Inhambane – Terra de Boa Gente

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Over 500 years ago, the Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, sailed through a gap in the sandbanks protecting Inhambane Bay from the breakers of the Indian Ocean. He took on provisions and was so impressed by the friendliness of the locals that he called it “Land of the Good People”. Five hundred years before him, ocean-going dhows from the Persian Gulf had visited the area to trade in ambergris (whale gallstones), cotton and pearls. A Portuguese settlement, complete with Jesuit Mission, was established in the mid 16th century. Indian traders controlled the trade in slaves and ivory. Following the establishment of Lourenco Marques (Maputo) as the capital of Mozambique, Inhambane’s fortunes declined. It is now a charming, sleepy backwater. It has a mixture of old colonial houses and newer Art Deco or “Streamline Moderne” architecture gently corroding and crumbling away.

The church seen behind the row of Tuk-Tuks and on the square is Our Lady of the Conception, built between 1854-1870. I didn’t climb up the rusting metal ladder to the bell tower for a view of the city. The church was renovated with help from the Irish Government a few years ago.

This is the Hoffmann House, formerly a private dwelling, which became a posh hotel called the “Carleton”. It was built with stone from the Isle of Mozambique, wrought iron from Italy and ceramic tiles from France.

The Old Mosque dates back to 1840. I like the crenellated doorway. The other mosque is larger and more recent. Both mosques and church are close to the bay.

P1090413This fine building was constructed by the splendidly-named Father de Santa (no, nothing to do with Christmas). It was a girls’ school and has now been renovated as the Telecoms Office.

There are some other old houses on the shoreline, such as the captain’s house. Many are in a poor state of repair, but some are being renovated. Can you spot the roofer in this photograph?

There is an old Mercado, where you can buy the usual tourist tat, such as a radio embedded inside a coconut, lots of straw baskets, wood carvings and rag rugs. Shopping is certainly a very colourful experience.

The local museum is definitely worth a visit, with dusty books relating to colonial times, sepia photographs and the sort of brik-a-brak you might find at an English car boot sale.

I particularly enjoyed looking at the Art Deco/Streamline Moderne architecture. The main street is broad and pleasant, with pollarded trees. The Railway Club (memories of the Wheeltappers and Shunters’, anyone?) has fallen into disrepair with the closure of the railroad.

While leaning over a wall to take a photograph of a rooster on a parapet, a guard armed with an AK-47 gave me a stern look. I was lucky not to have my camera smashed.

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