The Portuguese were the first Europeans to go around the Cape of Good Hope and build several outposts, later turned into large colonies, at Angola and Moçambique, on both sides of the Cape, but none on the Cape itself, as far as I know. I cannot see the sense in that, for I guess that control of the Cape was essential to keep their own routes open for traffic with India – in fact, that was one of the reasons why the British conquered the Dutch Cape Colony. I guess that a powerful enemy navy at the Cape could seriously hinder Portuguese movements, something that I don't know if actually happened at the time of the Portuguese-Dutch wars.
So the question is: Did the Portuguese build any settlement around the Cape? And if not, why?

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    João da Nova built a small chapel on Mossel Bay, not sure it should count though. IIRC it wasn't considered a very safe place due to natives by the Portugese, who had Saint Helena to rely on instead.
    – Semaphore
    Dec 30, 2015 at 14:28
  • A very important reason that the Dutch built a settlement there was because of the first inklings (the scientific revolution then still largely centered on Holland and Zeeland was a few decades old) that stopping half way to Indonesia for fresh water and eating fruits and vegetables was very good to reduce the number of deaths on these journeys.
    – JRB
    Apr 9, 2019 at 21:19

3 Answers 3


Although the Portuguese had dozens of small forts and watering stations all along the coast at various times, none of these were developed as settlements because South Africa originally had no interesting or valuable trade goods to provide. South Africa has a dry climate and the aborigines were very primitive hunter/gatherers. There were no mines, spices or other useful commodities there, so the colonial nations, including the Portuguese, regarded it as a barren wasteland and more or less ignored it.

Eventually small farmers and ranchers started settling there for the precise reason that it was relatively unoccupied. They could just move in and graze cattle freely. Once this happened, eventually valuable mines and minerals were found in the interior of the country. But originally, none of this was present so the Portuguese had no interest in occupying the land there, especially since there were much larger and developed trading areas such as Mozambique.

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    I just find it odd that, as the Cape was (or appears to be) so strategically important, they didn't build a fort or some sort of naval base just to keep a couple of guns overlooking it. I guess, from your answer and from the constant shortage in manpower and ships Portugal suffered, that it would have been logistically impossible – and for other powers, for the same reason, it would have been more effective to attack Portugal somewhere else than to prevent its ships from turning the Cape.
    – JMVanPelt
    Dec 30, 2015 at 18:04
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    The second paragraph IMHO puts forth an effect as a cause. The climate in that part of the continent is not conductive for the typical sub-Saharan African agricultural package. That's why it was relatively uninhabited. The reason it was attractive to Europeans is that the climate there was suitable for their agriculture (and was not great for tropical-disease carrying mosquitoes that made most of the rest of the continent too deadly for Europeans). It being "relatively unoccupied" was an effect of the ultimate attractor, not the attractor itself.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 30, 2015 at 18:50
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    ...that being said, this answer is quite correct that the Portuguese didn't initially lead the way in this, because their interest was quick profits through trade, not founding settlements.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 30, 2015 at 18:54
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    @JMVanpelt: a couple of guns would be useful only to protect the coast and waters within the range of these guns. So the place has really no more "strategic importance" than any other cape on the African shore in that area. Unlike Gibraltar for example.
    – Alex
    Dec 30, 2015 at 20:02
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    @JMVanPelt you seem to be making a weird a assumption as to what it is like to "round the cape" a ship passing through the cape could be a hundred miles off shore or more - a few guns would have been only used to protect a naval base from direct attack. Dec 31, 2015 at 12:43

In addition to Tyler Durden's answer, which is right, I would like to note that when crossing from Atlantic to Indian Ocean, ships sail far away from the coast, which is dangerous. Therefore, the area around the Cape Good Hope is not a very good place to build a settlement intended to support the route.

Reference: Parry, J.H. The discovery of the sea. 1974. Doubleday.


[Portuguese built a small fort in Great Fish River shore1, short-lived: They called the Great Fish River "Rio do Infante", and decided to build a fort there. Short time after, they abandoned it to settle at "Rio de La Goa", unknown location.

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    Please include some details in your answer rather than just a link (which may disappear at any time). Jun 10, 2018 at 10:18
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    This answer has great info and deserves to be fleshed out. Jun 12, 2018 at 17:22

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