Plateau! The name is simple yet expressive. Overlooking the ocean, the small village that was founded in 1615 captures the scenic beauty of what is now Praia Saint Mary of Victory. The village was birthed out of a clandestine port and prospered due to its privileged location. In 1770, Praia replaced Ribeira Grande de Santiago (also known as Cidade Velha, Old City) as the capital of Cabo Verde. In 1858, Praia became a city, rightfully earned by its natural grandeur of national historical and architectural heritage.
The most historical part of the city – Plateau - still maintains its 400 year noble status today. Plateau remains as the island's center of administrative, cultural and economic activity. Rightfully so, in 2013 Plateau was recognized for its national cultural and architectural heritage.
Walking by Plateau is the equivalent of entering into a time warp, immediately feeling the inescapable ambiance of its origin. The historic traces of Plateau are still present as it effortlessly weaves between the historical buildings and Portuguese colonial architecture, of everyday life.
Central Square and Heritage Church
The Alexandre Alburquerque square at the center of this highland is still the heart of Plateau. Together with the main church located nearby, a building more than two centuries old, it forms an architectural combination that can be found in almost every Portuguese colony.
It is around this church and the square, that the city developed new streets, intersections and also its main avenue. The avenue was renamed after the father of liberty, Dr. Amílcar Cabral, post-Independence day (July 5th).
In the olden days, citizens were expected to follow a strict dress code in order to visit these historical sites. One could not visit the area barefoot (this was common during this time of economic hardship), and everyone would wear their best "Sunday clothes".
Between the traffic of people arriving and leaving from Plateau, there is a unique type of people – the gardener, the shoe shiner, the ladies who sell candy in colored trays, and people that contribute to the daily routine of the Alexandre Albuquerque square. They are the first group to arrive and leave only after dark. Although they are ignored by almost everyone who passes by them, they are still the integral parts of that site.
Also, in this downtown area is the town city-hall. In addition to the council services, the city-hall includes a large lounge on the ground floor, which is used today as a showroom for handmade art. All year long, visitors can appreciate some of the artwork of national and foreign craftsmen.
The joyful movement of Saturday mornings
On Saturdays, the historical center is transformed from the administrative center to a large business center, reinventing a more joyful and colorful Plateau. On this particular day of the week, traffic is busier with people walking from store to store, or simply on a walk through the streets while enjoying the cafés and bars of the highland.
The Municipal Market
From fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and fresh cheese from the islands of Fogo and Maio, to medicinal herbs, meat, fish, and traditional sweets and pastries. Almost everything and anything can be found in the market of Plateau. The commotion of the saleswomen announcing their products creates the daily soundtrack of the market, especially on those late Saturday afternoons.
At the market of Plateau, people buy their groceries and also greet friends and acquaintances. Visitors also get to know stories of the country's rural area told by the saleswomen, who are always willing to share their daily routines that begin at dawn.
These men and women, some of them elderly, each with their own stand, all feed on the energy of this colored market.
The Pedestrian Walkway
At Plateau, tradition and modernity are intertwined. After leaving the market through the back exit one will enter the pedestrian walkway that stretches north/south from one side of Plateau to the other. The street 5 de Julho where all the supplies of the commodity trade were concentrated, is now a nice walking area today. There is no shortage of terraces, shops and traveling exhibitions.
At this pedestrian only street, one can savor traditional snacks and local fruit juices. There is also no shortage of a variety of traditional treats made by the women who walk around with their filled trays as they announce their homemade treats.
The walkway is also the stage to many cultural and recreational activities including an ethnographic museum dedicated to preserving and passing on to the future generations, the people's heritage. One can learn about the Cabo Verdean routine as well as the way of life of the people from different islands.
At this downtown area it is possible to find a diverse number of small family businesses. From clothing boutiques where articles from the United States can be found, to barber shops that have endured many generations, visitors can witness and engage in some of the most fruitful conversations of popular topics such as football (soccer) and other themes of daily life including politics.
The Diogo Gomes Observatory
The Observatory Diogo Gomes is another interesting spot in Plateau. Here, people can enjoy a panoramic view of the city and a privileged view of the Gamboa Beach and the islet of Santa Maria - a majestic site with the ruins that remind us of an ancient shelter for the leper in past centuries.
The observatory was given this name due to a statue and tribute to a Portuguese sailor who was supposedly the discoverer of Santiago Island, Diogo Gomes. In addition to the beautiful view, the statue is also something of admiration at the Plateau. Today however, there seems to be some controversy on whether Diogo Gomes is deserving of this credit or not. Regardless, it is his statue that rises as the everyday guardian of the aforementioned beach, which has embraced and welcomed many other explorers and historically-known people including Vasco da Gama (the discoverer of Brazil) and Charles Darwin, the creator of the evolutionary theory.
Next to the Diogo Gomes observatory, is also the Presidential Palace, a striking building from the XIX century, and the official home to the President of the Republic of Cabo Verde.
A military compound is another part of colonial architectural heritage that was constructed in 1826 and it is one of the first ever built at Plateau. The base is located near the Alexandre Albuquerque Square and the Diogo Gomes observatory. It was named after a hero from the Independence war against the Portuguese colonial forces - Jaime Mota – who was killed in action in the Guinea Bissau battle fields. In addition to what it represents as a piece of architectural heritage, the Jaime Mota compound can be considered a testimony of the history of struggle for the whole archipelago of Cabo Verde. There were discussions in turning this historic compound into a museum but it has yet to be materialized.
In Plateau, there are also important monuments of historic significance and traces in the field of education in Cabo Verde. One of them is the center that hosted the first primary school in the archipelago and now houses the administrative offices of the University of Cabo Verde.
Escola Grande and Domingos Ramos High school
The implementation of these schools would bring, since their first days of existence, an interesting dynamic of academic and cultural norms to the city, and Plateau in particular. The António Lereno square, commonly known as pracinha da Escola Grande (the Big School Square), remains as an obligatory spot for those who visit Plateau. The students sitting with their piles of books have given place to students and people with their laptops and tablets.
The square is one of the many hotspots with free internet in the country but still remains a meeting point for the local student community. It is also a favorite site for the more veteran locals, including some of the most distinguished politicians and intellectuals who gather to play chess, cards, and the game of checkers or exchanging lively conversations.
Many of them have studied at the Domingos Ramos High School, which was called Adriano Moreira High School during the colonial period. The public school is to celebrate 55 years of existence in 2015!
The Domingos Ramos high school is responsible for the education of the majority of the Cabo Verdeans, many of whom play major roles in the national society. Until the beginning of the 1990´s it was the only public high school in the whole south region of the country (Sotavento) and being so, it embraced students from all over the country. Back then, there were only two public high schools in the entire country, the other one in São Vicente, at the north side of the country (Barlavento).
Plateau continues to sit beautifully above the sea level modernizing itself and maintaining, yet, the richness and historical trademarks which has garnered it the recognition as one of official national historical and architectural heritage.
As days remain festive with the heavy traffic of people, the music becomes the queen of the nights, coupled with the colonial patios becoming music stages. As the guitar chords reveal the magic of the Morna (a traditional musical genre marked by a slow and melancholic rhythm and melody) there is also place for the music across the border and new daring sounds. All the while, savoring a fine wine from the neighbor island of Fogo or some seafood appetizers coming straight from the ocean that constantly guards the city is a perfect way to pay tribute to its majestic charm.
Original article in Portuguese: Plateau: Uma jóia sobranceira ao mar