The first European colonial city in the tropics sits, decadent but recognizable, under the unassuming name of Cidade Velha or “Old City”. Known as Ribeira Grande (“Big Riverbank”) in its glory days, the city was Cape Verde’s first capital, but fell into disuse after the Portuguese began to favor the more commercially-equipped Praia port up the coast. Redolent of the Portuguese settlements on the northeastern Brazilian coast, the city suffered attacks from foreign armies and privateers alike, and quickly became nothing more than a distant memory to Portuguese administrators eager to consolidate power elsewhere.
Fast forward 200 years and the city is finally receiving the recognition it deserves, with UNESCO naming it a world heritage site in the 1990s, and the Spanish government dedicating significant funds (and a visit from the country’s queen) to raise the profile of its history. What’s fascinating about this city, and the archeological sites surrounding it, is that it has become ensconced in the valley surrounding it over its years of decline. In recent years, with attention and resources, archeologists are beginning to discover houses, churches, and administrative buildings that had been hidden for centuries.
Indeed, the very same day I was there, archaeologists uncovered a 15th-century chapel deep in the valley that had been previously unrecorded. It’s pretty exciting to think there are still places like this, untouched and unloved for centuries, that reveal a history long forgotten but central to the discovery of the American continent.