Luanda, formerly named São Paulo da Assunção de Loanda, is the capital city of Angola, and the country’s most populous and important city, primary port and major industrial, cultural and urban centre.
Located on Angola’s coast with the Atlantic Ocean, Luanda is both Angola’s chief seaport and its administrative centre. It has a metropolitan population of over 6 million.
It is also the capital city of Luanda Province, and the world’s third most populous Portuguese-speaking city, behind only São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both in Brazil, and the most populous Portuguese-speaking capital city in the world, ahead of Brasília, Maputo and Lisbon.
Portuguese explorer Paulo Dias de Novais founded Luanda on 25 January 1576 as “São Paulo da Assumpção de Loanda”, with one hundred families of settlers and four hundred soldiers.
By the time of Angolan independence in 1975, Luanda was a modern city. The majority of its population was African, but it was dominated by a strong minority of white Portuguese origin.
After the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon on April 25, 1974, with the advent of independence and the start of the Angolan Civil War (1975–2002), most of the white Portuguese Luandans left as refugees, principally for Portugal, with many travelling overland to South Africa.
The city saw some sporadic fighting during the Civil War which left bullet holes in many highrises and government building. When peace was reached in 2002, the government began planning to rebuild using oil revenues.
Today Luanda’s skyline is dotted with cranes, erecting numerous social housing highrises to replace slums and existing, but grossly dilapidated, 40-plus year old highrises as well as offices for numerous foreign companies operating in Angola.
Just South of Luanda in an area aptly called Luanda Sul, Western-standard housing, many compound style, is being built for the growing expat community. Major improvements are being made to roads, highways, and the rail system in and around the city but there is yet an overwhelming amount of work to be done.
And while certainly still home to a large impoverished population (59%), free housing and the creation of thousands of new jobs each year means that Luanda may in years to come have a bright future ahead.
Things To See
- Augostinho Neto Mausoleum: Upon arrival in Luanda, it is impossible to miss the towering obelisk-like structure shooting above the rest of the city. If you’re curious to know what it is and why it is there, it’s a mausoleum dedicated to Augustinho Neto, the first President of Angola who helped in Angola’s struggle for independence.
- Fortaleza de São Miguel: Built in 1576, it became the administrative center of Luanda during the early part of colonial rule and was a self-contained city for the early military garrison and an important holding place for slaves. It contains ornate wall tiles detailing the history of the city along with many relics, such as cannons and the original holding cells for slaves.
- National Museum of Slavery (Museu Nacional da Escravatura): Built in the area where the slaves were held prior to being taken off to the Americas. The museum building is the Capa de Casa Grande, which is where they baptized slaves prior to sending them off to the Americas. Currently (Aug., 2011) the museum is worth seeing for the chapel itself and the cannons on the outside. In the center of the chapel is a fascinating stone font, but with no description. There are a few period objects of real interest (such as stocks, a whip, shackles), but the framed prints on the walls are mostly copies from published works, with relatively little accompanying information. On a mid-week visit there was no evidence of any knowledgeable guide, and no one available to turn on the video flatscreen monitor that seems to be part of the exhibit. Still, the high, windswept location at Morro da Cruz is beautiful.
- National Museum of Natural History: A museum filled with thousands of species of animals, including fish, birds, crustaceons, and insects. Many of the displayed animals are endangered, and some are even extinct. The museum does an impecable job of displaying the large amount of diverse organisms that inhabit and once inhabited this nation.
- National Museum of Anthropology (Museu Nacional de Antropologia): Dedicated to educating people about Angolan history and culture, the National Museum of Anthropology features an impressive array of traditional masks along with art, sculptures, tools, weaponry, jewelry, clothing, and musical instruments. Free.
- Fortaleza de São Pedro da Barra: A fortress that served a variety of purposes throughout its history. It was originally constructed in the 17th century to protect the area from invaders. When the slave trade began, it was then used as a keep for the slaves until they were ready to send them away. Throughout Angola’s struggle for independence against Portugal from 1961-1975, the fort housed nationalists who were arrested and then forced into labor camps.
- Igreja Nossa Senhora do Pópulo (Igreja da Sé): Considered to be the first Anglican Church, it is one of Luanda’s most treasured cultural and historical sites. The current structure dates back to 1482. Aside from its religious significance, the unique Baroque architecture and the lavish interior attract many visitors.
- Humbi-Humbi Art Gallery:
Drive down the beautiful bay.
Additionally, you MUST try the Benfica market, which sells everything from perfume to ivory to animal skins and tourist guidebooks. Also take the boat out to Mussulo, the best beach in town.