Island of Principe (Sao Tome and Principe), 1727. Old view of the island of Príncipe, the bay of the port and the Fortaleza da Ponta da Mina (on the left)
Island of Principe (Sao Tome and Principe), 1727. Old view of the island of Príncipe, the bay of the port and the Fortaleza da Ponta da Mina (on the left)

The Fortress of Santo António da Ponta da Mina, Principe Island

This post is also available in: Italian

Written by Marco Ramerini, photos and information by James Leese. English text revision by Dietrich Köster.

According to a source dated 1815, this was the situation of the Portuguese forts on the island of Príncipe, in particular in the Bay of San António, where almost all the boats anchored: the two main defenses of the bay were the fortress of Ponta da Mina and the fortress of Santa Ana.

The fortress Ponta da Mina was built on a promontory that forms the southern tip of the port, the importance of this fortification was essential, because nearby were passing and were at anchor the ships arriving in port. From the fortress of Ponta da Mina, which was composed of two batteries (“Bateria Real” and “Bateria do Príncipe”), of which depended the Redoubt “Nazareth”, the low stronghold “Praça Baixa de Nossa Senhora” and the battery “São João”.

The fortress consisted of two batteries, the “Bateria Real”, which was the upper one and the “Bateria do Príncipe” located further down. The “Bateria Real” was situated very high above the harbor about 500 feet high, its shape was semicircular with the convex side facing the sea, it was armed with 16 pieces of bronze artillery of various calibers (from 3 to 14), there was also a small depot of gunpowder and on high ground was the place of residence of the garrison, besides this was a round shaped depot of gunpowder (like a windmill) and of poor construction.

Gateway to the Lower Fort, Fortaleza da Ponta da Mina, Príncipe island. Author and Copyright James Leese

Gateway to the Lower Fort, Fortaleza da Ponta da Mina, Príncipe island. Author and Copyright James Leese

The “Bateria do Príncipe” was west of the “Bateria Real” and was reached by a path that went down in a zig-zag starting from the “Bateria Real”. The “Bateria do Príncipe” was the most important for the defense of the port, because it was only 200 feet above sea level, it was a square shaped and made of stone and lime, 33 palms large and 120 palms long, the height of the inside wall was 9 palms, on the north side were five iron pieces of artillery with a caliber of 6, on the west side were two pieces of the same caliber, and on the south side was a single piece of caliber 4, while in the east was the mountain with the “Bateria Real”.

At 50 toezas east of the “Bateria Real” and on a height of 35 feet above the sea was the redoubt called “Praça Baixa de Nossa Senhora”, this fortification had three pieces of iron artillery of caliber 3 and it was very important for the defense of the port.

Lower Fort, Fortaleza da Ponta da Mina, Príncipe island. Author and Copyright James Leese

Lower Fort, Fortaleza da Ponta da Mina, Príncipe island. Author and Copyright James Leese

On a nearby hill overlooking the fortress of Ponta da Mina on the southwest side (“sudoeste”) was a redoubt called “Nossa Senhora da Nazareth”, who is described as the most interesting military work of the island of Príncipe. It was because of this lack that the French easily conquered the island in 1706 and 1709. The redoubt had two bronze cannons with a caliber of 4 and a moat with a drawbridge.

This redoubt controls all the fortifications of the island: only a shot of espingarda away were the “Bateria Real”, the “Bateria do Príncipe” and the “Praça Baixa de Nossa Senhora”.

A shot of espingarda to the west (“oeste”) from the fortress of Ponta da Mina was another battery called São João, where there were two iron cannons with a caliber of 6.

Canons of Ponta da Mina, Fortaleza da Ponta da Mina, Príncipe island. Author and Copyright James Leese

Canons of Ponta da Mina, Fortaleza da Ponta da Mina, Príncipe island. Author and Copyright James Leese

This description corresponds with what was found by James Leese, who is studying the fortifications of the island. The fort of Ponta da Mina was the main fort of the area and served as the main defense on the sea side, another fort was on the opposite side of the bay at Ponta Santana (Santa Ana). The place was visited by James Leese, and currently there are only visible remains of a stone wall. To confirm the existence of a fort on the Ponta de Santana there is the testimony of some locals that some guns were found on this site.

On the site indicated by the map as Ponta Forte, James Leese has found remains, he presumed to be the premises of a garrison, although there are clear traces that the area was used for the processing of cocoa. During the research in the area of the fort of Ponta da Mina 34 iron guns were found, some of which are ship guns.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

– José Brandão Pereira de Melo “A fortaleza de Santo António da Ponta da Mina na Ilha do Príncipe” 1943

– James Leese “e-mail” to me in 2005 and 2006

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