Logic would suggest that Ilha’s lifeblood now should be its tourist trade. But it is seemingly not. This despite the fact that there’s so much here to genuinely captivate and charm. Commanding the island’s northern tip is the monumentally impressive Fort Sao Sebastian. Dating back to the mid-16th century, the great stone fort defied a succession of assaults from jealous rival traders – Omani Arabs, the English and French. Standing within the fortress walls is the seriously archaic-looking Chapel of Our Lady of the Ramparts. It was built in 1522, making it the oldest standing European building in the Southern Hemisphere. A little south of here is the grand Palacio de Sao Paulo. This former Jesuit monastery served as the Governor’s palace from 1759 to 1898. It now houses a Maritime Museum. Adjoining the palace is the Dominican Church of Miseriacorda, which dates way back 1535. Of similar age is the gleaming white Church of Health. It stands just around the corner from the “Old Hospital”, in which the sick of today would seek care. The architectural style of the island’s many buildings is remarkably homogenous. The ubiquitous flat roof facilitated the collection of rainwater – the only source of drinking water on the island. The rows of stately pilasters, ornate cornices and high rectangular windows are all straight from southern Portugal.
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