For centuries Mozambique, with one of the longest and most beautiful coastlines in Africa (1,562 miles/2,514 kilometres) has been a magnet for foreign travel. Maputo, formerly Lourenço Marques, is its laid-back capital and largest city. Once-grand colonial villas sit side-by-side with shanties and hideous concrete, Soviet style buildings dating back to the 1950s, when Russia and Cuba had a finger in the political pie.
Maputo is known as the City of the Acacias because of the many acacias that line the avenues. It is also often referred to as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Portuguese were the first colonisers in the 1600s, remaining in power until Mozambique gained independence in 1975 following a fierce and bloody liberation struggle. Today it is a port city with its economy centred around the harbour.
Prior to the arrival of the Portuguese, the area was a place of exchange for the Arabs and the Africans and was known as Catembe. In 1502, Antonio de Campos was the first European to arrive however it was the navigator Lorenço Marques who truly explored it for the first time in 1544. It became known as Delagoa Bay, as it was the first maritime transit from Goa. In 1876 it then became known as Lorenço Marques. The area became a city in 1887 and then superseded the town of Moçambique as the capital of Portuguese East Africa in 1907. In 1976, following Mozambique’s success in achieving independence the capital was renamed Maputo after the Maputo River, which is formed by the confluence in southwestern Mozambique of the great Usutu River (flowing from Swaziland) and the Pongola River (flowing from South Africa).
Maputo’s landmark train station is one of the city’s most imposing buildings. The dome was designed by Alexandre Gustav Eiffel, although Eiffel himself never set foot in Mozambique. Inside the train station is a small exhibition of works by local and visiting artists, and sculptures and paintings for sale.
In front of the train station is the Praça dos Trabalhadores (Worker’s Square). A colonial monument stands in the centre of the square and is dedicated to the Mozambican and Portuguese soldiers who fought during World War I. On the top of the monument is a statue of a woman and a snake. Legend has it that a snake lived amongst the trees in the square and it used to bite those who wanted to rest below the shadow of the acacia trees. This woman prepared a pot of boiling porridge and carried it on her head to the square with a plan to rid the villagers of the deadly pest. The snake tried to bite the lady’s head but instead fell into the boiling pot and died. The lady then became known as Senhora du Cobra (Lady of the Snake).
Close to the train station is the fort of Nossa Senhora da Conceicao (Our Lady of Conception), built by the Portuguese in the mid-19th century. Within the fort is a small museum displaying remnants from of the early Portuguese forays to the area and the sealed, carved wooden coffin of Ngungunhane, the final ruler of the famed kingdom of Gaza. Around the gardens within the fort are statues and reliefs that commemorate the defeat of the tribal king.
In the centre of town is Praça da Independência, a wide plaza rimmed on one side by the white, spired Cathedral of Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao and on the other by the City Hall. Near to the plaza is the Iron House, which was designed by Gustav Eiffel in the late 19th-century as the governor’s residence. In the middle of the plaza stands a monument, dedicated to Samora Machel (1933 – 1986), who was a revolutionary leader in Mozambique’s struggle for independence and the first president of independent Mozambique. Machel died in a place crash in South Africa when he was returning to Mozambique from Zambia in 1986, for which many believe the South African government was somehow responsible (it strongly denied any connection).
TOP TIPS: Street vendors will follow tourists everywhere trying to sell paintings, carvings and everything else – if you show interest you could find yourself surrounded by vendors in seconds. Be careful what you buy and beware of your belongings – during our visit we were offered a presumably stolen hard drive (which was described as a mobile telephone charger that could keep our phones charged for month) and a GoPro! Only visit the Museum of Natural History if you are interested in seeing a very large collection of dead, stuffed animals.
CRUISE: Silversea‘s Silver Cloud from Mombasa to Cape Town.
- Information provided by Silversea’s Cruises