Historic attractions in Mauritius
Given the varied history of Mauritius, there is an abundance of museums and cultural points of interest to visit during your stay.
Frederik Hendrik Museum
The Dutch were the first to really settle on the island in 1598. They landed at Grand Port in the southeast, driven by a storm. They remained here until 1710 and left discouraged by the successive storms, the infestations of pests and epidemics. It is therefore in the south-eastern region, around Vieux Grand Port, that you will see the remnants of this period. Dutch First Landing is a monument to mark the point of their first landing on the coastal road near Ferney, Mahebourg, with the majestic Lion Mountain in the background. At Vieux Grand Port, the Frederik Hendrik Museum and ruins relate to the Dutch stay on the island. The island was named Mauritius – Ile Maurice after Prince Maurice de Nassau.
Pointe du Diable
On the way to Vieux Grand Port, stop at Pointe du Diable, also known as Pointe Canons, with its series of cannons installed by the French to defend this part of the island from the British invasion.
Mahebourg, in the south-east of the island, contains a lot of vestiges of the history of Mauritius. The Naval Museum is a must to learn about the maritime history of the island; you will also find a memorial monument to slaves next to the waterfront and the Lavoir (wash house).
At the entrance of Mahebourg, you can drive across Cavendish Bridge, also known as the Ville-Noire Bridge, built during the British era in the early 20th century. Constructed in 1856 for sugar cane transportation, Cavendish Bridge, commonly known as the ‘Pont de la Ville Noire’, literally ‘the black town bridge’, was originally constructed from wood, while all other bridges in Mauritius were made from steel. Between 1908 and 1911, it was transformed into a reinforced concrete bridge. At 155 metres, it is one of the longest bridges on the island.
Museums are of course a very good way to discover the history of Mauritius. In addition to those of Mahebourg and Vieux Grand Port, most of the museums are located in Port Louis, including the Natural History Museum, where you will discover the history of the famous Dodo. A French colonial building from the eighteenth century houses the National History Museum. Old maps, engravings, crockery, pirates’ swords and even fragments of shipwrecks recount the rich maritime history of the island. The crown jewel of this fascinating museum is the bell recovered from the wreck of the St Géran. You can also learn about the history of the island at the Blue Penny Museum with its famous exceptional stamps that have travelled across the world.
Aapravasi Ghat in Port Louis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can find out about the history of indentured labourers who arrived in Mauritius shortly after the abolition of slavery in 1835, through artefacts and testimonies from their descendants.
Le Morne Cultural Landscape
Slavery is part of the history of Mauritius. The site that symbolises it the most is Le Morne cultural landscape, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a commemorative landmark of the harsh slavery period in Mauritius.
It was on this imposing mountain that the runaway slaves, called the ‘maroons’, used to hide. Protected by isolated wooded and almost inaccessible cliffs, the escaped slaves formed small settlements in the caves and on the summit of Le Morne mountain. It is said that when the British passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1834, a group of officials went to Le Morne to let the runaway slaves know that they were finally free. As they approached, the slaves feared that they were going to be re-captured, climbed the mountain and threw themselves off. They chose to commit suicide rather than being captured.
At the foot of the mountain, you can see the Slave Route Monument and you can find out more about the island’s slavery history at the Intercontinental Slavery Museum in Port Louis.
You might come across some intriguing monuments in coastal areas. These are the Martello Towers, circular stone defence towers built by the British during the first half of the 19th century to defend the island from their all-time enemies, the French. La Preneuse Martello Tower has been restored and transformed into a museum and is open to the public for guided tours. The Martello Tower at La Preneuse was built by the British between 1810 and 1846 to protect them against the French navy. Since being restored in 1999, the tower is now accessible for guided tours.
History is also revealed through architecture in Mauritius. Fortunately, Mauritius still has some beautiful colonial and Creole-style homes that testify to the country’s past, the oldest dating back to the 18th century. Most of these buildings are part of family legacies and some are open to the public, such as Maison Eureka in Moka and the Château de Labourdonnais in Mapou. You can also stroll around the streets of the capital city, Port Louis. In the vicinity of St Georges Street, you can admire the few beautiful houses that have stood the test of time.
Battery of Devil’s Point
Under the French occupation, 27 defence guns controlled access to the island. The fearsomely effective battery of the Devil’s Point for a long time prevented the English from approaching Grand Port.