This pocket capital, one of the least populated in the world, has just under 30,000 inhabitants, or a third of the population of Seychelles! In a country that has no more souls than an average French town, you have to know how to abandon your references, find new landmarks, remember that two and a half centuries ago the island of Mahé was still uninhabited.
In 1744, the French sailor Lazare Picault returned to the island of Abondance, future Mahé, and anchored his boat Elisabeth in a wide, calm and safe bay which he named Port-Royal. The place retained this name until 1778, when it was renamed Etablissement du Roy, before taking its definitive name of Port Victoria in 1838, in homage to the Queen of England. At that time, the town had little more than a hundred wooden houses covered with shingles...
Nestled in an exceptional site, an amphitheatre of greenery made up of steep, lush hills (Mount Signal, Crève Coeur, Niol and the Three Brothers) that open onto the ocean, the only town in the archipelago is a small, quiet and rather clean city, far from the insalubrity of yesteryear. A certain Ommanney describes it as "a sordid, graceless place, bathed in a strong smell of rancid coconut oil, salty fish and disgusting sewage. "Father Louis Dayet's description in the early twentieth century is equally striking: "In the city, when it rained, the streets became torrents and quagmires where everyone waded and murmured against the city administration. Victoria had no sidewalks. In 1910, Albert Street and the area around the government offices were surrounded by parks teeming with giant turtles that turned into foul-smelling cesspools when it rained. "
An operetta market. Nowadays, it is pleasant to stroll through the streets of this quiet capital city to which beautiful Victorian-style lampposts, installed on Independence Avenue, give a touch of elegance. The major attraction of this city remains the bazaar which gives it an air of a Hindu temple. A covered market that is best discovered in the good-natured Saturday morning entertainment. Once the gate is crossed and the lottery merchant passed, one falls into a joyful effervescence. Immediately on the left, the school of fish, just pulled out of the ocean. While the big tuna and groupers are sliced, the red mullets and parrots, tied in necklaces, are waiting for takers, alongside bourgeois, old, croissants and other trevallies. In the centre, under the voluminous mango tree which sometimes acts as a parasol, sometimes as an umbrella, on wooden tables covered with waxed canvas, red and green chillies (small but strong), saber mangoes (the best), Huge papayas and tiny bananas are the subject of tasty dialogues in Creole, a language as colourful as all these fruits and vegetables, including breadfruit, jamalac, the fruit of Kythera, patola, bilimbi, love apples... The housewives, coquettish in their curved dress, happily fill their bags in a cordial atmosphere. Everybody seems to know each other on this small market which is never more than an exotic version of the one in a French canton capital?
A little further on are a few spice merchants whose stalls are overflowing with vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, tea tins, but also postcards, coconut-shaped key rings and lots of imported spices that have nothing Seychelles about them. On the other hand, makeshift vials containing vanilla extract or recycled jars of chilli purée and other local macerations, such as the famous masaravoo (fire to the taste buds guaranteed), can be brought back in the suitcases, after checking the closing system, which is very handmade! At the back, installed in an air-conditioned hall, the butchers offer their garlands of sausages and rosaries of black pudding, and cut beef or pork, expensive and reserved for Sunday meals. Finally, we must mention the "dames paton", these elegant white egrets perched high on their legs, acting as sentries of the bazaar, often posted near the small basin where a timid fountain runs or in front of the garbage cans. But times are hard for these carnivorous birds since meat is no longer sold in the open air. On the first floor there are several stalls selling clothes and souvenirs, with the Market Restaurant where you can have a drink or lunch.
Of course, the show is also all around the square, in this pedestrian Market Street whose adorable Creole houses of yesterday, with awnings and openwork balconies, have, alas, become rare in recent years. There are still a few of them that it would be prudent to classify before the irreparable... Mostly run by Indians or Chinese, these disappearing shops are worthy of a Prévert-style inventory: briefs and fans, nuts and soaps... As modernity gains ground, old-fashioned shops are gradually being replaced by glass and concrete complexes.
As a sign of progress in progress, traffic lights appeared in 1994 at the intersection of Albert Street and Revolution Avenue and in the middle of Albert Street. Twenty years later, they are still the only ones in the archipelago! No less than nine at the same crossroads... It must be said that at rush hour, around 8am, noon and 4pm, there's a complete traffic jam on Francis Rachel Street and 5th June Avenue. The Tata (tireless Indian buses) and Leyland then mingle with the Kia Picanto of the tourists and the Asian cars of the natives, more and more numerous, although very expensive considering the customs taxes. It is surprising, when you know the price of a new car and the average monthly salary (SR 4,000), that so many Mahelois drive around in good-quality new vehicles, even 4x4s that are worth their weight in rupees. And here too, in the heart of the city, parking is paid for, with tickets, which you have to validate yourself, being on sale at certain shops. Be aware that the agents who issue parking tickets are uncompromising and that a car rental company will not hesitate to use your credit card number to pay the fine (with a supplement) if you have not done so before leaving the country. However, the city does have free parking, especially near the Marine Charter, on 5th June Avenue. Free parking is also available at the Alliance Française.
Hard left! It is particularly vital, for the tourist, whether pedestrian or motorized, to remember that here we drive on the left. Otherwise, beware of frights! Car rental companies will keep reminding you of this. You automatically remember it when you see the famous Clock Tower in the middle of the central roundabout at the corner of the post office (interesting for philatelists). Anachronistic and silvery, this miniature replica of the Clock Tower of Vauxhall Bridge, located near London's Victoria Station, was erected in 1903 to celebrate the new status of Crown Colony, the Seychelles having just been liberated from the tutelage of Mauritius. A century later, it is still the epicentre of the capital, facing the modern Independence Avenue, with its banks, travel agencies, airline offices and modern buildings, such as the beautiful glass building of the Bank of Seychelles, reproduced on a banknote.
One and a half kilometres long, 5th June Avenue separates the city from the ocean and gives access, on the sea side, to the jetty for boats to Praslin and La Digue, as well as to the Marine Charter and Yacht Club; on the city side, to the voluminous National Library, in an imposing Creole-style building, which is also the seat of Parliament.
Nearby is a scrap metal statue called Zom Lib (Free Man), representing a man raising his arms to the sky, above his broken chains, symbolizing the liberation of the people after two centuries of colonialism. A little further on, at Mont Fleuri, on the old airport road, opposite the beautiful Creole-style building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the instructive botanical garden is worth a visit, if only for its coconut palms. It is an excellent opportunity for visitors who miss out on Praslin and its famous Vallée de Mai, to see the male and female attributes of the famous coconut sea at close quarters.
At the other end of the city, near the road leading to the northern peninsula, the bus station, built through a joint venture between Seychelles and Malaysia, bears witness to the country's openness to modernity in the 1990s with its futuristic structure. The structure rests on gigantic pillars supporting metal canopies with longitudinal openings to prevent the accumulation of heat and exhaust fumes. Close to this new Victoria, where buildings have been erected to house shops and offices, stands the early 20th-century Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, whose size bears witness to the importance of Catholicism in the Seychelles. A small Anglican church, a multicoloured Hindu temple and a discreet mosque (built by the Comorians), however, remind us in the city centre of the melting pot of the Seychellois population, who live in exemplary harmony, regardless of skin colour or religious practice. This harmony is symbolized by Traw Zwazo, a large white sculpture whose three stylized and intertwined wings evoke the three origins (Europe, Africa and Asia) of a people who live their crossbreeding in an exemplary pacifism.
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