The Maputo Walking Tour is the best option for those visiting Maputo for the first time, with the best of our historical downtown to appreciate. We go back in time and see where the city started; having a rapid development with the construction of the railroad that connected the old Lourenço Marques to South Africa.
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Departure & Return Location
The coast of Mozambique was initially not much more than a way station for the Portuguese ships on their travels to and from Spice Islands, in present day Indonesia. The Portuguese had broken into the very lucrative Arab/Venetian monopoly – spices were light and easy to transport and very expensive in Europe which produced only salt as a condiment.
Today, Maputo Bay forms a valuable natural harbor accessible throughout the year. Several rivers flow into the bay, the Inkomati in the north, the Espíritu Santo or the Inglés river in the west (actually formed by the Matola, Umbeluzi and Tembe rivers) and the Maputo and Umfusi rivers come from the south. Maputo takes its name from the Maputo River. However, the Portuguese did not use the bay as a way station, although it does appear on a map from 1502. In 1545, a Portuguese merchant named Lourenço Marques explored the upper reaches of the estuaries with a patent from King João III and established the ivory trade there. Later, the Portuguese called it the Bay of Lourenço Marques. Marques himself allegedly called it Baía da Lagoa (lagoon bay) and therefore the British called it Delagoa Bay. Portuguese ships arrived once a year and anchored for a few months on one of the islands, trading with the various local chiefs. In the 1660s, Portuguese trade decreased; the opportunities further north were probably more attractive. British private traders and occasionally Dutch ships came, as well as pirates who finally scared the traders.
In the 1721 Dutch East Indian company built an octagonal fort and a trading station called Lijdzaamheid in what is now Maputo, with an expeditionary corps of 113 men. It was under the authority of the cape colony. It was abandoned in 1730 due to lack of profits. From 1750 onwards trade picked up again. In 1778 the Austrian India Company under the Dutch-born adventurer William Bolts built a permanent trading post with 155 settlers and successfully trade ivory (although the main aim was to establish trade with India) until the Portuguese evicted them in 1781 with the help of a 40-gun frigate and 500 men coming from Goa, India. This was the begging of a permanent Portuguese governmental presence in what is today Maputo and was then called Lourenço Marques (L.M). A simple wooden fort was built. There was a brief interruption, when in 1796 French ships destroyed the outpost and the Portuguese only came back 3 years later. Starting in 1780’s, whalers began using the lagoon to load fresh supplies, especially cattle. In 1811 part of the fort was at last constructed in stone – 14 soldiers manned it. Nguni tribesmen attacked it in 1821 and 1822. It was only in 1825 when a Portuguese whale company (Companhia Comercial das Feitorias de Lourenço Marques e Inhambane) was established that the first Portuguese settlers arrived in Lourenço Marques. It is said that at this point the settlements outside the fortress consisted of only one wooden house and the stone building of the company. In 1823 captain W.F.W Owen Conclueded treaties of cession with the chiefs south of Lourenço Marques in the area of present day Catembe and hoisted the British flag.
Lourenço Marques became important and started to develop in the earnest in the late 1870’s. In 1868 president Marthinus Pretorius of the Boer Republic of Transvaal had claimed the country on both sides of the bay. In the following year however Transvaal and Portugal signed a treaty in which the boarders between Mozambique and the present day South Africa were delineated more or less as they are now. The treaty included a free trade agreement and road access to the port of Lourenço Marques.
The social background of Lourenço Marques was complex. In the late 19th and well into the first half of the 20th century the British dominated the commercial affairs of the town and of Mozambique in general.
Africans where gradually evicted out of the town center by increased regulations calling for houses to be built of stone and cement. This, they could not afford because of the low wages. Even if they could, they would not be given building permits.
Independence at last allowed the Africans to roam the town at will and without fear. The Portuguese population largely fled.
1- Independence square – with the:
a) Big white cathedral (starting point): officially called Nossa Senhora da Conceição, the cathedral (as it is mostly known) or demon’s cathedral was built in the 1930’s – 1940’s by Marcial Simões Freitas e Costa, who was a deputy director of the railways at the time and worked free of charge. The construction was a major feat for the catholic church of the time, which was still reeling under the effects of the revolution of the 1910 in Portugal and had a very weak presence in Mozambique.
This was one of the places in the city were hundreds of people had the opportunity to see Pope Franscisco during his visit to Mozambique (3rd to 6th September, 2019). The second but not least important visit we have had of a Pope.
Inside there is art work by Francisco Franco (statue of the sacred Heart of Christ, the baptismal figures, the bronze doors), Simões Freitas (the marble statues), and Antonio Lino (marble altars). The stained glass windows were produced in the Netherlands during the war. Today we can see different patterns on the stained glasses as result of an incident that happened in 2007 (explosion of a bunker) and caused a lot of destruction and deaths in Maputo.
Nossa Senhora da Conceição is a nice example of the lots of Art Deco buildings we have in Maputo. Some people even say that if we join all the Art Deco buildings we have in Maputo, this could maybe be a little Miami.
b) Town hall: was designed and built in the 1940’s by architects Carlos César dos Santos, Franz Keindl and Arnaldo Pacheco Pereira Leite. In front of it, in the Lisbon–style pavement used to be inscribed the words, “Aqui é Portugal” (this is Portugal), the words of president Américo Tomás when he visited Mozambique in 1964. Instead of the present day statue of Samora Machel, there used to be an equestrian statue of Mousinho de Albuquerque (now in the fort). The building together with the cathedral used to be the pride of Portuguese Mozambique.
Inside we have nice models of the old Lourenço Marques (present day Maputo) and a nice hall to see.
c) Statue of the first president: The Samora Machel Statue is a bronze sculpture located in the center of Praça da Independência. The statue depicts Samora Machel (1933-1986), military, revolutionary, and the first President of Mozambique. The statue was designed and constructed in Pyongyang, North Korea, by the Mansudae Overseas Projects, an arm of the Mansudae Art Studio. It stands 9 meters and weighs 4.8 tons. The statue sits on a marble slab 2.7 metres high at the head of Samora Machel Avenue, and is illuminated at night. The statue has been criticized for bearing little resemblance to Samora. The Samora Machel Statue sits in front of Maputo City Hall on the spot formerly occupied by a statue of Mouzinho de Albuquerque, General of Portuguese Mozambique from 1896 to 1897.
The statue was inaugurated on October 19, 2011, the 25th anniversary of Machel’s death in an aircraft crash on the convergence of the borders of Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. Armando Guebuza, the President of Mozambique at that time, led the construction of the statue and its inauguration ceremony, which was attended by numerous foreign dignitaries.
2- French Mozambican Cultural Center: the French Mozambican cultural center is today one of the busiest cultural centers in town, with lots of cultural events (live music, photo expositions, etc.).
The building was originally built by Dr. Eduardo de Almeida Saldanha to be a social club and a casino in 1989 (the same year Lourenço Marques became the capital of Mozambique). The architects were Wells Inc. of Lourenço Marques and the builders were Rochelle & Smith of Johannesburg. The ironwork was imported from Scotland. But the concession for a casino was not given, so the grandiose plans of Saldanha came to nothing. He sold the building to two Englishmen who made it into the famous “Hotel club” in 1906. In 1917 it was enlarged and an annex with 50 rooms was built. After being derelict for a long time, the French converted it into a cultural center in the 1990’s.
Inside, apart from the exposition room and the stage we can see artwork by Gonçalo Mabunda, one of the most popular artists in Mozambique in modern days – with his planes, chairs, etc., made out of bullets, guns and iron.
3- Iron house: designed by Gustave Eiffel, the building was brought pre-fabricated from Belgium in 1892 and assembled outside what was the town by those days. He liked neither the building (lets imagine why – an iron house in a hot country like Mozambique + no air conditioners) nor the isolated site. So the court of justice was supposed to move in but did not want to. It ended up as a girl school of the sisters Hospitallers to be closed when religious orders were removed from public schools after the revolution of 1910 and was later as offices. In 1972 it was moved to the present site to house a geographical museum, with displays also showing how an office would have looked at the time of the Portuguese geographical expeditions. Today it houses the cultural heritage authority of Mozambique.
4- Tunduro Garden: One of the most beautiful and green spaces in Maputo. If you do the tour on Saturday you will find it even more interesting as you will see a lot of wedding celebrations going on – a lot of dancing, singing and happiness.
But no matter the day you do the tour, the big fruit bats will be there for you (a bit of safari in the city).
Before independence, the garden was called Vasco da Gama, in homage to the Portuguese explorer but right after independence the name changed, just like the name of the city, avenues… – we will explain you during the tour the reason why we had all these changes.
The local horticulture and floriculture society had already occupied the lower part of the terrain since 1885. The upper part was originally the garden of the villa Joia. Thomas Honey joined the two together in 1907 and designed them the way they are now. Thomas Honey had previously designed gardens to the sultan of Turkey and the king of Greece. The entrance arch in neo–Manueline style was put up in 1924 on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s death.
Inside the gardens it is also possible to see a small cast iron “wallace” water fountain with four caryatides supporting a dome made by Fonderies d’Art du Val d’Osne in 1872. Many of these still exist in Paris and are named after the benefactor, Sir Richard Wallace, who erected them in order to provide safe drinking water. How did it come to Maputo? On theory it was brought here as a gift by French Engineer Eugène François Tissot, who had acquired the Lourenço Marques drinking water concession in1985. Tissot incidentally met a dramatic death – he first killed his wife and daughter and them himself with a pistol.
5- Central Market: The best market in Maputo –fresh and clean– was built in 1901 by David Carvalho with iron elements imported from Belgium.
Come here if you want to get ingredients for a very Mozambican dish. You can buy here Cassava leaves to prepare the famous Matapa with prawns and even get tips from the ladies on how to make it.
Mozambique offers the most the most delicious dishes distilled from its fascinating and rich history. Arabic, Portuguese, Chinese, British and Indian influences have all been integrated using indigenous ingredients and cooking methods. The Portuguese influence has greatly impacted the cuisine of Mozambique, such as, Mandioca (a starchy root of Brazilian origin), cashew nuts (also from Brazil) and bread.
The use of spices and seasonings such as onions, garlic, sweet peppers, bay leaves, lemons, fresh coriander, paprika, cinnamon and of course “piripiri” chili peppers, with wine (also introduced by the Portuguese).
Over the time, the culinary skills of the local chefs and women have developed into an unique and delicious array of stews and curries. But it is often simplicity that offers the most delicious experience. Seafood is fresh and abundant and so grilled prawns, lobsters, calamari and a variety of tropical fish and clams are with just salt, a squeeze of lemon, garlic and perhaps a dash of piripiri (hot chili sauce). Eating local traditional dishes, that differ slightly with location in the country, such as Matapa, will be fulfilling experience to any visitor.
We also stop to try some local fruits: Massala, Ata, Coração de boi, or the one that calls your attention.
6- Mosque – the mosque on Rua da Mesquita was the first mosque in Maputo, stated in wood and zinc as most of the constructions in this area. The lower facade is of 1887, with parts added on in 1902, the mosque itself is new. This was the area where the Indian population lived.
The mosque also shows how good the relations between the different religious groups are, considering that this southern part of the country is mostly Christian and the biggest part of the Muslim community is on the northern part of the country. The country is mostly Christian but there are no religious conflicts between the most different religious groups.
7- Train station: It is sometimes said to be the most beautiful in the southern Africa. The Maputo central station is on an America magazine list of the most beautiful train stations worldwide as the 3rd most beautiful. We are not going to tell you which ones make the Top Ten list and will keep it as a surprise for when we go in the train station and see the photo exposition of the list.
The train station was built in 1908 – 1910 and designed by Alfredo Augusto Lisboa de Lima, Mário Veiga and José Cristian da Paula Ferreira da Costa (and not Gustave Eiffel as some people believe), and constructed by the local builders Buccellato & Brother. Pietro Buccellato did all the work on stucco; the cupola was pre-fabricated in South Africa. Two old steam locomotives can be seen displayed when you enter. One of them, the Gaza or No.1 used to travel on the narrow gauge railroad between Xai-Xai and Manjacaze and the branch line beyond, the other was the first model to run between Maputo and Pretoria. There are not many passenger trains running anymore and they essentially serve poorer suburbs between South Africa and Marracuene. Near the end of the rails on the left in the former waiting room is an active gallery run by the cultural organization Kulungwana. Before the gallery you can also stop for a drink or lunch in the Xitimela (train) restaurant.
The train station is quite popular. Some of the scenes for the movie blood diamond by Leonardo DiCaprio were shot here.
8- Bagamoyo street: New Orleans in Maputo, that is the feeling most people who have been to New Orleans have when they walk through this street. Called Araujo street before independence, the street started as a residencies street, but because of its location –close to the harbor– it started to become a bit busier with lots of hotels, bars, most of them run down nowadays. It is a treasure of French colonial architecture with buildings with their iron pillars and decks during the day, and the street that doesn’t sleep during the night. Bagamoyo is a red light district and the street where Leonardo DiCaprio had other set of scenes for the movie Blood Diamond.
9- Fortress: Nossa Senhora da Conceição or Fortaleza was originally built of wood in 1787. In 1811 the wall towards the sea was erected in stone. A plan of 1851 shows that the whole fortress was now made of stone. In its present form, it is a renovation and part reconstruction following a 1945 proposal of Joaquim Areal Silva of the Direcção de Monumentos Nacionais. The complete work was inaugurated only in 1956. The two battlements of the landside and the connecting wall are mostly original. Inside there are many remains from fortresses around the country (including the dismantled Fort of Sofala), cannon and other historic objects. There is a coffin carved by Paulo Come containing the remains of Ngungunhana, King of Gaza who died in 1906 and the statue of his Victor Mouzinho de Albuquerque who had ironically died even earlier in 1902 by his own hand. His statue was originally erected in 1940’s in front of the Municipal Council (where we see the statue of Samora Machel today). Leopoldo Simões e Almeida was the sculptor. Also there is a statue of António Enes by Teixeira Lopes, which was originally on the square in front of the fort.
Many interesting treasures to be discovered! We are looking forward to sharing them with you. 😀