The town of Ribeira Grande, renamed Cidade Velha in the late 18th century, was the first European colonial outpost in the tropics. Located in the south of the island of Santiago, the town features some of the original street layout impressive remains including two churches, a royal fortress and Pillory Square with its ornate 16th century marble pillar.
Outstanding Universal Value
Cidade Velha, historic centre of Ribeira Grande demonstrates Outstanding Universal Value: Ribeira Grande was the first European colonial town to be built in the tropics, and marks a decisive step in European expansion at the end of the 15th century towards Africa and the Atlantic area. Ribeira Grande was subsequently, in the 16th and 17th centuries, a key port of call for Portuguese colonisation and its administration. It was an exceptional centre in the routes for international maritime trade, included in the routes between Africa and the Cape, Brazil and the Caribbean. It provides an early image of transcontinental geopolitical visions. Its insular position, isolated but close to the coasts of Africa, made it an essential platform for the Atlantic trade of enslaved persons of modern times. A place of concentration of enslaved persons and the inhuman practices of the trade of enslaved persons, Ribeira Grande was also exceptional in terms of the intercultural encounters from which stemmed the first developed Creole society. The valley of Ribeira Grande experimented with new forms of colonial agriculture on the boundary between the temperate and tropical climates. It became a platform for the acclimatisation and dissemination of plant species across the world.
Criterion (ii): The monuments, the remains still present in Ribeira Grande and its maritime and agro-urban landscapes, are testimony to its considerable role in international trade associated with the development of European colonial domination towards Africa and America and the birth of Atlantic triangular trade. They are testimony to the organisation of the first intercontinental maritime trade, and Ribeira Grande’s role as centre for the acclimatisation and dissemination of numerous plant species between the temperate and tropical zones, and between the various continents.
Criterion (iii): The urban, maritime and landscape of Ribeira Grande provides eminent testimony to the origins and the development of over three centuries of Atlantic trade of enslaved persons in modern times and its relationships of domination. It was a major place for its commercial organisation and the early experience of using enslaved persons to develop a colonial territory. The mixing of human races and the meeting of African and European cultures gave birth to the first Creole culture.
Criterion (vi): Ribeira Grande is directly associated with the material manifestation of the history of the enslavement and trafficking of African peoples, and with its considerable cultural and economic consequences. Ribeira Grande was the cradle of the first fully fledged mixed-race Creole society. Creole culture then spread across the Atlantic, adapting to the different colonial contexts of the Caribbean and Americas. Its forms affected many fields including the arts, social customs, beliefs, the pharmacopoeia, and cooking techniques. Ribeira Grande is an important initial link in an intangible heritage shared by Africa, the Americas and Europe.
Integrity and authenticity
The authenticity and integrity of the property is generally acceptable, but its fragility must be emphasised, together with the necessity of an ongoing policy of rehabilitation.
Management and protection requirements
The property’s management system is satisfactory. However, its legal protection must be completed and the practical methods for the operation of the recent inter-agency management structures specified.
The island of Santiago was discovered around 1460 and claimed for the Crown of Portugal. There was no human presence on the island. Exploration of the islands of the archipelago led to the development of the port of call of Ribeira Grande in the years that followed. As early as 1466 it was granted a royal charter entitling its inhabitants to practise the slave trade. It became an essential port of call for Portuguese sea traffic, first towards the coasts of Africa and later on to the Cape. Construction of the first defensive structures, the town hall, and the first church began at the end of the 15th century (see Description).
Ribeira Grande was an ideal location, isolated and well placed for the organisation of the triangular transatlantic traffic, particularly trade in African slaves, of which the Portuguese theoretically had a monopoly under the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). The ancient pillory monument provides direct evidence of the links with violence established by the system of slavery.
In the 16th century the town developed rapidly, favoured by an exceptional maritime position, its intercontinental geographical location, and the Azores current. Ribeira Grande bears witness to the first successes of European navigation on the high seas. It was a major crossroads for a Portuguese trade that rapidly became globalised. The fleets leaving for or arriving from Guinea, the Indian Ocean, India, Siam, Brazil, the Antilles, and, of course, Europe came together there, to exchange merchandise, plants, men, and information.
Ribeira Grande was granted the status of a royal town and became the first bishopric of Cape Verde and the African coasts in 1533, institutionalising its role as a place of transit, exchange, and a variety of contacts between several African peoples, as well as between African slaves and free European men. The slaves were given the rudiments of European culture and evangelised before being shipped to Europe or the Americas.
Despite its limited area, Cidade Velha is an important place in the history of agronomy, forming as it did a centre of transit and acclimatisation for many plant species. In the 16th and 17th centuries in particular it was an experimental garden and a conservatory for seeds and plants from all the continents which were sent on to other countries as they were required. The dry but relatively hot climate over which the trade winds blew, in a pivotal position between temperate and tropical zones, offered favourable conditions for a very diverse vegetation, so long as fresh water was available. Among the plants concerned were sugar cane, bananas, the East African coconut, American maize, citrus fruits and figs from Europe, cotton, etc.
For a century and a half the geostrategic importance of the town was based on its role as a major port of call and on the importance of its slave market. It concentrated considerable wealth in a particularly limited space, defended by a complex system of forts and walls. It attracted the attentions of many seafarers - for example, England's Sir Francis Drake sacked the town in 1585. The defensive system was strengthened by the royal fortress of São Felipe, completed in 1593, one of the strongest of its time.
From the 17th century onwards, however, the new European maritime powers successfully challenged the oceanic commercial hegemony of Portugal and Spain. Jacques Cassard, a corsair from Nantes, attacked and laid waste to Ribeira Grande in 1712 on behalf of Louis XIV, but already by that time it was no longer the rich and powerful maritime citadel of earlier centuries. The decline of the town became more pronounced in the 18th century; the elite classes left the town, and Praia was preferred as a commercial port of call. Political and administrative functions were transferred to Praia in the second half of the 18th and at the beginning of the 19th century. The lack of building materials and the proximity of the two towns resulted in the demolition of a great number of the best constructed buildings, for the benefit of the new capital. It was then that Ribeira Grande became Cidade Velha, the ‘old town.'
However, a residual settlement survived in the middle of the ruins of the Portuguese colonial town into the 19th century, and was then partially reconstructed in the second half of the 20th century. It has a certain local importance, and has developed traditional housing which is typical of Cape Verde.
An initial restoration campaign was carried out in the early 1960s, involving the royal fortress, the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário, and the Pillory Monument. In 1992 ICOMOS described the scientific level of this campaign as mediocre.
In the 1970s the State Party again looked at Cidade Velha, with a view to assessing the property and raising awareness. An initial UNESCO mission took place in 1978. This was, however, not taken further because of a lack of human and financial resources.
A second programme of consolidation of vestiges and restoration was undertaken in 1999-2003. It is continuing, with the help of international cooperation, particularly in the urban ensemble.
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation