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Maio [Nossa Senhora da Luz / Vila do Porto Inglês / Vila do Maio]
Maio Island, Historical Background and Urbanism
The settlement of Maio is a simple but important urban space on the island of the same name. Like the other eastern and southern Cape Verdean islands, it was discovered by Diogo Gomes and António da Noli in 1460, perhaps sighted as early as 1446. Located in the far southeast of the archipelago, by the first half of the 17th century Maio counted an established population and cattle. Activity on this arid island initially focused on salt production, with visitors and colonisers drawn from various peoples (English and Americans in the 17th and 19th centuries), hence its former name of Vila do Porto Inglês.
It was also marked by emigration to the United States. The English used the island as a stopover for salt extraction, taking advantage of the local decline in the early 18th century, when Maio counted only about 200 inhabitants.
The main settlement of Maio was possibly established in the 18th century, though it only developed from the 1870s and 1880s on. It is located on the island’s southwest coast and has a simple small-scale and approximately regular grid, with the longest streets aligned north-south. In a 1902 plan it was labelled the Povoação de Nossa Senhora da Luz and Porto Inglês. The Hydrographic Plan for Porto Inglês 1902 drawn up by lieutenant commander Christiano José de Senna Barcelos indicates the four main poles of urban life (town hall, church, fort and custom house), all located near the shoreline. About four longitudinal south/ north streets can be discerned, as well as several scattered buildings in the interior. In the Hydrographic Plan 1958 “compiled from the survey undertaken by the Hydrographic Mission for the Archipelago of Cape Verde” and dating from about half a century later, a more meticulous depiction enables identification of the same streets, with some (not much) urban growth to the east. The settlement has since grown, perhaps doubling its mid-twentieth century size, expanding inland and northward along the coast.
The most important urban spaces include the following: the garden square of the parish church (whose façade fronts the sea), a space marked by landings and staircases on an axis that begins at the church and is perpendicular to its front; the adjacent area of the two-storey public building, possibly the municipal seat (located south of the church and not by the shore, as indicated in the 1902 plan); and what seems to be the most important rectilinear street arrangement, crossing the town from south to north, west of the parish church.
Some streets are marked by adjacent small single-floor houses built in the vernacular style, with façades marked by bright colours and doors flanked by two windows. In the early 1970s the town counted 1,161 inhabitants.