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Angola: Fortaleza de São Miguel

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Fortaleza de São Miguel | Angola | Africa

[Visited: July 2012]

It was my first visit to Angola and its capital Luanda, and it seemed logical to start exploration of the city at the most historically important place - the Fortaleza de São Miguel. One of the peculiarities of the city is that there are virtually no taxis; I estimated that the waterfront was within walking distance from my hotel and started off downhill, hoping the scale of the map did not delude me. After a surprisingly easy introductory walk through the bustling city, I arrived at the waterfront of the Marginal that is the road following the bay sooner than I had expected, and to my delight, the unmistakeable contours of the Fortress of São Miguel appeared right on top of a hill to my left, dominating Luanda Bay.

Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): One of the corners of the star-shaped Fortress of São Miguel

The waterfront area is under serious reconstruction; I walked right to the waterfront and, walking towards the fortress, also noticed the Ilda do Cabo, a peninsula that jots right into the Atlantic Ocean and that defines Luanda Bay, at the horizon. There were yet more reconstruction sites, and as I did not see a road leading up to the Fortress of São Miguel, I ended up walking around the base of the hillock on which it was built. When I saw stairs at the northern side, I noticed an old street sign with a bullet hole in it; even though it was in a very bad state, I could see the tiled sign had once been beautiful. On the tiles was written Avenida de Paulo Dias de Novais after the Portuguese colonizer who built the Fortress of São Miguel in 1576 and founded Luanda - his grandson was the famous explorer Bartolomeu Dias. There was no one around, and I decided I would try to reach the fortress using the stairs here. At the top, a few soldiers guarded a gate, and kindly let me in; I reached a platform from which I had a great view of the Ilha, the Marginal, and the slum below with the Atlantic behind it.

Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Close-up of a statue outside the Fortress of São Miguel

I walked along the thick ramparts of the Fortress of São Miguel, painted yellow with parapets at regular intervals, meeting more armed soldiers. After it was built in 1576 as a protection against French, Spanish and Dutch pirates, it was seized by the latter in 1641, retaken by the Portuguese a few years later, after which they rebuilt the fortress as a star-shaped self-contained defended town at a strategic location. It would not be taken again. It served as a slave depot, a prison, a museum, and served as a fortress once again during the unrest eventually leading to the independence of Angola in 1975. It has been reconverted to the Museum of Armed Forces again, and when I turned yet another corner, I arrived at the entrance. I found several statues of Portuguese explorers, kings, and other figures. I greeted a guard at the entrance, walked through the entrance and reached the courtyard; I was looking forward to seeing the azuleijos, or original Portuguese tiles, which are inside, telling the story of the Fortress of São Miguel. The courtyard was empty, and as I walked towards the central building, a delegation appeared from the walls; two Angolan escorts approached me and told me that the fortress was closed for visitors, and that I had to go away. I was too flabbergasted to protest; moreover, one of the guides told the guard to take me out. Suddenly, I was not even allowed to take pictures anymore; when I walked down using the official access road, I realized it did look very closed. Very disappointed for the unexpected turn of things, I had to be happy with a view from the Fortaleza de São Miguel from below. One day, I will be back to see the tiles.

Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): The Fortress of São Miguel on the hill dominating the Marginal
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Entrance leading to the courtyard of the Fortaleza de São Miguel
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Parapet on a corner of the Fortaleza de São Miguel
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Parapet at one of the corners of star-shaped Fortress of São Miguel
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Portuguese historic figure statue outside the Fortress of São Miguel
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Coat of arms on outer wall of the Fortress
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Old tiled street sign outside the wall of the Fortaleza
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Afternoon sunlight on the walls of the Fortress of São Miguel
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Military planes outside the walls of the Fortaleza de São Miguel
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): Statue parked at the entrance of the Fortress of São Miguel
Picture of Fortaleza de São Miguel (Angola): View of the port and start of the Ilha do Cabo seen from the fortress

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