Nossa Senhora do Rosario church in Cidade Velha

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Nossa Senhora do Rosário church in Cidade Velh, Cabo Verde
Nossa Senhora do Rosário church in Cidade Velha / LeRoc, / CC BY-SA 2.0
The oldest colonial church in the world is Nossa Senhora do Rosario church in Cidade Velha, Cabo Verde.

This austere, simple building marks the beginnings of the dominance of Western civilization in the late 15th century.

Interior of Nossa Senhora do Rosario church, Cabo Verde
Interior of Nossa Senhora do Rosario church / Claude Meisch, / CC BY-SA 3.0

The oldest town in Cabo Verde

Santiago island was discovered by Portuguese in 1460 and soon after – in 1466 – there was established the first town, which was then named – Ribeira Grande (now – Cidade Velha). There were no native people in Cabo Verde.

Ribeira Grande was the first European outpost in tropics, a vague beginning of the dominance of Western civilization.

In short time this picturesque town at the mouth of 100 m deep canyon turned into a hub of Portuguese colonial business. Ribeira Grande was the main stopover site for Portuguese in their way to their African, South American and Asian colonies. This town served as a transfer point for slaves, nearby were cultivated new (for Europeans) plants from the other colonies.

Town became very rich and from time to time was attacked by pirates, e.g. in 1585.

First colonial church

In 1493 here was built the first Christian chapel in sub-Saharan Africa, in 1495 it was extended to its current size. This building was built in Manueline Gothic style, it was austere and simple, both outside and inside.

Church was used also for burial of local nobleman.

It is interesting to note that many Africans became influential and revered people in this town. For Europeans of those times it was unusual to see that pastors in Nossa Senhora do Rosario church were pitch black… and, well, they were learned, devoted, optimistic and musically endowed people, much better pastors than most of their European collegues.

Gothic vaults in Nossa Senhora do Rosário church, Cabo Verde. Vaults are marked with the sign of the Order of Christ - remaining part of the Knights Templar
Gothic vaults in Nossa Senhora do Rosário church. Vaults are marked with the sign of the Order of Christ – remaining part of the Knights Templar / Moisés Nazário, / CC BY 2.0

Decline of the town

Due to geopolitical changes the importance of Cabo Verde decreased in the 18th century. Ribeira Grande turned into sleepy outpost in far away islands. By the late 18th century capital of the islands was transferred to nearby Praia, many buildings in the old town (Cidade Velha – hence its current name) were destroyed.

Part of its values though were well preserved – original street network, impressive fortress, central square – Pillory Square, and two churches, including the old Nossa Senhora do Rosario church.

Only by the end of the 20th century the town (now – rather a village) gradually revived. Step by step its most valuable buildings have been renovated and now this is pleasant, charming colonial town in spectacular natural setting.

The original archtiecture and details of Nossa Senhora do Rosario church have been exceptionally well preserved. Church is active up to this day, with mass held every Sunday.

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Nossa Senhora do Rosário church in Cidade Velha 14.916486, -23.605294 Nossa Senhora do Rosário church in Cidade Velha
Coordinates: 14.9165 N 23.6053 E
Categories: Churches
Values: Architecture
Rating: (3 / 5)
Address: Africa, Cabo Verde, southern part of Santiago island, Cidade Velha, north from centrum, Rua Banana
Name in Portuguese: Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Rosário
UNESCO World Heritage status: part of "Cidade Velha, Historic Centre of Ribeira Grande", 2009, No.1310
Year of construction: 1493 – 1495
Branch of Christianity: Catholic

Landmarks of Cabo Verde

Gorge in Santo Antão island, Cabo Verde
Gorge in Santo Antão island, Cabo Verde / Richard Leeming, / CC BY 2.0
Once upon a time Cabo Verde islands were on the important way between Portugal and its far away colonies. Now islands are somewhat trapped in silence. Highlights of Cabo Verde are historical towns with numerous well preserved examples of colonial architecture.

Churches

St.Peter's Basilica, Vatican
St.Peter’s Basilica / P.Landy, Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0
Throughout the history Christian churches have been the epitome of architecture and arts achievements in Western culture.

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Cape Verde (Bradt Travel Guide)


This new 7th edition of Bradt’s Cape Verde (Cabo Verde) has been fully revised and updated and remains the only comprehensive English-language guidebook available to the islands of this alluring Atlantic archipelago, described by some as ‘Africa light’. The guide includes well-researched history and cultural sections, with a particularly strong section on music, and brings an honest approach to reporting the fragile balance between tourist development and protecting the environment.

Cape Verde (Other Places Travel Guide)


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