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Santiago is the largest of the Cape Verde islands, and nearly half the nation’s population lives on the island. Originally volcanic, Santiago is unusually fertile, and agriculture is an important part of the islands’ economy. The Cape Verde Islands only won their independence from Portugal in 1974, following a violent revolution. The nation is struggling valiantly to progress after a repressive history. Accordingly visitors will notice a striking difference in development between it and many of its neighbors. The Cape Verdeans, though, are friendly and optimistic, and welcoming to visitors. The old capital, formerly known as Cidade Velha, has been renamed Ribeira Grande de Santiago, which was its name when it was an important port in the infamous slave trade. Dating from 1466, it was the first European colonial settlement in the Tropics. Visitors will notice a cluster of well-restored colonial-period houses, as well as a monument to the original pelourinho, or pillory where slaves were both punished and sold. This area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The most important city on the Cape Verde island of São Vicente, Mindelo originally thrived as a coal depot for steamships plying the Atlantic. With the advent of diesel engines, its importance waned, although it is still an important port for the maritime trade. The island is volcanic, dry and mostly low. The town has replica of Lisbon’s Belem Tower, located near the fish market, in an interesting part of the city. The late Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora started her career singing in the taverns of Mindelo, and later brought the uniquely lilting Cape Verdean form of fado music to the world through her bestselling records and concert tours.
The Gambia takes its name from the river that runs through it. In fact the nation consists largely of the river and a narrow band of riparian land on either side of it. The smallest nation on the African mainland, it is only 30 miles wide at its broadest point, and surrounded on three sides by Senegal. The capital of Banjul, formerly known as Bathurst, slumbers on small St. Mary’s Island near the river’s mouth. The town’s life centers around the bustling Albert Market, where nearly everything is traded in any (or several) of the country’s five official languages, plus French and English. The National Museum is a good place to get a look at the historic and ethnographic makeup. South of the town is Abuko Nature Reserve, a 180-acre section of savannah forest preserved in 1968 through the efforts of the country’s first forest officer, Eddie Brewer. The reserve is a good place to see examples of the native fauna including several species of monkeys, hyenas, antelope, and reptiles including crocodiles and monitor lizards. It also attracts more than 270 species of birds.
One of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan African cities, the Senegalese capital bears many visual reminders of its past as a French colonial outpost. Despite the Parisian-style boulevards and buildings, however, there is a distinctly African feel to the city. Bankers and executives can be seen going about their businesses dressed in the flamboyant traditional Grand Boubou costume, and women wear the feminine version with an equally striking headpiece. The common language is French, although many citizens may also speak as many as five or six ethnic languages, since the whole coast of West Africa has been steeped in a heritage of mutual trade for centuries. Among the many sights and sounds greeting visitors, none is more evocative and sobering than a visit to Goree Island and its House of Slaves. This fortress, just offshore of the city waterfront, displays many reminders of the brutal trade in human beings, including an unimposing doorway, set just above the waterline in the seaside wall, identified simply as the “Door of No Return.”
Casablanca, located on the Atlantic coast, is with 4 million inhabitants Morocco’s largest city, and at the same time the largest port in Africa. Built on the site of ancient Phoenician Anfa, it remained a small fishing village for many centuries until the French arrived in 1912. Since then Casablanca has become a vast modern city, ever on the increase since Morocco’s independence from France in 1956. A successful blend of oriental-style, white cubic dwellings with modern Moroccan quarters gives the city an interesting flair. Lovely beaches and attractive hotels make for a popular year-round holiday resort. To help understand Moroccan culture a visit to the Medina, the quaint old Moorish quarter, is a must for all visitors.
Situated just across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar from Europe, Tangier has long comprised a hybrid culture that is nearly as European as it is African. Standing atop Cap Spartel, one can gaze down on the place where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. The “Hollywood” district where the foreign embassies have traditionally been located reflects the European influence. But ascending the hill above the waterfront, one enters the narrow, winding alleys of the Kasbah, the city’s oldest, most Moroccan section. Down the coast, nearby Tetouan retains a nearly untouched walled medina, with sections originally occupied by Andalusian, Berber and Jewish populations. It is small enough that visitors can explore it without risking becoming lost, making it a perfect choice as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Often little more than a gateway to the Costa del Sol for sun-seeking vacationers, Malaga is a most interesting city in its own right. First settled by the Phoenicians, Malaga was held by virtually every ruling power in the Mediterranean at one time or another. Two Moorish fortresses, the 11th-century Alcazaba and the 14th-century Castillo de Gibralfaro still stand sentry above the harbor. Malaga was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso as well as the Malaguena style of flamenco. During your time here, you may wish to sample some of the sweet Malaga wine and excellent tapas for which the city is noted.
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