Saint Cajetan Fortress

Saint Cajetan Fortress

Sofala [São Caetano de, Sofala Nova], Sofala, Mozambique

Military Architecture

The original wooden stockade, built by order of Pêro de Anaia, was begun on the 21st September 1505; it was, along with Kilwa, the first Portuguese military construction in the Indian Ocean. It was completed in January of the following year. The masonry works, ordered by captain Manuel Fernandes, began on August 1506, using materials – stone and lime – brought from Kilwa, and extended into about 1512; they consisted on the construction of the walls and keep. Still under the rule of António Saldanha (1509- 1512), there was the construction “around the fortress of a barbican, and between it and the fortress, houses were built for the people and they were taken from there, in order to make a cistern in it” (Montez, A Fortaleza...). According to Caetano Montez, the conception that laid behind the construction of the tower was similar to that of the first fortification on the Island of Mozambique, the Saint Gabriel Tower in 1507: in the shape of a square, with two two-storey houses and a wall around the parade ground. In the tower of the island, nonetheless, on the corners of the curtain walls were “other towers at the level of the battlements”, whereas in Sofala there were just “round bastions”, that is, cylindrical turrets, according to the standard model of Manueline fortification. To this tower would be added, in 1750, an element of architectural decoration, composed of two windows, which, in the opinion of Montez, were a “meaningless, unsuccessful and pretentious work, ostentatiously – forgive our expression – embedded in the solidity and severity of the wall”.Friar João dos Santos (1586-1590) left us a first description of the fort: “The fortress of Sofala is square and surrounded by a wall of 25 palms in height. It has four round bastions at the four corners, outfitted with heavy and minor artillery. Overlooking the sea, it has a large and beautiful tower of two storeys, and a magnificent room next to it; this room is the lodging of the captain of the fortress. The ground floor of this room corresponds to the pantries of the captain, and the bay of the ground-level tower to the first floor has a beautiful and fine cistern for rainwater, which is usually drunk by the people of Sofala, because it is much better than that of wells and they do not drink from the river, as the water is very salty. This fortress encompasses the main church, which is the parish of all the sons of the land. In the block of the wall leading to the town lies a beautiful house, which is used as a trading post where all the goods are collected, including clothes and beads, brought from Mozambique, such as ivory, which is bought and gathered across these lands”. From the 17th century onwards, the maintenance of the fortress was significantly questioned by the viceroy of India and by local officials, who sought to abandon it or even dismantle it. The royal author- ity strongly objected to this project, and decided to maintain it in a good state of preservation, with the proposal in 1635 of its reinforcement through the construction of a new fort on the Island of Luiz Pereira (it probably corresponds to Chiloane, owned by this resident), aimed at defending the entrance to the Port of Sofala. Historically speaking, its importance lay in the fact that it protected “the mouth of one of the areas of gold outflow”, as the head of the Búzi-Revué line which headed for Quiteve, Bandire and Manica, thus making access for potential European competitors to the mining region difficult. The Fortress of Sofala was not changed in its structure, but seemed to have been significantly altered in terms of its major facilities. Curiously, the governor of Sofala, Alfredo Brandão Cró de Castro Ferreri, reported the location of the artillery in the fortress, as a result of the works that it had undergone: “In the fortress different barracks were built and the artillery is set on their terraces. It is due to the weight of artillery that the ceilings are all ruined and they lack regular repairs. Until 1750 artillery was set on the upper floors, and the houses were covered with thatch; but since, on the occasion of the volley discharged on Alleluia Saturday, those roofs were set afire and then governor Pedro da Costa Soares ordered the construction of the terraces using 3,000 tiles that the general captain of Mozambique, Francisco de Melo e Castro, had sent for the works of the fortress in 1736”. Throughout the years, the ruin of the fortress worsened. A century before, in 1635, it was already in poor condition, unpopulated and with unassembled artillery. In 1650, its demolition was planned, since it was considered that it could not withstand the attacks from the Dutch. In 1758, erosion caused by the existence of waters in the structure was advanced and affected the interior of the church. Throughout the 18th century, the sea battered its walls, “with the risk of its collapsing completely”. Finally, in 1826, one of the drums col- lapsed and the sea opened “a hole on the foundation of the tower” (Apontamentos..., p. 8 and following). By that time, there were no more traces of the chapel. In 1885 governor Augusto de Castilho recommended its restoration, with the partial reconstruction of the ensemble, namely of the bastions on the northwest and southwest. This was followed by the collapse of part of the wall (1900), and the partial ruin of the keep (1903), which would fall apart two years later, on March 1905. According to experts, the destructive power of the sea was felt more intensely after the devastation of the stretch of red mango grove that started 200 metres to the east of the fortress, which solidified the dune that surrounded it to the south and west. On the 30th March 1905, already after the collapse of the tower, the Secretary of State of the Navy and Overseas Affairs authorized the handover of the fortress to the Company of Mozambique, under the condition of being preserved as an historical monument. But the reconstruction of the tower in the same place was extremely expensive and required the construction of a thick defence wall. At the time, there was a proposal to construct a “stone marker of four sides”, on solid ground, as near as possible to the former fortress. The 7th December 1905 saw the presentation to the governor-general of the project of the monument, “simple and in an austere style”, with “stone taken from the ruins of the fort of Sofala and the shield that appears in the project is the one that was over the entrance of the fort”. The fort would be surrounded by the old iron pieces, fixed to the ground, connected by a chain. Among the stones of the old fortress, which had been brought from Portugal already carved (in the early 16th century), some were taken to Beira, being used in the construction of the cathedral (in the chancel) and in the works of the defence wall. Others were taken to the Lourenço Marques Fortress (from 1952), and can still be found there. The rest was abandoned in a hurry – cannon, domestic material and the image of Saint Cajetan, the patron saint of the fortress – and taken by tourists away from the old colony. Two 16th century cannon, which were part of the defensive system of the fortress, were offered by Serviços de Marinha (Navy Services) to the Municipal Museum of Beira, in April 1966. In photographs from the early 20th century, one can see the ruins, with the tower and, in the body beside it, a mullioned window with two rounded arches along Manueline lines. The famous album by Santos Rufino (1929) still had some images of the fortress. More recently, the remains of the foundations of the former construction could only be seen at low tide.

Loading…