In the middle of the leeward group of islands with a surface area of 991 Km2, SANTIAGO is the biggest island in the Archipelago. In the north/south direction, its longest point is 55 Km and from east to west, 29 Km. Of volcanic origin, the highest point of its mountain peaks is called PICO de ANTÓNIO, with an altitude of 1392 m. The deep and beautiful valleys, the result of hundreds of years of erosion, offer good agricultural conditions and the view of these regions from above is truly picturesque. There is a great contrast between the vegetation and the mild and humid climate of the higher regions and that of some lower regions, which are very dry and arid.
SANTIAGO was the first island to be populated after the Portuguese discovery of Cabo Verde in the XV century. The economy of the island was developed mainly through the use of African slave labor. As a result it became a commercial trading post with the African Continent and naturally assimilated more of the African influence than the rest of the islands. Pirate attacks were frequent on the capital town of RIBEIRA GRANDE, the name given to CIDADE VELHA at that time. In 1583, it was also attacked by forces supporting the Prior of Crato, in the battle for the succession to the throne of Portugal and the French pirate J. Cassard finally devastated the town in 1712. It was from this point on that PRAIA assumed predominance and today remains the capital of the Republic.
Agriculture and fishing are still the main industries of SANTIAGO. The island is full of beautiful scenery, charming beaches and living examples of its historical past.
Visiting the Island of Santiago
Considered the birthplace of the nationality and the most ancient city in the country, it possesses a long and curious history linked to its great geo-strategic importance.
Port of call during the slave trade from the African coast to the rest of the world and first European urban center in the tropics, its wealth was always coveted. That fact can be demonstrated by the construction, at the end of the XVI century, of the São Filipe Fortress, which, from its lofty position, defended the city from constant raids by pirates, such as Francis Drake and J. Cassard.
These repeated attacks, together with some others, such as the revolt attempt carried out by the followers of Prior do Crato forced the status of capital city to be transferred in 1772 to the present one – Praia.
Nowadays, Cidade Velha is a historical monument that deserves a visit. There, the visitor can find the remains of the first Portuguese who arrived on this island.
There is so much of its glorious past including the church of Nossa Senhora do Rosario which, notwithstanding its five centuries of existence, is still reasonably well – preserved, maintaining its original tiles and tombs.
The aforementioned Fortress, built in stone brought from Portugal, has a unique view and, in clear days, Fogo Island can be spotted from there. The Pillory, built in the XVI century in Manueline Style, remains intact reminding the days when the slaves were publicly punished there. The valley stretching out to the out to the city is rich vegetation, the coconut trees and the imposing baobabs being worthy of note.
Other interesting places include Cidade da Praia, the capital and administrative and commercial center of Cabo Verde. The most marking traits of the various influences from the African continent can be found in this city. Its heart lies on Praça 12 de Marco (commons), one of the most typical places and meeting point for the locals who, at the end of the day, get together in bars. Surrounding this square you can find the Igreja Matriz (main church) and the Bank of Cabo Verde.
Santiago was probably the island that most suffered influence from the African continent. That can be witnessed in the different cultural phenomena: from the music and habits to the gastronomy.
The city of Praia offers various curiosities such as the Sucupira market, a typical African market where everything can be found. Pedestrian walkway, the main road of the plateau, is flanked with the most important commercial houses and companies as well as with gardens and coffee shops. It surely deserves visit, which can precede a pleasant trip to the fine beaches of Quebra Canela, Prainha, Gamboa (which hosts one of the two annual music festivals) and Mulher Branca.
The joy and warmth of the people are always present in this city. Having very good restaurants, the cheery and typically African nightclubs are also a fascinating option.
Visiting the rest of the island towards the interior, the visitor comes across São Domingos, about 15 Km outside Cidade de Praia. It is one of the richest and luxuriant valleys of Santiago and it houses the Centro de Apoio a Produção Popular (Popular Production Support Centre), where tourists can buy several traditional souvenirs.
Exploring the northern part of the island, several mountainsides crowned with unusually shaped peaks and downreaching valleys, occasionally abounding in vegetation, offer a rare sight. Place of magnificent landscapes and unparalleled peacefulness inspired by its luxuriant vegetation, which here reaches its crowning point, Sao Jorge de Orgãos also houses the only Botanical Garden in the whole country. Its exuberant vegetation covers the foot of the highest and most famous elevation of the island: Pico da Antonia.
Further to the north, 64 km from the Cidade de Praia, is the city of Assomada, an important commercial center where the visitor can enjoy a peculiar ambience: a mix of city and countryside. Its market is very famous and well known and the diversity of agricultural products and other articles awards it the honor of being one of the most important places of commercial exchanges in the entire island. In fact, all the inhabitants of the plateau go to that market to buy and sell almost everything.
Already in the north, after surmounting the Malagueta Mountain, you arrive at Tarrafal. Its bay with a superb beach of thin white sand, warm clear water and vast cooling shade from the coconut trees is an important touristic and fishing place. The village, with a reasonable offer of accommodation and restaurants, is well worth visiting, especially the Praca Central (Central Square) on top of which stands the church. Also very well known is the former concentration camp for the political prisoners of the colonial times. Nowadays, the group of buildings is not in use, except for some rooms that are used as elementary school, however, planning for its complete reconstruction and reintegration is already in course and a museum, recently built just outside the Presidium walls shows its history.
The way back to Praia can be made along the north - eastern coast; which will surprise us with a different but equally remarkable landscape. Small beaches and creeks with deserted white or black sand arise repeatedly along the way. They occasionally harbor small fishing boats. These seemingly deserted landscapes contrast with occasional cultivation areas flourishing around water streams that wash into the sea.
Near this area the visitor comes across some settlements of Rabellados (Rebels): communities of insurgent farmers, isolated from the rest of the Cabo-verdean society and from the world. Even though they are Christians, they do not accept some principles of their own religion, such as celibacy and monogamy.
They were persecuted over the years, not only by the Catholic Church, but also by the colonial government, which considered them as resistant. Some of their leaders were even arrested and exiled to the other islands. After the independence of Cabo Verde, this community believed in the winds of change but only for a short time.
After losing the hope in the new politics once more, they returned to their self –imposed isolation and once again turned their backs on the world. Nowadays, that isolation is not so strict and some of their members seek some form of integration in society, however keeping some of its more absolute values unscathed.
In Santa Cruz, a large green valley, you can not help stopping to admire the beauty of the everlasting plantations of banana trees, coconut trees, papaya trees, immediately followed by a gorge. Even more thrilling is the ride through the road tore open across the plantations: sheer haven!
Not very far away from Praia (16km), there is still another beach – Sao Francisco – an ideal place for a relaxing swim in a landscape where time seems to have stopped. Even the access to the beach is not very easy and is made through a single road leading there.
The offer of accommodations is not very substantial, but it still allows for some options. For an urban environment, the city of Praia offers the characteristics rush of an African metropolis. Sao Jorge dos Orgaos provides the peacefulness of unique scenery: dense vegetation and isolation inviting to relaxation. Tarrafal, near the sea, is ideal to enjoy all the charm of the sun and the beach.
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