After my epiphany in Beira, where I had to admit my love for 1960s architecture, I heard rumours that there was a hotel in Quelimane which had been perfectly preserved all the way through the civil war without being closed or renovated since the opening in 1966. Thus I decided to spend a night in the hotel in order to see whether this meant entering an other-space pocket of timelessness from carefully carried out total design, like in Beira.
The hotel has a number of spacious conference and functions halls, a penthouse restaurant with a special little bar, where every detail is fitted and adjusted the rest. The patterned wooden panelling, the black leather stool seats fixed in relation to the bar in strictly geometric relationship, overhung by a ceiling of specially made light fixtures. In the hallways and the reception, there are examples of generally indirect light fixtures sculpted like whole ceiling landscapes, contrasting with different materials on the wall surfaces. Today, however, most of the bulbs are broken and only a small number of them are replaced with whichever type of bulb was available. This contradicts an original lighting concept, which is very smooth, with whole patterned surfaces based on frosted glass panels working as lamps built into walls and furniture elements. In fact, opening the make-up table cum desk in the hotel room, you discover that it has a light-box fixture where a frosted glass lamp would shine as you lifted the lid of the desk, ingeniously turning it into a mirror.
The hotel has never been significantly renovated. However, when a thing has been broken, it has been replaced by the cheapest Chinese replacement available or just left out, like with the not working light fixtures. This means that next to the heavy, artfully made wooden broad-shouldered clothes hangers prepared for visitors with an elaborate travel wardrobe, hang wire hangers found on a roadside market or home made.
But the seemingly slightly lonely ashtrays of green glass in the sparsely decorated room, radiate 1966, as do the large metal ashtrays in front of the elevators on all floors, witnessing a time of grey suits languidly clouded in grey smoke leisurely passing time waiting for the elevator or sitting down for a conversation in the low easy chairs while waiting for the rest of the party to join in for dinner, dance or debate. Today the elevator doors are not opening on all floors, so take care. Instead you may use the smoothly curving staircase winding its way all the way to the top restaurant with a view over the harbour, the ruin of the old cathedral of Quelimane and the Bank of Mozambique building, the latter also an interesting modernist structure. We get an impression of a city which has been an important city in times when communication lines went differently, and which today has a cycling population giving the city a completely different atmosphere from the rest of Mozambique.
An article in a Austrian periodical about the hotel with a number of beautiful photographs, was published two years ago under the headline “Hotel Aparthaid”, a very strong choice of words which I will not comment on here, but which of course was generally true for such establishments all over the country but with all sorts of complicated exceptions. The atmosphere of timelessness was indeed there – though a very empty timelessness. The hotel is run by the Mozambican government and has regular visitors. However, I doubt whether the dance halls come to life like you imagine they would in the late 1960s. I might be wrong. Maybe this is where Quelimane high society celebrates itself? I will come back and have a look…