Ribeira Grande, which is today known as Cidade Velha (old city), is the oldest settlement in the Cape Verde Islands and was the first European City in the tropics.
The settlement was founded in 1462 by Antonio de Noli and prospered due to its importance at the centre of the slave trade. It became a city in 1572 and had a Cathedral, which was (belatedly) completed in 1693. The great explorers Christopher Columbus and Vasco de Gama both stopped here during voyages, Christopher Columbus during his 3rd voyage to the Americas in 1498 and Vasco de Gama on his way to India in 1497.
Despite being relatively defensible on it’s seaward side, the location of Ribeira Grande proved to have a strategic flaw. Pirates, who plagued the seas at the time, could easily land at Praia, which is just 13km away, and attack the city from behind.
The ruined Real do Sao Filipe Fort, which overlooks the town, was built in 1590 to protect Ribeira Grande following a devastating attack by Francis Drake. This defence proved to be inadequate and in 1712 the city was sacked by French Prirate, Jacques Cassart.
The Pirate attack of 1712 signalled the demise of Ribeira Grande’s importance and the crumbling ruins of today’s Cidade Velha give just the slightest hint of its former glory.