Salambo discovering Ethiopia
I had no idea what to expect when going to Lourenço Marques, or modern-day Maputo. I knew it was the capital of Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony where Portuguese remained the official language, but I didn’t think I would be so taken by the city. Everything about it, its beautiful setting by the ocean, its pleasant tree-lined streets, its unique architecture, its creative and artistic atmosphere, made me feel at home.
Maputo and Addis Abeba became the capital city of their respective countries at about the same time towards the end of the 19th century, but Lourenço Marques was created much earlier as a Portuguese outpost, while Addis Abeba was the new capital city of a country which would enter the 20th century as the only African State not to be colonised. In Maputo, the Portuguese imported their style of urban planning with wide tree-lined avenues and well designed houses. They also brought in their language, their culture, their food which has since been integrated into the Mozambican culture. Ethiopia also brought in foreign engineers and architects when it needed but its culture remained exclusively national.
In addition to their respective history, what is at the source of the contrast between the two cities in my view is their geographical position. Because of its location on a major sea trading route, Lourenço Marques was always a crossroad of cultures from East, North and West. It was closely linked to Goa in India and Malacca and Macau in the Far East, all cities under Portuguese ruling. As Maputo was looking towards the Indian Ocean, it embraced the many cultural influences and made them its own to create a unique cultural environment. Addis, located high in the middle of the Abyssinian high plateaux, remained more isolated from outside influences and continued to cultivate its own culture. That difference is still prominent today, and that is why as a foreigner I can immediately feel comfortable in Maputo but will never feel at home in Addis because I will never be able to really penetrate its culture.
A very cultural city
At the beginning of its life as the new capital of Mozambique, Lourenço Marques was an innovative, forward looking city which attracted some of the best architects of the time. Gustave Eiffel built an iron house there, which can still be seen next to the French-Mozambican Cultural Centre, known as Franco, in the centre of town. Further down the central district, the stunning Central train Station (CFM), which has kept all its original features including beautiful wooden French windows, is a standing testimony of the strong cultural heritage of the city. This rich heritage is entirely integrated in today’s living city which thrives on culture and the arts. The elegant design stores in the Franco Centre and in the train station sell high quality contemporary design objects and craft goods that wouldn’t be out of place in Milan, as well as books by contemporary Mozambican writer Mia Couto. The Franco Institute is in my view one of the most pleasant places to have lunch or a drink; I was going there almost every day to write and work. I also spent a couple of evenings in the Nucleo de Arte, an art centre and community of artists which became a springboard for some of the most famous 20th century Mozambican artists such as the sculptor Alberto Chissano. The centre, located in an old colonial house in the Polana district, has an art gallery where artists members can exhibit their work, as well as a working studio and a restaurant. I wasn’t really impressed by the art on display, but I enjoyed spending my evenings in the restaurant talking to local artists and designers, and getting a feel of the real Maputo.
I could continue to sing praise to Maputo, a city I only experienced for five days but where I went from one pleasant surprise to the next. Walking along Friedrich Engels avenue, I felt I could easily live in one of those well-built colonial houses with a stunning view of the Ocean below (Maputo is built on a hill). Wandering around the Old Baixa area, close to the port, I had no one calling me a foreigner every two steps I took. I regained the kind of freedom I have in Europe, and could peacefully admire the unusual buildings from the 1900s, the 1930s and even the 1960s, each with a strong architectural imprint of its time. The area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and will undergo a restauration programme.
In an ideal world, I would consider moving there except that the reality is always there to tell us otherwise. The city has a serious problem with its rubbish collection, the streets are dirty and lined with all sorts of garbage which seem to just stay there. It is one of the most expensive cities in Africa with rental prices going as high as 7,000 US$ per month, it is getting increasingly unsafe with armed robberies, assaults and so on. The day I left, a big march for peace and against kidnappings was organised in town. I was told that in the last few months the number of kidnappings (particularly of children) had increased to the point that many families needed to hire a bodyguard to protect themselves. In the weeks leading up to this march, clashes between the government and the opposition had multiplied in the Provinces. People are unhappy and frustrated with the current government. I hope a solution will be found soon as it would be detrimental to Mozambique and its current dynamic state of development if the situation deteriorated further.
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I’ve been talking to a friend about the countries we could see ourselves escaping to. Mozambique was close to the top of the list. So as interesting as this latest update is, it’s a bit depressing as well!
Great as always to get your news.
J’ai failli aller vivre à Maputo. J’était excitée comme une puce, je partais de Kigali à Maputo. L’euphorie a duré 24 heures… Genève avait changé d’avis et m’envoyait à Jakarta à la place. Ma vie a pris un autre tournant…
I thought African countries keeping their cultural heritage was a good thing. Even tho it can take time for expats to assimilate.
Thank you for your comment….and yes I agree it is a very good thing for African countries to keep their culture and heritage. I also knew when writing my impression of going to Maputo from Addis that it was a sensitive topic, because I was touching on culture heritage and colonisation (in this case of Mozambique). I am currently reading a very interesting travel book from a European in Japan in the 1960s and he says very similar things about Japanese culture: the way it can be impenetrable for foreigners. I am making a lot of parallels with Ethiopia as I recognise similar situations. Japan also has an insular history and was closed to foreign influence for a long time. The same author says that to understand a country we have to know the language and the history. Like me in Ethiopia, he only has a part of the picture because he doesn’t speak japanese. Without a deep understanding of the language, we do remain outsiders, I believe.
I know AA is has a long way to go before it becomes international metropolitan. Hope it maintains some local color too. My best wishes sir.
I am not a Sir! Women can express a valid opinion too!!!!
Sorry…there was no way I could have guessed it from the name Salambo which sounds like a male African name btw. Enjoy your stay 🙂
I know you couldn’t have known……you know that Salambo was a woman, sister of Hannibal the legendary hero of Carthage…thank you very much for reading my blog:)
I have heard the name Hannibal before but that is just it. I had no idea whether he was mythological or real. So you are from Morocco? I like your writing style. I sure follow the blog. Jah bless.