São Tomé

Lat: 0.338405999960040, Long: 6.733718000013100

São Tomé

São Tomé Island, São Tomé e Príncipe

Historical Background and Urbanism

The city of São Tomé is located on the archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe, in the Gulf of Guinea. It is the main city of the island of the same name. It lies in the north of the island. The archipelago has two main islands (São Tomé Island and Príncipe Island) and several islets. It was a Portuguese territory from the first settlement until 1975, date of its independence. Its colonization began when the larger island, of São Tomé, was granted to João Paiva in 1485, around 15 years after its discovery. There were other royal donatarias following João de Paiva (1485-1490): João Pereira (1490-1491) Álvaro Caminha (1491-1499). The early colonists, sent to the island in 1494 with the incentive to plant sugar cane must have been prisoners and sons of Jews (but this theory has been contested, see Azevedo, 1947). The truth is that the island was a major sugar producer in the 15th-16th centuries; but the colonization was always difficult, both because of the climate and the political and economic conditions. The interests that the Portuguese crown maintained through the trade on the African continent, however, and the fact that these islands provided important support for the ships sailing the African coast led to the surpassing of all difficulties. In the later stages of territorial occupation there was a gradual urbanization of the hinterland, with the establishment of some simple proto-urban sites in the 19th and 20th centuries, such as the small villages of Trindade, Madalena, Santo Amaro, Guadalupe, Neves, Santana, Ribeira Afonso, and Santa Cruz dos Angolares. These small settlements were simply provided with basic amenities (support for the populations of neighbouring farms, such as the church and missions, school, post office, market, besides small roadside food stalls); sometimes had a more concentrated layout (such as in Trindade and Madalena) or along the coastline (such as in Santana, Ribeira Afonso, and Neves); sometimes they formed a sort of one-street towns, with the cluster of houses stretching along the ways and roads (such as Guadalupe and Santo Amaro). The most interesting towns from a scenic point of view because of the rugged topography of the places where they lie, are Santa Cruz and São João dos Angolares.
The difficulties of the colonization of São Tomé Island had an impact on the growth of the city from the start, as we can see through the privileges King Manuel granted to the Misericórdia and the Brotherhood of Our Lady of Grace in 1519. These problems started to be overcome when the island begun to depend directly on the crown, with a captain appointed by King João III in 1522-1523. The same king granted a foral to the town of São Tomé in 1524, when the sugar trade was being developed. In 1534, the Holy See created the diocese with its seat in the same place. The following year the king elevated it to city status by royal charter of April, 22. In 1557 it had between 600 and 700 houses. In 1566 the construction of the fortress of Saint Sebastian began, which did not prevent the sack of the city by French privateers in 1567. In 1574 it was attacked again, but by the angolares (natives of the southern half of the island). The 17th century was a period of abandonment and decay, with the relocation of several owners to Brazil. The year 1600 saw the first Dutch attack. The small Fort of Saint Hieronymous, the construction of which was ordered by Filipe I in 1613, did not prevent the island from being occupied by the Dutch in 1641, but the Portuguese succeeded in expelling them in 1644. The year 1679 saw the end of the jurisdiction of the diocese over the African continent. In 1708-1709 the city was again attacked by the French. The 18th century was a time of profound decadence and political- administrative conflicts, to such an extent that in 1721 the king ordered the opening of the port to foreign trade and navigation in an attempt to revitalize local economy. The crisis on the island worsened in the Pombaline period and São Tomé ceased to be the seat of the administration of the archipelago (a role transferred to Santo António do Príncipe) for a century between 1753 and 1852. It was only in the last quarter of the 19th century that there was a boom, connected to the new economic cycle of coffee and cocoa, which resulted in a remarkable series of constructions with 19th century features at the turn of the century in the city and on the roças. This growth, however, slowed down throughout the middle and second half of the 20th century.
The establishment of the first urban settlement on São Tomé Island – the “Povoação”, was limited by several factors. The site chosen, in the northeast coast of the island, near a sheltered bay (Bay of Ana Chaves) was suitable for the creation of a natural port. The topography facilitated the establishment of defensive points and the quality of the lands enabled the cultivation of agricultural products. The proximity of the stream Água Grande facilitated the supply of drinking water to the populations. The small settlement prospered around the sugarcane plantations and the port during the first years, giving rise the city of São Tomé few years later. Like other Atlantic islands of Portuguese origin, the development of the urban structure is marked by the presence of the bay and stream. During the 16th century, the nucleus of a civil and religious nature was established around the Torre do Capitão (the Captain’s tower), the Parish Church of Our Lady of Grace, and the Church and Hospital of Misericórdia. With the economic boom sparked by the sugar trade and the increase of the population, the city sprawled westward and another nucleus of a mercantile character developed, being connected to the port and its corresponding facilities, the Customs House and the Trading post. The initial urban structure developed from a small street by the coast and parallel to the sea that separated the district of the Misericórdia from the district of the buildings bordering the tower. This street connects the nucleus of the Cathedral and of the Misericórdia to the port. It formed what was named, according to the plan by João Rozendo Tavares Leote (1788-1796), the Rua Grande (big street), and later the Rua Direita. The initial settlement was, therefore, a linear one and stretched along this path that followed the coastline. This axis was the organizing element of the city and it is across it that the most important institutional buildings of the city stood: the Torre do Capitão, the Misericórdia and the Cathedral, connected to the east by a wide square; later on, the customs house, the city hall and the jail; lastly the Fortress of Saint Sebastian, to the east, and the Church of Saint John, to the west. Besides connecting several urban elements of great importance, Rua Direita structures an urban fabric composed of new streets and streets that cut across them in a roughly perpendicular direction. A first stage, therefore, saw the creation of a regular layout of long districts basically formed by buildings used to keep “sugar” and buildings belonging to the customs house, as we can still guess based on the existing layout. The urban plots are parallel to each other and occupy the whole block, which fronts a main street on one side and a minor street on the other. Later on, during the 17th century, there was a new period of urban sprawl, marked by a regular layout that can still be seen in the modern-day downtown of São Tomé. The district structure is marked by the existence of plots with a single front facing the street, whereas the other faces the interior of the block. The shape of the blocks starts to resemble a square. In this development stage the urban nucleus stretches into the interior and along the coastal road through the establishment of new churches and defensive buildings, such as the Church of Saint Anthony, the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, the Church of Saint Augustine, the Chapel Our Lady of the Happy Birth, the Fort of Saint Hieronymous (1613-1614) and the Fort of Picão of Our Lady of Grace, which is presumed to have remained incomplete. Given the location of these buildings, it is possible to recognize a star-shaped road network which, alongside the stream that penetrates into the interior of the island, deepened this tendency and led the settlement to spread into the interior. Later on and during the 20th century the spread of the city was marked by important sanitation works, associated to the existence of swamps and the emergence of new districts of detached houses, typical of the Estado Novo, built over them. The former Salazar Quarter (to the north) and the former Marcelo Caetano Quarter (to the west, near the coastal road), built in the 1950s, are worthy of note. On the other hand, the rise of new public buildings, such as the former Cineteatro, the Historical Archives and the Municipal Market, among others, gives the modern touch typical of the 20th century to the city.

Religious Architecture

Military Architecture

Equipment and Infrastructures