For centuries tiny Mozambique island – just 3 km long and 500 meters wide – played a disproportionate role on Africa’s east coast. Well before the Portuguese arrived, the island was a meeting point of cultures on the Indian Ocean trade routes, with ties to Madagascar, Persia and Arabia.

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Mosque and backstreets.

Explorer Vasco da Gama landed here in 1498 and later in 1507, a permanent settlement was established as a trading station and naval base, connecting to other Portuguese settlements in Macau (China) + Goa and Diu in India.

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Locals collecting shell-fish at low tide; the far coast is the mainland, just 3 km away

In the late 16th century the massive San Sebastian fortress was built and the island became the capital of Portuguese East Africa.

The entrance to the mighty fortress of

The entrance to the mighty fortress of Sao Sebastiao on the island’s northern end, which is the oldest complete fort still standing in sub-Saharan Africa. Construction began in 1558 and took 50 years to finish.(  NOTE: this image is a digital paint job – the brush-stroke detail can only be seen on higher resolution. )

By the end of the 19th century, the capital was shifted south to Maputo. And by the 1950s, development of the mainland port of Nacala saw Mozambique Island fade into history. And decay. Today, amid the lively fishing village and crumbling streets of colonial architecture, tourism and renovation is slowly bringing a new golden age to this UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Sao Lourenco Island – dominated by a small fort built in 1695, just off the southern tip of Mozambique Island and only accessible in low tide.

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Most of the island’s population today are Muslim.

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Vendors in shade of boat at the beach fish market.

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Cargo boat from mainland.

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Church of Santo Antonio on western side of island

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Looking from northern point to Saint Anthony’s church amid strong breezes and sunset.

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Now a museum of sacred art, the Church of Misericordia once housed the colony hospital, from the early 1500s onwards. The island capital attracted missionaries – on mass.

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Dusk over the Palace and Chapel of Sao Paulo – these building were the former governor’s residence and date from 1610 AD.

Travels in Mozambique – 2013

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