island
and one of the most interesting aspects of the fort is the
roof which was designed to collect rainwater. This was then
channeled down to underground vaults and the locals still
collect and use water from here today. It was this water collection
system that allowed the Portuguese and the islands 11,000
residents to successfully be under siege for a period of four
years by the Dutch.