MISSION LODGE – WHERE SOME OF THE HISTORY OF THE SEYCHELLES COMES ALIVE
The history of the Seychelles archipelago is well described elsewhere, with the islands changing hands between colonial occupiers ranging from the Portuguese way back in the 15th and 16th century over the French to the British, before becoming independent from Britain on the 29th of June 1976.
An important part of this history, of course well known on the islands but less well known further abroad, was the archipelago’s transformation in the 1830’s from a slave based agricultural economy, when Britain abolished slavery in 1833 and the administration in Mahe started to enforce these changes from 1835 onwards.
At the time, out of an overall population of more than 7.500 across the archipelago, records from the Seychelles National Archives show that 6.521 were slaves. Lacking the free labour the larger estates previously established on the main islands faced immediate problems of being competitive and subsequently the population started to decline alongside the economy. It was in that period of time, between the abolition of slavery in the mid 1830’s and the arrival of a group of Anglican missionaries in 1861, that many changes in the socio economic structure of the islands took place. The Missionary Society, increasingly aware of the unmet needs for education among the children of the freed slaves, in 1875 began to establish a settlement in the mountains originally known as ‘Venn’s Town’ and opened a boarding school for these children the following year in 1876, a project which lasted, according to information sourced from archived records, until the1890’s before it was eventually abandoned.
The ruins, which became more widely accessible after the Sans Souci road was constructed in the 1970’s, were at least in part excavated and restored by the Seychelles government in recent years, and a view point established offering one of Mahe’s grandest vistas, in the run up to starting the process of UNESCO recognition of what is today called ‘Mission Lodge’ as the archipelago’s first cultural World Heritage Site. Located inside the Seychelles’ largest terrestrial protected area, the ‘Morne National Park’, Mission Lodge is awaiting consideration by UNESCO’s World Heritage Site Committee later this year.
Currently, visitors can access the site free of cost and the tour companies are already including visits to Mission Lodge, where tourists can walk around some of the cleared ruins but at present mainly enjoy the magnificent views down the mountain and across the ocean. Once the site has attained UNESCO WHS status, further plans are afoot to show visitors in greater detail the archeological finds, more of the partly restored ruins of buildings, the cemetery and artefacts unearthed when clearing the site.
The Ministry of Tourism and Culture has already announced plans to construct a visitor pavilion, which similar to the one on the island of Praslin at the entrance to the Vallee’ de Mai, Seychelles most visited tourism attraction and of course also a UNESCO WHS, will serve as administrative offices as well as a museum. The facilities this new centre intends to provide, will undoubtedly draw more visitors into the mountains, where they can not only see part of the Seychellois history but also take guided walks and hikes into the Morne National Park, to explore the tropical rainforest and its rich flora and fauna.
(Pictures from Mission Lodge, Sans Souci, Mahe by W. Thome)
Tourism and Culture Minister Alain St. Ange, when introducing the concept of reconstruction of the site to key tourism industry stakeholders last year, which will allow to much better showcase the Mission Lodge, was at the time quoted of having said: ‘The historical aspect of Mission Lodge is being forgotten and overshadowed by its breathtaking panoramic view. An important chapter in Seychelles history is engraved in Mission Lodge, and this aspect should constitute the central attraction of the site’.
Seychelles has enlisted the support of the UN World Tourism Organization in its bid to have Mission Lodge recognized as the country’s first cultural World Heritage Site, to join the two ecological sites already in place, the Aldabra Atoll and the Vallee’ de Mai. Towards that end Minister St. Ange added: ‘The world through UNESCO must walk with us in protecting these ruins. UNESCO must feel proud to be working with us to not only save this unique site, but to help protect it forever’.
Find more details about the Seychelles via www.seychelles.travel which offers a wide range of facts about the destination but also provides an extensive guide on available accommodation, from very affordable Bed & Breakfast establishments to guest houses, holiday villas and some of the world’s most acclaimed luxury resorts. Seychelles, truly Another World.