Long before Europeans invaded, the local Ronga people were living here, fishing, whale hunting, farming and trading. In 1545, Portuguese navigator Lourenço Marques happened upon Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay) in his journey up the Southern African coastline. His reports attracted other traders, who established temporary settlements offshore on Inhaca and Xefina Grande islands as bases for ivory-trading forays to the mainland. Yet Portuguese attention to the area was fleeting: they soon turned their sights north, all but abandoning their activities in the south.
Lourenço Marques – as the area later became known – took on a new importance in the mid-19th century, with the discovery of diamonds and gold in the nearby Transvaal Republic. Around 1898 it replaced Mozambique Island as the capital of Portuguese East Africa. A new rail link with the Transvaal, built in 1894, and the expansion of the port fuelled the city’s growth.
In the 1950s and 1960s ‘LM’ became a favoured playground for Portuguese holidaymakers and apartheid-era South Africans. With Mozambican independence in 1975, the city’s original residents reasserted themselves and in 1976 President Samora Machel changed the city's name to Maputo, honouring an early chief who had resisted Portuguese colonization.