Lat: 16.885383333333000, Long: -24.987886111111000
Mindelo [Porto Grande]
São Vicente Island, Cape Verde
Historical Background and Urbanism
São Vicente Island was settled quite late due to the island’s extreme aridity. Only with the arrival of steam navigation was Porto Grande considered a suitable site for construction of a modern port facility. The Old Fort overlooking the bay had already been built in 1724. The years 1734 and 1788 witnessed attempts to consolidate occupation. After the village of Nossa Senhora da Luz (1794-1795) and the settlement of Dom Rodrigo (1795-1798, on the initiative of captain-major João Carlos da Fonseca Rosado, with 200 inhabitants), most likely corresponding to the present day small square with the church at the centre, and the town of Dona Leopoldina (1819-1820, by governor António Pussich, with from 350 to 400 inhabitants in 1840), the town was definitively established in 1838 and named Mindelo (in homage to the liberal troops who disembarked at Mindelo beach in northern Portugal earlier that decade).
The city developed slowly on Porto Grande bay on the west coast of São Vicente, in the same area as the earlier settlements mentioned above. It is shown in an embryonic state in a 1798 schematic plan (by governor Marcelino António Bastos, AHU), and in an 1820 plan by Vidal and Mudge. The latter depicts just the church, governor’s residence, the first customs house, a fort and a few groups of houses. The rigorous and ideal grid pattern in Sá da Bandeira’s ambitious 1838 plan for Mindelo showed a clear interest in modernisation, but it was never effectively implemented. Due to either its overly grandiose ambition or the difficult historical period, this utopian plan gave way to the reality of a small port city with a more adjusted and irregular layout around the bay, as shown in the 1858 map by Sena Barcelos. That map attests to the emergence of coal piers and corresponding storage areas (with the names of their English promoters) that supported steam navigation, then undergoing rapid expansion. These storage areas boosted development of the new town (established by decree on 29 April 1858). That same year construction of the definitive customs house began (1858-1861). The docks were situated on the north side of the bay, south and east of which a basic street layout had developed. The 1874 Admiralty map depicts the small urban cluster at that time. Mindelo was raised to city status on the 14th April 1879 (charter dated the 30th September 1879) and is subsequently shown in a map (dated 1888, by the Cape Verde Public Works Department, now held by the Lisbon Geographic Society, with a grid indicating the church square, town hall, customs house and a count of 5,377 inhabitants) and in various illustrations, as one of the Atlantic’s major coaling ports: in Ocidente magazine, 1891, a view over the bay from the El-Rei Fort; and another dated 1887 from the interior looking toward the sea, with houses in the foreground and Mount Cara in the background.
The major public spaces of the 18th century centre were the small Câmara Square (town hall square, later República and now Praça Pidjiguiti) in the centre, most likely where the settlement was founded; Tenente Valadim Street (later of Praia) with Square Dom Luís, on the port axis along the bay; and Street Dom Carlos I (later Lisboa and now Libertadores da África), perpendicular to the shore – the commercial and administrative axis. The Square of Madeiral marked the eastern exit from the centre, and the open yard of what is nowadays called Estrela Square the exit to the south. The Praça Nova (later Serpa Pinto, Amílcar Cabral) is located to the north.
Mindelo’s architectural image is basically late 19th century. Numerous buildings stand out from that period, especially on the two major squares: the foundational República Square (Pidjiguiti) and the Praça Nova (Amílcar Cabral). The streets in the historic centre and the buildings’ construction dates also attest to the construction boom in the last decades of the 19th century and again in the late 1920s during the Estado Novo period. Mindelo saw little growth after the mid-twentieth century due to the city’s diminishing importance as a coal port for steamships, a decline brought on by the increasing use of liquid fuels.
Several efforts to modernise and create urban infrastructure were previously undertaken in the 1930s on the initiative of the first Technical Department of Mindelo Town Hall (organised in 1927). Actions included construction of the Municipal Library on São João Street (1931), an additional floor for the Municipal Market on Lisboa Street (1933), the Slaughterhouse on Praia Street(1938-1939) and construction of the Municipal Stadium in Fontinha (1930). Some growth was registered on the north side of the city during the same period, with urbanisation around the then Praça Nova, an initiative likewise overseen by the Technical Department. This was followed by the opening of Guedes Vaz Street (now Angola Street) and the paving of Avenue Fontoura da Costa (Che Guevara Street), both in 1930, as well as renovation of the Praça Nova, which was given a new kiosk in 1932. Some infrastructures were renovated after the 1950s decline (the new dock and São Pedro Airport, in the 1960s; the Technical School and the new Gil Eanes High School, in 1956 and 1968 respectively; the new Navy Command building on the shoreline Avenue Marginal (coastal road), in 1967; the seawater desalination plant, in 1969-1971). Investments were also made in planning (city plan by the architect João Aguiar, 1957-1960; guiding plan by the architect Amorim, 1960; partial plans by architects Caria and Branco Ló, 1960s-1970s). The relative economic prosperity of the 1920s and 1930s resulted in significant urban structures, some associated to commerce: the Art Deco lettering of the Loja Luso-Africana is one example. In the industrial and port area by Matiota beach, the warehouse of the Sociedade Frigorífica Exportadora stands out; it boasts a typical hip-roofed tower in Português Suave (Bland Portuguese) style (then roofed with corrugated metal sheets instead of tiles), possibly from the 1960s, when there was a local effort to revive factory activities after the downturn the previous decade. The Cape Verde Studies Centre, prior to 1966, is an example of a modern design building in the islands.
The master plans for the city of Mindelo (parallel to the ones for Praia) were produced in two distinct phases in the early and late 1960s. The first phase (1960, by José Luís Amorim) was deeply influenced by the Modern Movement vis-à-vis its proposed urban form and the procedure integrating the design across the development scales. The city’s master plan, drawn up beginning in 1969, was produced at the same time as the partial urbanisation plans and included hierarchical phasing of projects, consisting of strategic and structural guidelines for the later development of more elaborate partial studies. But the problematic implementation of Amorim’s plan meant extensive analysis was required along with more frequent field missions to ensure that the projects were better suited to the specific context of Mindelo. The photos presented here were obtained in 1993.
Equipment and Infrastructures