Traditional Creole Architecture

Date Posted: 15/05/2017

With slight variations in the design from one island to another - largely influenced by the availability of building materials and climate conditions - Creole architecture originated during the Seychelles' 18th century colonial era.

The buildings are characterised by high pitched roofs to allow natural lighting and ventilation, wide double doors and large windows. The Creole houses normally had spacious verandas and balconies with wooden balustrades.

creole architecture

Where did Creole architecture originate?

Seychellois historian, Tony Mathiot, said the first traditional Creole architecture was designed and built by French Jacobins who had been deported to Mahé in 1778, after allegedly plotting against Napoleon Bonaparte. The majority of the dwellings measured just 12 metres by 4 metres and they were constructed of tropical timber such as casuarina, kapisen and kalis dipap. Mr Mathiot said the French settlers later acquired large coconut plantations and built their houses on the land, also erecting kalorifers - the kilns used to dry the coconuts.

Regrettably, such fine houses are rarely found today and most have gone - an estimated 95% of these buildings have been demolished. Only the few that have been declared national monuments have been preserved.

Plantation houses

Ron Felix, an official of the Ministry of Land Use and Housing, said the plantation houses offered some of the best examples of traditional Creole architecture. They consisted of spacious living rooms, often with as many as 10 double doors and windows and surrounded by large verandas. The properties often had outside kitchens and washrooms.

Another traditional Creole structure was the cottage house. These were smaller than plantation houses and were built on raised foundations. These dwellings also had large windows and doors for ventilation and light.

Why is the architecture disappearing?

There have been very few new builds using traditional Creole architecture since the 1970s. This is due not only to the evolving lifestyle of Seychelles but also because some of the building materials are no longer available.

In previous centuries, lime - manufactured from coral - was used for building houses but it can't be used today, as the reefs are a valuable asset and they must be preserved for environmental reasons.

What is being done to preserve the architecture?

Steps are being taken to preserve the historic Creole architecture. Some of the buildings have been declared national monuments, so their status makes them a vital part of Seychelles' history. Experts have also organised a one-day forum in Victoria, Seychelles' capital, to discuss why the traditional architecture is disappearing and what measures can be taken to preserve it. Historians, builders and architects from Seychelles and other islands in the Indian Ocean met for the forum, which focused on the conservation and promotion of traditional Creole architecture.

Chief executive of Seychelles Heritage Foundation, Patrick Nanty, says the government is organising an incentive scheme to help preserve Creole architecture. The owners of traditional buildings are to be offered a grant to help preserve the structures.

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Creole architecture still in existence

Some of Seychelles' national monuments that will be preserved for future generations include Kenwyn House in Victoria. It was built in 1855 for Dr James Brooks, the islands' chief medical officer. In 2003, the structure was renovated, although it still retains its wooden architecture that includes a long veranda and balcony. Now owned by telecommunications company, Cable and Wireless Seychelles, Kenwyn House currently hosts the high-quality jewellery business, Jouel.

Another historic building given monument status is the Grann Kaz on L'Union Estate, La Digue. It was constructed in the 19th century by an Iranian merchant, Said Hossen. After being restored in the 1970s, the building is now to be converted into a museum to preserve La Digue's historical and cultural heritage.

Visitors to the islands are invited to step back in time and take a stroll through the rich heritage of our tropical paradise. Whether you're planning a relaxing holiday, some quality family time or a honeymoon to remember, contact the luxurious 5-star Savoy Resort and Spa on Mahé.