The island of S.Nicolau is situated to the north of the Archipelago. With a surface area of 346 km2, its widest point in the North/South direction of 25 km is on the western side and its shape is very similar to that of the African Continent, narrowing to the east for a distance of 52 km. The very active volcanic past of the island is majestically visible in Monte Gordo, the highest peak of the island with an altitude of 1304 m. Two separate clusters of peaks part from there, one in a North/South direction, the other from East to West. Upon reaching the sea this succession of hills and plains terminates in almost sheer cliffs. The valleys on the whole are generally narrow and deep, except for the VALE DE FAJÁ which is wide and fertile enough for agriculture to flourish.
Although S.Nicolau was discovered on the 6th of December 1461, it was only during the middle of the XVII century, when the first village was built in Porto da Lapa, that people began to settle there.
However, because of the constant attacks by pirates, the inhabitants moved inland and settled in Ribeira Brava. Access to the sea was obtained through the Port of Preguiça in the Bay of S.Jorge and in 1818 a fortress was built there to defend the local inhabitants from pirates.
Agricultural conditions were good and the main export at the time was coffee, which was later replaced by sugar cane. At the same time, the fishing industry was developed which brought with it the canning fish industry. It was on the island of S.Nicolau that the 1st seminary of the Archipelago has established, on the 5th of September 1866. Open later to lay teaching it became the centre of evangelization, spreading the Romon Catholic faith throughout Cape Verde and Western Africa. It was also important for the role it played in the Cape Verdean culture and its teachings influenced generations for years to come.
Religious Festivais and Processions Of special note are:
Celebrated in the vilíage of FAJÁ, starting with mass, followed by processions and then games and other forms of entertainment, for example a horse race in which the riders have to pull paper strips from a wooden beam.
After S.Vicente, the carnaval celebrations here are considered to be the most animated in the Country.
One of the popular Portuguese saints, his anniversary is celebrated with processions and dancing.
Dancing is an integral part of all events in S.Nicolau; from the waltz and the square dance with instructions in French, to the typical Portuguese dances.
Baptism is also a special event and associated to it is a curious tradition called "guarda cabeça" which literally means, guarding the baby's head from the evil witches until midnight from the sixth to the seventh day, after the day of birth. The way used to frighten off these bad witches is by making a lot of noise and drinking and eating.
The traditional weddings are also full of rituals that are observed from the day of engagement to the actual wedding day.
Food and Drink
Quite naturally, fish is the base of the local cuisine, and there are a number of different varieties, all fresh and tasty.
Entertainment and Sport
Mountaineering is truly a way of coming into close contact with nature, and on clear days, from the highest points, a magnificent view can be had of the whole archipelago.
The beaches of Tarrafal, with their black sand rich in iodine and titanium is greatly sought after by those suffering from arthritis and other similar illnesses. The local inhabitants are very willing to help sufferers and they use their miraculous hands to apply a mixture of seaweed and sand to alieviate the pain or simply to smooth away fatigue. Fishing is also a popular sport and quite often it is possible to catch "a big one", like the Blue Marlin for example.
Places to Visit
RIBEIRA BRAVA, stretching along the shore with the same nome, was so called because of the roughness of the sea in this particular area during the rainy season. Its narrow streets are full of colourful and characteristic houses and well worth visiting.
Worth seeing too, in architectural terms, are the Parish Church, the Seminary-High School and the main square, where a bust of Dr. Julio José Dias, the Island's doctor and benefactor was erected.
Another interesting trip, on foot or by car, is to set out in the direction of the sea, passing through deep valleys and plots of farming land, to reach CALEIJÃO, which is located next to MONTE GORDO.
A visit to TARRAFAL and its black sandy beaches is also interesting when taking the CALEIJÃO and CACHAÇO road, driving past MONTE GORDO, through graves of eucalyptus and sisal trees and then driving along the banks of RIBEIRA BRAVA to eventually come to other regions, which due to their position in relation to the mountains are much more arid.
16 km fram RIBEIRA BRAVA is the fishing port of PREGUIÇA and from where, apart from other beautiful scenery, a magnificent view can be had of the volcano "CALDEIRA", which means boiling pot.
Very near PREGUIÇA is the beach of Galés, an excellent place to stop and have a dip in the sea. Leaving TARRAFAL and going westward through BARRIL, the road runs between the mountains and the sea until it reaches RIBEIRA DE PRATA.
Here is the well known "Rocha Escrita", which means inscripted rock, and inscribed on which are a number of rather undecipherable letters or words. Some attribute them to the first visitors to the Archipelago, others to the pirates.