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The History of Port Louis

The History of Port Louis

Port Louis is the capital of Mauritius. Located in the Port Louis district, it is the economic, cultural and political centre of the country. It is also the most populous city - with nearly 200,000 inhabitants, and is administered by the Port Louis City Council.

From the Gare du Nord to the Bank of Mauritius

At the entrance to the North Station coming from the North, there is a Tamil temple called the Kaylasson. Built not far from the Aapravasi Ghat, the Kaylasson temple bears witness to the deep-rooted faith of the immigrants who came down to the Appravasi Ghatt. Leaving the North Station, we will take one of the most folkloric roads of the capital. The Farquhar street in front of the famous central market of Port-Louis. During this walk, all kinds of purchases can be made according to taste. But going upstream towards the city centre or, if you want, the administrative part of Port-Louis, you will certainly pass in front of the Prime Minister's office also known as the Treasury building or the Parliament and the various banks of the country namely the MCB and the Bank of Mauritius.

After the administrative section of Port-Louis

Leaving the administrative part of Port-Louis, one goes straight towards the Cathedral of Saint Louis which houses the bishopric of Port Louis. It dates back to 1933 but was renovated in 2007. Opposite the Cathedral is the Supreme Court, the highest court of justice, which keeps the motto of the British monarchy on the surrounding grid: "God is my right". It is said at the moment because the Mauritian government is currently building a large building in Edith Cavell Street that will be used to house the Supreme Court.

And if we stayed on Pope Hennessy Street, a little further on, we arrive at the Champ de Mars which is the oldest racecourse in the southern hemisphere. Like every Saturday, horse-racing enthusiasts meet up for an event that has been going on for more than two centuries now.

The development of Port-Louis

The view of the city itself gives a dramatic insight into the accelerated development it has undergone since the end of the 1980s. To get this breathtaking view, there is nothing better than going to La Citadelle. This place remains one of the buildings that are still resisting development. It is one of the four forts, built by the British in the capital after the capture of the island in 1810, which still stand (Fort George, Fort William and Fort Victoria being in ruins).

Fort Adelaide (the Citadel)

The fort was built between 1834 and 1840 on the ruins of the old Citadel. It was built by the French governor, Antoine Marie Desforges Boucher, in 1743. The need for this fort at a time when the British colonial empire was no longer threatened in the region was based on the need for greater internal security. Indeed, the risk of an uprising by the French colonists was real, especially after the imposition of the end of slavery. The positioning of part of the cannons towards the east seems to bear witness to this. However, it was never used and housed a small military garrison. Commissioned by King William IV, it bears the name of his wife, Adelaide.

The south side of Port-Louis

On the south side, on the flank of the Mountain of Signals, you can see the monument of Mary Queen of Peace. Monsignor Leen was the initiator of the construction of the monument, which houses a statue three metres high. It is a high place of pilgrimages and gatherings of the island's Catholic community. Having also become a tourist attraction, it also offers a beautiful view that starts from the historic Ward IV of Port Louis and stretches out over the city and in particular to the left over the port. Les Salines takes its name from a salt industry in the time of Governor Mahé de Labourdonnais. This place was the birthplace of the poet Léoville L'Homme who described it in one of his poems as an "enchanting beauty". The place nevertheless houses two instructive monuments. The first, a work of the Société de l'Histoire de l'île Maurice, is a tribute to Guillaume Dufresne D'Arsel, commander of the French ship Le Chasseur, which anchored in this harbour on 20 September 1715 and took possession of the island which he named Ile de France. The second is another homage to the father of the revolution in Russia, Vladimir Illitch Lenin. Inaugurated in 1972 by former Prime Minister Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam, it bears witness to the positioning of post-independence Mauritius and the need to assert itself as an independent nation by drawing closer to both the Soviet bloc and the Non-Aligned Movement.

The oldest pagoda

Finally, Les Salines is also the site of Kwan Tee, the oldest pagoda in Mauritius, which has eleven of them, all located in Port Louis. Founded in 1842 by Log Choïsanne, the pioneer of the island's Chinese community, it is dedicated to the cult of the God Guan Di, a great warrior elevated to the rank of deity. Its architecture is traditional Chinese temple architecture with a roof with curved edges. It is a Mecca for the Chinese community who come here to ask for protection, to consult before making important decisions that will influence their family and professional life. A beautiful place of meditation to end the visit.

The history of the Port of Port-Louis

Port Louis was already used as a port in 1638. In 1735, under French rule, it became the administrative centre of Mauritius. The city was then an important re-supply port for French ships during their passage between Asia and Europe, around the Cape of Good Hope. The port is named in honour of King Louis XV. During this period of French colonisation, Mauritius was known as Ile de France. The French governor at the time, Bertrand-François Mahé de Labourdonnais, contributed to the development of the city. As Port Louis was relatively well protected from strong winds by the Moka mountain range, Port Louis was chosen to house both the main port and the island's fort. The value of the port continued during the British occupation of the island during the Napoleonic Wars (1800-1815), and helped Britain control the Indian Ocean. However, ports of call for ships fell drastically following the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Activity in the port increased during the seven years the Suez Canal was closed (from 1967). The modernization of the port in the late 1970s helped it to maintain its role as the central point for all imports and exports from Mauritius. While Port Louis remains the administrative and commercial capital of Mauritius, the expansion of the tourist industry in the late 1990s led to considerable development in Port Louis, with many shops, hotels and restaurants in the Caudan waterfront area.

Economy

The city's economy is mainly dominated by its financial centre, port facilities, tourism and the manufacturing sector which includes textiles, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Port Louis is home to the largest port facility in the Indian Ocean region. It should also be noted that Mauritius is one of the major financial centres in Africa.

Port Louis houses the nation's main port and is the only official port of entry and exit for ships from Mauritius. Ships must be cleared in the port before visiting any other anchorage in the island nation.

History of the Mauritius Ports Authority in Port Louis

The Mauritius Ports Authority (MPA), created by law in 1998, is the port authority responsible for Port Louis. The MPA provides port infrastructure, contracts with private providers for port handling and cargo services, promotes the use and development of ports, and authorises and regulates port and maritime services. The port adjoins the main city, with the port currently comprising three terminals. Terminal I comprises a total of 1180 metres of quayside, with six berths for goods, passengers and fishing boats. Terminal II comprises 986 metres of quay with six berths and includes specialised facilities for the handling and storage of sugar, fish, tallow and caustic soda. In particular, the Bulk Sugar Terminal (operated by the Mauritius Sugar Terminal Corporation) can handle vessels with a draught of up to 11 metres, can load sugar at a rate of 1450 tonnes per hour and can store 175,000 tonnes of goods. Terminal II also includes a 124-metre cruise ship jetty with a dredged depth of 10.8 metres. Terminal III has two quays 280 metres deep, 14 metres deep, and specialises in container ship handling, with five post-Panamax gantry cranes. Storage facilities for bulk ethanol and attachment points for reefer containers are also present. Ships too large to dock at the docks can anchor at Outer Anchorage, which is still within the official port limits.

Cargo traffic was just over 6 million tonnes, including containers representing 330,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units), 1.5 tonnes of bulk liquids (mainly oil) and 2 million tonnes. Overall, the port contributes to 2% of the country's GDP.

The cruise ship terminal, inaugurated in 2010 and named after Christian Decotter (former chairman of the Mauritius Tourism Advisory Board), illustrates the growing role of tourism in the Mauritian economy. Cruise ships of up to 300 metres can be accommodated at the facility, which includes two access decks for passengers and vehicles. The facility was the first in the Indian Ocean to accommodate the world's largest cruise ships. In 2012, passenger arrivals by sea included 11,510 tourists and 6,450 excursionists who arrived on 23 cruise ships.

Culture always present

The city has a diverse and dynamic culture which is reflected in its architecture, arts and festivals. This was reflected from 4 to 6 December 2015 in the Porlwi by Light festival (the name of Port Louis in Creole) through street art and performances, creative installations and light projections, concerts and culinary stands. Although diminished by tighter controls on street peddlers in 2016, the city is famous for its lively commercial spirit. Discussing the city's appeal, European journalist Christopher F. Schuetze wrote: "I think Port Louis is one of the largest small towns in the world. Port Louis just seems to have everything and the human productivity and excitement to drive it all. While some offices are slightly dusty, or perhaps a little small by modern standards, you can shorten your trousers or eat dumplings between meetings. You can go to the museum, buy cheap sunglasses and walk along the Caudan without having to extend your lunch break".

Arts

Port Louis has been an active cultural city attracting painters, poets, sculptors and writers for centuries. Marie-Thérèse Humbert wrote her famous novel, La Montagne des Signaux, with Port Louis in mind. Malcolm de Chazal was a Mauritian visionary writer and a painter often seen in the capital, mainly at the Central Market, the Champ de Mars and the Hotel National. Robert Edouard-Hart, a great poet found inspiration in this very active city. Khal Torabully, a committed poet and semiologist, designed Traveller's Lane at the Jardin de la Compagnie. The Port Louis Theatre, still used and served mainly for presentations of classical music, jazz and local theatre, has a remarkable history which includes the first presentation of opera on the island in the 19th century by travelling European troupes. Several local artists are expected to play a greater role in the years to come. Indeed, the recent construction of the Caudan Arts Centre is a testament to the desire to promote art.

More modern entertainment facilities in Port Louis include several cinemas, where most films are shown in both French and English. Recently opened in Paille, a suburb of Port Louis, is the state-of-the-art Swami Vivekananda International Convention Centre. It is the first facility of its kind in Mauritius and is used to host conventions, concerts, trade fairs and exhibitions.

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