Cahora & Tete

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Tete’s historic forts

Tete’s historic forts

This gate into the fort was replaced at the time of the Second World War.
This gate into the fort was replaced at the time of the Second World War.
Henrik Ellert / Gigi Guimbeau

Henrik Ellert is an ethnographic and historical researcher and writer. Interest in art and ethnography has proven invaluable in Ellert’s professional career in private sector development work in Africa. The following excerpts will be published in Mocambique Mosaic due later in 2013.

The arrival of the Portuguese in Africa at the close of the 15th century brought about a series of defensive fortifications along the Mozambique coast and up the Zambezi valley. Examples of this may be found on Mozambique Island, on Ibo Island, at Sena and in Tete.

The constructions were designed to shock and awe local inhabitants – symbols of power – for conquest and domination. But whilst the architectural designs were Portuguese, these edifices were built with the sweat and toil of African labour.

Most of these buildings – some over 400 years old – are remarkable for their homogeneity. Through the centuries the builders used the same basic methods and locally available materials – with contemporary Portuguese masonry techniques.

Fort of São Tiago Maior do Tete - Fortaleza do Tete
Tete was the site of a vibrant seasonal market place, or feira, where coastal traders traded goods with the inland state of Monomotapa. Although first occupied by the Portuguese in 1530, it only achieved the status of a town in 1763. The fortification that has become known as São Tiago Maior do Tete was constructed in the period 1575-1576 at a time when the Portuguese were consolidating their presence in the Zambezi Valley.

This fortification was built at the initiative of Capitão-general Caetano de Melo e Castro (1682-1686). In 1911-1912, the then governor of Tete sought to demolish the fort but it was instead converted into a warehouse and garage. The walls of the building were re-built in 1942 and it is still used for business purposes today. It is located close to the banks of the Zambezi adjacent to the bridge.

The plaque, now at the Maputo fort museum, commemorates the opening of warehouses at Tete in the 18th century. 

Forte de D. Luis
This fort was built between 1835-1836 on the highest point of Tete and offers a commanding view of the surrounding area. It was constructed in classical colonial military architecture with ramparts for canon placement and semi-circular bastions at each corner.  The fort is neglected and sections of walling have collapsed.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 12, March 2013)

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Cahora Bassa & Tete