Royal Fortress of Saint Philip and the City's Fortification System

Royal Fortress of Saint Philip and the City's Fortification System

Ribeira Grande [“Cidade Velha”], Santiago Island, Cape Verde

Military Architecture

Ribeira Grande’s defence system was built during two distinct installation periods corresponding to two levels of defence for the city. The first comprises the elements built early on and meant solely to defend the harbour and city; the second corresponds to a more complex system for maritime and territorial defence. One of the most emblematic elements in the system is the Royal Fortress of Saint Philip situated on the highest ground at an elevation of 100 metres. The layout is credited to Filipe Terzi and the construction to the foreman João Nunes. The polygonal plan fortress with bastions has two sides facing the countryside and two walled fronts with shooting parapets facing the city. A central bastion faces east, while two half-bastions with oreillons are at opposite ends of the curtain walls. Construction began in 1587 and finished in 1593. Luís Benavente, sent by the Portuguese government to participate in restoring local monuments, deemed the fortress a top priority. In his report dated the 16th October 1962 he included a comprehensive map of Cidade Velha da Ribeira Grande and Saint Philip’s Fortress, determining a programme for “Interior Constructions of the Royal Fortress of Saint Philip” via rebuilding or new construction, which would include the house of the governor of the fort, the house of the officers and guards, the cistern, the artillery ramp and the house of the garrison/youth residence. Drawings exist for the corresponding work, with plans from a later date December 30, 1969) meant to “rehabilitate” with a view to “its restoration and reinstatement as a fortified environment”. In the early 1990s the results of restoration work on Saint Philip’s walls could be noted and as far as is known must have resulted from the project by Luís Benavente (work carried out from 1969 to 1973). But the state of the ruins inside the fort (only the volume of the cistern was recognisable) meant it was not possible to discern whether the rest of the plan was implemented. While the process was still under way in late 1972, Benavente indicated that he wanted to rework the project (presumably for the governor’s house) due to the discovery of the old chapel. The fortress is currently in a fine state of preservation after successive consolidation of the ruins and the restoration work carried out over the last several years.

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