Praia [Praia de Santa Maria]

Lat: 14.916588888889000, Long: -23.509191666667000

Praia [Praia de Santa Maria]

Santiago Island, Cape Verde

Historical Background and Urbanism

The city of Praia is situated on the coast of Santiago Island and is the capital of Cape Verde. The uninhabited island was sighted during the voyages of Cadamosto, António da Noli and Diogo Gomes between 1456 and 1460. By order of Prince Henry the Navigator it began to be populated in 1462 by settlers from Portugal’s Algarve region and later by deportees and New Christians (former Jews converted to Christian Religion). Its first donatary captains were António da Noli, granted the southern half with Ribeira Grande as the capital, and Diogo Afonso, granted the northern half with Alcatrazes as the capital. Along with Arguim, Elmina and São Tomé, Cape Verde became one of the four main hubs of Portuguese activity on the West African coast. Santiago Island and Gorée Island served frequently as ports of call on southward voyages en route to the Gulf of Guinea and the Congo, and were also used by fleets on the India route, on both outbound and homebound voyages. In 1515 the first core of the settlement of Praia was formed by the shore at Praia Grande or Praia Branca. As this area was prone to flooding, the town soon relocated to higher ground about 30 metres above sea level. Although the island’s designated capital was Ribeira Grande, several kilometres to the west, Praia offered several advantages, namely its location by a large deep-water bay, better defence conditions due to the closed bay and the town’s placement on high ground, as well as the existence of several streams and the Fonte Ana, a spring near the harbour which was used to supply ships. Much of the port’s initial activity was clandestine. To tighten control over local economic activity a store-house was established at Praia in 1517 to register some of the wealth passing through the port. The Vila of Alcatrazes was then losing population and much of its economic activity to Praia. Ten years later Alcatrazes was officially abandoned when its captaincy was transferred to Praia. By 1526 the Chapel of Our Lady of Vila da Praia had been built; the engineer Pedro Nunes was involved in construction of the chancel, rebuilt that year. The church was located in the town centre and became the seat of the parish of Our Lady of Grace, polarising growth of the town inhabited by traders, royal officials and a number of rural landowners. In 1572 Praia counted 30 houses, corresponding to 447 inhabitants/confessed souls.
The port of Praia eventually played a key role as a port of call for ships on their way to the Gulf of Guinea and Brazil. In addition to the harbour’s fine conditions due to its location by a sheltered bay on the south coast, with easy access for all types of vessels (as opposed to Ribeira Grande), it was also less controlled, which increased smuggling opportunities. Commercial prosperity and the growing maritime traffic meant that Vila da Praia was frequently attacked by French and English privateers, sometimes within the bay itself. In 1585 the town was sacked by Francis Drake; four years later it was attacked again by the English. In 1598 the Dutch seized and looted the town. This state of insecurity, along with the draught from 1605 to 1611, caused the resident population to seek shelter in the island’s interior in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The royal charter from King Filipe II, dated of 14th August 1612, implemented various measures meant to curb this trend by promoting fortification of the town and a regular water supply, as well as construction of a customs house; the king also ordered the governor and bishop to take turns living there. The same charter also encouraged the inhabitants to return to the town, granting incentives to rebuild in stone and mortar and with tile roofs the houses that had fallen into ruin. Activity slowly resumed at Praia and its population increased. In 1707 King João V ordered fortifications built at Praia, which he regarded as one of the kingdom’s key possessions. Work on the fortifications continued in the following years, with governors reporting occasional problems. The 1757 concession of the island’s trade to the Companhia Geral do Grão-Pará e Maranhão led the latter to base its activity in Praia. One of its first measures was to repress contraband trade through the port. To do so, it renovated the bay’s defences and built its warehouses at the harbour entrance, besides permanently moving the governor’s residence from Ribeira Grande to Praia. Governor Saldanha Lobo accordingly moved to the presidio on the high ground, which henceforward served as the governor’s residence and effectively shifted the islands’ capital to Praia. From an urban standpoint, Praia had no street layout and most of the population still lived in thatch-roofed houses. The settlement then corresponded to little more than a large open square at the south end, where the Church of Our Lady of Grace, the cemetery, presidio and governor’s residence were situated, and the Pelourinho Square (Pillory Square) farther south, where the Town Hall was located along with the courthouse and jail. It was only in the late 18th century that governor Marcelino António Bastos (1796 to 1802) followed up the project set out in the 1612 royal charter by ordering water piped into the town, which was still using wells for its water supply. The work was still under way in 1872. In the early 19th century, from 1808 to 1813, governor António Lencastre ordered construction of the Public Park at Igreja Square (Churchyard) and issued guidelines for the urban arrangement of the Vila of Praia. The following decade, another governor, João da Matta Chapuzet, promoted the town’s northward expansion and the construction of larger houses with tile roofs. In 1826 Praia’s population approached 1,800 inhabitants and it counted five streets (Lencastre, Quartéis, Nova do Paiol, Larga and Madragoa), as well as a square, three largos and three alleys. By that time Ribeira Grande’s main institutions had all been transferred to Praia, the last being the Misericórdia charity hospital in 1826. The municipality was established in 1833-1835, a period which also saw the opening of a hospital and apothecary. The governor was then Manuel António Martins, who also supplied the town with water from his property in Monte Agarro. In the mid-nineteenth century thatch-roof houses were banned. In the wake of earlier initiatives, efforts were made to boost urban development by means of a tax on all cargo imported or exported through the port to finance town improvement projects. Praia was offi- cially raised to city status in 1858. Work to build a dock in the port began that same year and was completed in 1863, based on plans by the engineer Januário Correia de Almeida. Another noteworthy project from this period is the transfer of the Customs House to Praia Grande; construction of the respective building and a pier began in 1873. The Maria Pia Lighthouse at Temerosa Point was inaugurated in 1880.
In the late 19th century the city of Praia counted a number of noteworthy buildings that defined the amenities of an urban centre: the Government Palace and the Barracks, the Town Hall and Courthouse, Saint Ferdinand’s Hospital, the Customs House, Primary School and National High School of the Province, as well as the Public Library, Museum of Cape Verde, African Theatre and the Lighthouse at Temerosa Point. Period descriptions indicate that the city had 15 streets, six bystreets, three alleys, a garden, five ramps and five squares. The only remaining fortification from the system that protected the town in previous centuries was a battery facing the port, with 21 old weapons only used for gunfire salutes. The population was then nearly 4,600 inhabitants, dwelling in about a thousand homes.
Contrary to other Portuguese urban centres, the Vila of Praia was not built by the shore but rather on a rectangular basalt plateau approximately 900 metres long and 400 metres wide, overlooking the bay about 28-30 metres above sea level. The town was thus protected against flooding which periodically inundated its lower area and was windier and healthier, with better defence conditions. But there may have been other reasons for the choice of this location. From the middle of the 16th century on through the 17th and 18th centuries Portuguese urban planning gradually adopted regular street arrangements (traçados). Instead of urban centres built on rugged sites with streets adjusting to the local topography, level areas were gradually used to establish new urban centres or expand existing ones; this enabled the use of orthogonal geometric grids. Ribeira Grande corresponded to the first urban core type; Praia to the second. Indeed, Praia’s location on the aforementioned platform (Plateau, as it is known in Cape Verde) above the sea, naturally delimited by steep slopes on the south, east and west sides, and by a gentler slope rising to the city on the north side, with the port to the southwest, meant that the urban centre was easier to defend and had a healthier climate. Cartographic analysis indicates that the occupation of Plateau probably began on the west-ernmost street, with the military and government buildings situated by the southwest entrance and the traditional central square between them, possibly redesigned or reorganised during the Pombaline period. This rectangular square (as in Tarrafal in Santiago Island or Porto Covo in Portugal) includes the town hall and church, and is the starting point for two parallel northeast-aligned streets. Other parallel streets were later built in the southwest-northeast sector. As was common in cities of Portuguese origin, the layout is not perfectly orthogonal, rather making small adjustments due to the topography or pre-existing structures. The main central street connects to the port at its south end and extends northward to the island’s interior. It has borne various names over the centuries (Cofre Street, Quartel, Sá da Bandeira) and is now the Avenue Amílcar Cabral, the city’s most active thoroughfare along which the main market and most commercial establishments are located. From an urban standpoint, due to its late development the city of Praia does not share many morphological characteristics of Portuguese maritime cities. A comparison of the cities of Salvador da Bahia (Brazil) and Praia, built in very distinct periods and geographical contexts, shows that both were sited on high ground overlooking the respective bays that justified their development. But while Salvador took relatively few years to build, following a rigorously geometric plan, Praia developed over several centuries and its regularity is only assured by the orthogonal grid comprising its system of streets, squares and blocks. The persistence of this geometric rule is nevertheless quite remarkable, as it has been present in every development stage, ensuring that a consistent street arrangement.
The major expansion of the city of Praia took place in the second half of the 20th century, when low ground began to be occupied near Plateau. This period witnessed noteworthy urban planning activity undertaken by the Portuguese State. The early and late 1960s saw the development of distinct guiding plans for the city of Praia, at the same time as the plans for Mindelo. The plans were in the first phase drawn up by José Luís Amorim, influenced by the Modern Movement in terms of morphology and the process of design integration in various scales. In the second phase, developed after 1969, the guiding plan was drawn up along with partial urbanisation plans and implemented on a hierarchical basis; the content consisted of strategic and structural guidelines for the later development of more detailed partial studies.

Religious Architecture

Military Architecture

Equipment and Infrastructures