PORT LOUIS – MAURITIUS: WHAT TO SEE
Port Louis is a MUST destination if you decide to stay in Mauritius: the town isn’t very big but it’s full of contrasts, chaotic and with a population among the most varied in the world.
If we look at the history in fact, the first persons to discover the island of Mauritius were the Arabian followed by the Malaysian and by the Portuguese, but the island remained inhabited because nobody settled down here. Later, five Dutch ships were obliged to land in the island beacuse of a storm. They called this land “Maurice”, in honour of the Prince Maurice from Nassau. Mauritius became this way a Dutch colony until the beginning of 1700, when the French took over: their traces are visible still today in the capital Port Louis. The French tried to exploit Mauritius as a basis to attack the English who, tired of this behaviour, conquered the island: it’s the period of the English colonization. Slavery was abolished thanks to the British and a lot of workers came to the island: there were from China, Madagascar, Africa, Japan but above all from India, that’s why today the predominant ethnicity was the Indo-Mauritanian one. To talk to a real indipendence of Mauritius, we must however wait until 1968.
Maybe Mauritius, and in particular Port Louis, fascinate people thanks to this mix. Several different people live together, and also the town presents two diffrent faces: the old and cahotic town, a bit decadent but with very clean streets and buildings, and the new zone, near the harbour, where the scenery changes completely. Suddenly you’ll see high skyscrapers, modern bars and locals, banks and a lot of music along the streets: I’d define it a little metropol, similar to the big and modern Asian ones. The decadence of the town leaves space to a completely different and surprising world. Port Louis could be called “the town of contrasts”.
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ARRIVING TO PORT LOUIS
My suggestion is not to arrive by car on your own, but it’s better to call a taxi driver: the traffic in the surroundings of the capital is crazy: cars everywhere and horns blowing all the time without a break. Should you choose to drive on you own however, I suggest you to arrive to Port Louis in the early morning, and to park at Caudan Waterfront: you’ll have to pay something but at least your car is safe. The old town is not a good zone to search for a park.
WHAT TO SEE IN PORT LOUIS
The areas to see in Port Louis are essentially three: the Citadel, Fort Adelaide, the old town with its fish and meat markets and the cahotic life that characterised it, and the Caudan Waterfront, in the new area of the harbour, with its relaxing and quiet atmosphere. There are also museums and temples, but go with order to discover the capital of Mauritius.
THE CITADEL – FORT ADELAIDE
It’s a fortification built to defend the town in case of internal insurrections after the abolition of slavery from the English. Today it has a less military function: it’s in fact site of artistic demonstrations and concerts. Before going into, we took the first amazing photos over the town.
The place at first impact is not so beautiful, but it’s great to admire the town from the top and to walk along the walls: I received a great sense of freedom!
Always from the top, you can see the autodrome Champs de Mars, in the past place of the colonial troupes’ training, while today is site of important demonstrations, as the Feast of Indipendence and others like horse racings.
THE OLD TOWN AND THE CENTRAL MARKET
You can’t skip to walk along the streets enjoying the local atmosphere and visiting the beautiful central market: a very lively market for its colours and for people coming and going. The stalls are full of products exposed in a tidy and precise way: vegetables and tropical fruits, very rare spices, medicinal herbs but also textures and objects from the local craft. A riot of colours and parfumes you can’t renounce to see!
The market of the mea and fish could make you sick, if you are not a butcher like my husband! I don’t show you some kinds of images, but the place didn’t smell, there weren’t flies running around (at least in June, their winter) and the place in general is very clean. What beautiful I noticed was the people, sellers and workers are very kind with strangers: they don’t oblige you to buy anything and they pose for the camera; an extraordinary popluation.
Not to skip at few steps from the central market is Chinatown with the Jummah Mosque, the biggest white Mosque in Mauritius; it’s curious that it’s inside the Chinese neighbourhood and not in the Muslim one (Plaine Verte). It’s only partially visitable because some areas are strictly reserved to the Muslims. Someone could climb to the roof to admire the amazing view over the town, but I don’t know if it is still achievable.
Interesting from an historical point of view is the “Port Louis Theatre”, always in the centre, one of the most ancient of the Indian Ocean, the “Government Palace” linked to the seafront by “Place des Armes”, the main square where is the “Mahe de La Bourdonnais’ statue”, founder of Mauritius. You can see all these attractions walking.
Always near to the central market there’s another place of great historical interest, it was in fact declared from UNESCO World Heritage Site: Aapravasi Ghat. It’s a complex of buildings representing the access door for the immigrants: after slavery was abolished, the English called a lot of workers from different countries , above all from India. Their first impact with the island coincided with this place where they were gathered, controlled, to be them sent to the various plantations. Contrary on what we can think, this was not a place for slaves: here all workers were regularly paid and if they wanted, could return free to their country. The Aapravasi Ghat is the place the British government chose for the “Great Experiment”, that is the substitution of the slaves with a real work force. I think UNESCO wanted to underline one of the most beautiful example of humanity and respect of the history that, as we know, not always is based on good values. Inside the museum you’ll find testimonies, photos and a reconstruction of the immigrants’ life before they began the work. I’m sorry, I don’t know why I can’t find the photos regarding this museum.
Opening hours: open from Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 16:00 – Sunday from 9:00 to 12:00
This is the most recent area of Port Louis, characterized by high skyscrapers and by the presence of several bars and locals, so deeply different from the zone I’ve just described. Along the streets there’s always a light music as background, played by some street artists: this contributes to create a relaxed and quiet atmosphere. Nevertheless the bright colours of some strange monuments and other constructions give a touch of joy, typical of the island of Mauritius.
Very pleasant for a walk is also the harbour zone, where very nice palms run along the seafront, and where cleaning and a perfect order reigns.
The Casino is another rather peculiar point of town, with the symbol of the lion at the entry.
In the surroundings of Caudan Waterfront there’s the “Penny Museum”, the most ancient and meaningful museum of Mauritius: it contains prestigious collections that put into evidence the historical and cultural richness and the differences of Mauritius. It’s name is associated to a sham of 1847: it’s the original of a blue stamp from two penny, exposed right in this museum.
Opening hours: everyday from 10:00 to 17:00, except Sundays and the days of public holidays.
Costs: adults 6.30 Euro; 3 Euro for children.
A universe of rare and precious stamps, if you’re fond of philately, can be found at the “Postal Museum of Port Louis “, returning to the centre.
OTHER MUSEUMS AND ATTRACTIONS
I state that we didn’t visit the museums I’ve described in this article because Giada, our daughter, was tired. If you’d like to visit some of them, consider a bit more time.
- Another interesting museum is the “Natural History Museum”, located on the ground floor of the Mauritius Institute, near the theatre: it hosts a reproduction of creatures that today are extinct, among them the DODO, become symbol of Mauritius. Free entry.
The Dodo was a big and stocky bird, 25kg, with grey streaked feathers, short legs and curved beak, 20 cm long. It wasn’t able to fly and too tame to attack, so it was exterminated in few years by dogs and pigs but also by the first Portguese and Dutch. The Portuguese called it “dodo”, that is “stupid”, for the fact that it was so easy to catch. Even if extinct for centuries, the dodo is a real symbol of Mauritius, so that it is on the national emblem. You can find it in every local artisans’ stall as a souvenir.
- The “Photography Museum”: it offers a wide collection of photographe tools used mainky in 1800 – 1900 and you’ll discover photography from its roots.
Opening hours: from Monday to Friday from 10:00 to 15:00
Cost: 8 Euro; free until 12
- “Rajiv Gandhi Science Center”, in the suburbs of Port Louis: it’s a scientific interactive path, suitable for children: they’ll see the fundamental principles of mechanics, of light, of waves and sound.
Opening hours: everyday from 10:00 to 16:30
Prices: adults 3 Euro; children 1.50 Euro
Right out Port Louis, at about 13 km car towards the North of the island, I’ll suggest you to visit “botanical gardens of Pamplemousse” (I’ll tell you about it here), and the colonial house “Eureka”, about 12 km towards the South, where everything seems unchanged over time and inside it’ s still furnished. The oark is very beautiful with some waterfalls on the frontal part of the house. Similar and very nice too it’s the colonial house “Chateau de Labourdonnais” that shall allow you to appreciate better the first one; it’s about 290 minutes by car from Port Louis towards the North.
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THE MEANING OF TRAVEL FOR ME
In the last years I follow what Dalai Lama says:” At least once a year go to a place you’ve never been before”.
After years of sufferings and sacrifices, I’ve decided that life is too short and too unpredictable to continue waiting to do what I like and what makes me happy.
I like exploring the world where I live, take photos of it in general but also in its details, film it to hold back those subtle emotions that you could forget over time, and in the end share with you what I’ve seen and felt through my articles.
Travel is for me Love – Freedom – Gratitude
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