Lat: -12.576689005012000, Long: 13.401668994998000


Benguela, Angola

Historical Background and Urbanism

Benguela originated in the former trading post and seat of the captaincy established in 1617 by Manuel Cerveira Pereira, in a territory already inhabited by Ndombe and Kuíssi tribes and a Jaga encampment. The flat and swampy land, crossed by the Coringe River and bordered on the north by the Cavaco River, was the place of settlement of the military, traders and slaves, sparking animosity among the local population. For this reason, hostilities against Europeans were frequent in the first centuries of occupation. In effect, their purpose was to purchase slave labour for plantations in America. The attacks by the Dutch in 1639 and 1645 devastated the small trading post which remained under their control between 1645 and 1648. Attacked and sacked by French privateers in 1704, it was basically in ruins until 1710. It was often attacked by the neighbouring Sobas between 1718 and 1760. The captaincy of Benguela established in 1617 became the district capital in 1779 under the rule of governor Sousa Coutinho. The slave trade was in the hands of dozens of Brazilian and Portuguese and their African counterparts and was at its most intense in the 18th century. With the independence of Brazil, the prohibition of the slave trade and the withdrawal of traders from the city, Benguela went through a difficult period. The establishment of the town hall in 1835 gave a boost to the life of the population and in the 1840s the city recovered from its former stagnation and its ruins were rebuilt. In 1845, it was still described by Lopes de Lima as “a small settlement with little over 600 houses”, and in 1846, Carvalho e Menezes qualified it as “a secluded place besieged by wild beasts”. It then had a scant population of around 2,400 inhabitants, over one third of whom were slaves, in addition to traders, soldiers, and free Africans. In 1877, the life of the inhabitants continued to depend essentially on trade which structured the layout of the distinct quarters of Benguela. “Many houses in [...] clean broad tree-lined streets connected by a garden square, constitute the commercial quarter, the place where the authorities are located and where numerous traders have their establishments [...] scattered here and there, one finds many establishments where the most important business is handled [...] their aspect is simple and old fashioned: at the front is the classical wooden counter, some more blackened and others painted in a blueish colour, surrounded by extensive shelves filled with all types of cotton, striped fabrics, beads, hats, mirrors, all crowned by straight lines of bottles with diverse liqueurs” (Capelo and Ivens, 1877). The commercial connections of Benguela with remote regions of the interior had resulted in the creation of “vast warehouses where, suspended from a beam is the old scale, with square plates supported by eight ropes, filled with the most varied products from the interior. There, wax, rubber, ivory and numerous natives wait for their moment to be weighed” (Capelo and Ivens, 1877). As the population that inhabited the area was very heterogeneous, Benguela was marked by deep social and cultural contrasts, visibly highlighted in the urban area. Therefore, the quarters where the “natives” lived were formed by winding alleys flanked by shacks and large backyards surrounded by high walls protecting them from heat and light and where hundreds of Africans from the interior gathered. Inside there were blackened stones where meals were cooked in clay pots, old mats used as beds, and gourds made into pipes, bows, and assegais. In spite of this, by the turn of the century the prosperity resulting from the rubber and the liquor trade decreased. The trade of Benguela experienced a period of restructuring in the early 20th century, marked by the search for new products and markets, during which new export paths were created, partly due to the construction of the railway as far as the eastern border. Nonetheless, Benguela lost economic importance to the port city of Lobito where the seat of the Benguela Railway, its workshops, and the terminal were established, alongside growing port activity and also lost importance to the plateau where Huambo/Nova Lisboa was developing at a rapid pace. Until the mid-nineteenth century the city was structured close to the fort and the adobe houses of the European and African traders were set along “a single street and several alleys leading to it or crossingit”,where as the African population was concentrated in Sanzala or Bairro Alto. The year 1764 saw a period of urban rebirth under the rule of Sousa Coutinho, who outfitted Benguela with important public buildings, such as the hospital, the town hall and the Fortress of Saint Philip. This fortress, measuring 300 metres at the front and 150 metres at the back, was set beside the sea and built out of rammed earth and adobe in 1661. It was restored sucessively in 1694, 1710 and 1769, served as a prison and deposit for expatriates until its demolition (1906-1918). The first building of the Town Hall Assembly was erected in 1772 at Rua Direita or Alfândega Street, the main artery of the trade city. The first royal hospital opened in 1674, in a huge, long, narrow single-storey building raised above ground level which was restored in 1773 and located on the plot of land where the Trade Palace was later built. In it were treated “the soldiers, the down-and-outs and the poor black people because those with some money and all Europeans” were treated at home (Moraes, 1887). In spite of the works undertaken, the aspect of the city remained disconcerting, teeming with tall-grass fields and long walls, swampy areas in the rainy season and mosquitoes which converted it into a “human slaughterhouse” (L. de Lima, 1846). The city council’s measures for public health included the landfill of swamps, construction of the cemetery, tree-planting, cleaning of the streets and squares, the ordering of the market, analysis of the waters of the rivers Cavaco and Catumbela and creeks (1856), “the main cause of the continuous fevers and many other diseases to which the inhabitants are constantly subjected to and from which many victims result” (Delgado, 1940). Nonetheless, in the 1880s the “white city” was described as “graceful, vast, with long tree-bordered streets, a beautiful park, spacious squares, very level, very clean and regularly illuminated”. The inhabitants however, preferred the promenade area near the beach, where they could catch the pure, cool sea breeze at night or the Public Promenade, a fine avenue of crimson acacias (100 x 125 metres) on the road heading to the River Cavaco. The city extended 1.75 kilometres on the maritime front and two kilometers towards the interior, with a total area of 3.67 square kilometers where the public authorities had made several improvements such as the new sanitary landfills, the creation of a telephone line to Catumbela (1886), the construction of the rail bridges over the Cavaco and Catumbela rivers, a new government house, the market and the restoration of old constructions such as the cemetery. The supply of water from Cavaco to the public fountains was established in the 1890s, whereas electric power only illuminated Benguela in 1905. In its irregular fabric of large plots of land and long, wide, tree-lined streets stood 118 single-storey adobe houses. Only the house of the governor had more than one floor. With the commercial prosperity provided by rubber in the later decades of the 19th century, the wealthiest traders built numerous sapalalos, houses with a first floor. In the meantime, the African quarters had 360 shacks of adobe and 968 of lath and mud, covered with clay and thatched with grass, unaligned and surrounded byvegetation. These quarters of Benguela – Cavaco, Corinje, Quinjola, Calundo and Emboto – surrounded the main hub where commercial activity took place, the Quitanda, a square surrounded by warehouses, the slaughterhouse, taverns, and small stalls. Although sanitary measures gradually extended the life expec- tancy of Europeans, malaria and several epidemics such as smallpox killed inhabitants throughout the 19th century causing many victims among the Africans in 1864 and 1891, as well as it did sleeping sickness in 1900. In 1892, the fixed population approached 2,500, but the oscillating population sometimes doubled the total number of inhabitants; there were then something like 400 Europeans.
The plans of 1900 and 1939 and the urbanization plan of 1948 indicate the speed of urban growth in Benguela. The 1900 plan by Alves Roçadas, shows the more regular layout of the city and its main arteries and the squares: Pelourinho, São Filipe, Quitanda, and Embondeiro. The 1939 plan shows the new stage of 1930s colonial urbanism when the railway and the establishment of agricultural and fishing companies led to an influx of African and European workers, and the urban population rose to around 14,000 people requiring new sanitary measures, the construction of new quarters such as the Native Quarter and new road networks. But in the late 1940s, Henrique Galvão still mentions the loss of importance of the city to Lobito and the development of Huambo/Nova Lisboa, describing it as a “a large city, with long and asfixiating streets, where yellow and buff dominate, ugly, very ugly, but, after Luanda, the most characteristic city in Angola [...] The sea borders it but it ran away from the sea into the bare and soiled lands [...] Within this framework of sickly and suffocating aspect, lives a stubborn people, pleasantly attached to their town, the most tenacious case of provincial attachment in Angola. The people from Benguela remind me of those from Porto” (Galvão, s/d, vol. II, 565).
As district capital and a hub of regional development Benguela’s position, as the most important city in the south of Angola, was assured. In addition, the sisal industry and fishing, along with a restrained industrialization, reanimated the town from the 1930s onwards and ensured its demographic growth by 1950 to a total of 17,690 inhabitants including an influx of Europeans whose presence in the city reached 20%. In the 1960s the city reached 30,800 inhabitants, a result of the increase of workers in the booming industrial sector: factories producing oil, sugar, soap, dairy products, lime, bricks, soft drinks as well as the drying and freezing of fish. A city built on the foundations of cultural mixing, with its public areas and buildings with long roofed verandas and inner courtyards, Benguela was, and continues to be, alongside Luanda, a representative witness of colonial urbanism and architecture between the 17th and 20th centuries, the best buildings preserving a strong Portuguese-Brazilian traditionalism, alongside a clear adaptation of external models to the climatic conditions and the prevailing social context. Monuments and Statuary Amongst the monuments and statuary of Benguela is worth mentioning the statue of Manuel Cerveira Pereira, the founder of the city, which stands in front of the district Government’s Palace. The bust is attached to a vertical structure with a triangular profile. The work, which is prior to 1960, follows the model of Estado Novo celebratory historicist stone monuments, with vertical proportion and formal decoration. The Monument to the Discoveries in Lisbon as well as other stone monuments built around Africa in praise of Prince Henry the Navigator were very common at the time.

Religious Architecture

Equipment and Infrastructures