Tour 5: Olinda
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Tour 5: Olinda is a Full-Day Walking Tour. We will make our way through the historic streets of this UNESCO World Heritage center, stopping at many of the most interesting sites of interest. Each tells a part of the unique story of the city. We will visit spectacular churches that date from the early 16th century, soon after Brazil was discovered. In them, we will see some of the finest examples of Baroque workmanship of the Portuguese and Dutch colonizers. We will also see the ateliers of artists, whose works reflect the folklore myths and legends, the darker stories of slavery, and the celebratory images of Carnival.
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Our starting point and first stop will be the Church of Carmo (Igreja do Carmo). This was the first church of the Order of Carmalites in Brazil. Its construction began in 1580, and it was consecrated 40 years later in 1620. The central part of the altar has a baroque image of Saint Anthony supported by images of the founders of the Order of Carmelites, Saint Elias and Saint Eliseu. The church was closed to visitors in 2006 and restoration by the Brazilian Institute for the Administration of National Heritage (IPHAN) began. The project has been painfully slow and plagued by controversy due to structural changes made that are not thought to be in keeping with the original architecture.
Convent of Saint Francisco (Convento de São Francisco) The Convento de São Francisco was initially established on this site in 1577, as the first Franciscan monastery in Brazil. Like many others, it was burnt in 1631 by the Dutch when they took over Olinda, and it was later re-built. The complex of buildings includes the Church of Our Lady of the Snow, the Chapel of Saint Roque and the Cloister of Azulejos (blue tiles), St Ann´s Chapel, a prayer Chapel and a Sacristy. It also houses one of the finest collections of ancient books and manuscripts in Brazil.
Church of Sé (Igreja da Sé) The official name is the Church of Saint Savior of the World. The word Sé, refers to the fact that it has been the Cathedral of Olinda and Recife since 1676 and is therefore the most important church in the area. Built in 1535 by the Portuguese, it was later transformed into a Protestant temple during the period of Dutch rule, then later returned to being a Catholic church. The patio to the right of the church is said to be the point from which the Portuguese Captain Durante Coelho made his exclamation “What a beautiful site to build a village” (“Ô Linda situação para construer uma vila”), the origin of the name of the city, Olinda. The church is one of the least ornate due to several reconstructions, but it is believed that the main columns are of the original church and are constructed of stone from the offshore reefs.
The Museum of Sacred Art is located in the former Olinda town hall and palace of the bishops dating from 1676. Since 1974, it has been home to a permanent collection of sacred art, with pieces dating from the 16th century. Modern and popular art is also shown with a collection of images and photographs illustrating the evolving landscape of Olinda. Among the modern additions are a set of eighteen passages of the Passion of Christ, each by a different artist from Pernambuco.
The Observatory in Olinda was established in 1860. Until then, the Royal Observatory of Brazil was managed by French astronomer Emmanuel Liais and was mobile. Having noticed the vantage point that Olinda offered he established the current tower. From it he discovered a new comet which was named after him. In 1882 important studies of the passage of Venus were observed. Meteorological studies continued until the 1960’s, and the tower was deactivated in the 1970’s, with equipment being transferred to the Malakof Tower in Recife Antigo.
Church of Conception (Igreja da Conceição) The Church and convent of Our Lady of Conception was built in the 16th century, but it was abandoned during the period of Dutch rule. For centuries, the convent served as a shelter for abandoned women. Currently, it is home to the Irmãs Dorotéas (Sisters of Dorothy), the most reclusive Order in Olinda, who have no contact with the outside world, not even for medical assistance.
Church of Mercy (Igreja da Misericórdia) The Church of Mercy is the official name of the Church of Our Lady of Illumination. Both the church and adjoining hospital were built in 1540. The hospital, named the Santa Casa de Misericódia (Holy House of Mercy), was the first in Brazil. The location of the church is Alto da Misericórdia (Heights of Mercy), at the top of one of the steepest slopes in Olinda, called the Ladeira da Misericórdia (Ladder of Mercy). It has the second most ornate altar in Olinda (after São Bento), covered from floor to ceiling with masterpieces. Near the main entrance, a wall is covered with Portuguese tiles from the 17th century.
Church of the Protector (Igreja do Amparo) The official name is the Church of Our Lady of Shelter (or Protection). It was established between 1550-60 by young scholars and musicians. One altar is dedicated to Christ and the other to Saint Cecilia, protector of musicians. It was destroyed when Olinda was burned by the Dutch in 1631, and the date 1644 on the façade refers to the date reconstruction began.
Church of the Rosary of the Black Men of Olinda (Igreja do Rosário) This church was one of the first in Brazil to be built by a brotherhood of black slaves during the first half of the 17th century. At the time, black slaves were not permitted to profess their religion and were not allowed to enter Catholic churches. Instead they met in groups around churches in celebrations called Congos, as a means to maintain their African beliefs. Over time they adopted the canons of the Catholic church, adapting them to their own beliefs in a process known as religious syncretism. The church is relatively simple, yet one of the most interesting. Ancient statues of saints with familiar names can be seen, but as black, not white, figures. The members of the church were also members of the army that fought with the Portuguse, against the Dutch, under Captain Henrique Dias (1605-1662), the first black army captain in Brazil, who played a major role in the expulsion of the Dutch. Follow the link to read more about Henrique Dias
The Church of Saint John of the Military (Igreja de São João) was built during the second half of the 16th Century. It is a simple church with one tower and a similarly humble altar. It is one of the few churches that escaped the burning of Olinda by the Dutch and was used as a headquarters by the Dutch army.
We will stop next for lunch and I highly recommend Oficina do Sabor, one of Olinda´s finest restaurants, owned by award winning chef Cesar Santos. It is one of Olinda´s institutions, famous for its dishes served in pumpkins.
Bodega Veia This amazing place does not look like a bar, but this is how bars used to be. It sells beer, cheese, salami and other cold cuts, plus just about anything you can imagine except the kitchen sink. It is so packed with character, history and products that there is hardly room for customers, so most customers are outside on the pavement.
Unlike most museums, the Regional Museum of Olinda is not housed in historic old buildings; it is in a typical colonial home built between 1745 and 1749. The symbols on the facade above the main gate indicate its intended use as the home of the Bishop of Olinda. Note also, the roof has three layers, a sign of the wealth of the occupant. In the three rooms and one bedroom are items of sacred art from the 16th and 17th century, colonial Brazilian furniture, Chinese and French Porcelain, Portuguese ceramic tiles and other artifacts that symbolize a wealthy owner.
Casa dos Bonecos gigante (House of Carnival Dolls) is the place we will see one of the most distinctive images of Carnival in Olinda. Artist Sílvio Botelho is the artist most famously associated with the making of the giant dolls. Born in Olinda, Botelho started making masks from the age of 9. In 1974, when the only giants were the Man of Midnight and the Woman of Midday, Botelho was commissioned to create the Boy of Afternoon. Today there are many Giants, 90% by Botelho.
Mercado da Ribeira (Ribeira Market) At different times in the past tour guides told me that the Ribeira Market is an old prison, and other guides say it was the place were slaves were marketed. Both ideas sound a lot more interesting than the truth. It was also a market in the past, but not for slaves, or the arts and crafts that are found there today. The rooms to right and left were for regular shop keepers and the large building at the rear for temporary peddlers. Slaves were traded in Brazil, but this trade, which took place between the early 1500´s and its abolition in 1888, was carried out close to the ports where they arrived.
Ruinas do Senado (Senate Ruins) is the place where Bernardo Vieira de Mello made the first call for the independence of Brazil in 1710. He was eventually defeated, arrested and sent to Portugal, where he died in prison. It was not until 1889 that Brazil won its independence and was declared a republic. A plaque on what remains of the Senate marks the occasion of Bernardo Vieira´s call.
The Museu do Mamulengo (Museum of Puppets), founded in 1995, explains the tradition of Mamulengo puppets, a feature of popular culture from the northeast. The collection of over 1,500 pieces relate to folklore, legend and superstition. Many are humorous, others horrific. All are interesting. You can read the story of the Mamulengo in the Recife Guide Magazine
The next stop is the building of the the Govenors Palace (Palácio dos Governadores). Built in the early 17th Century this palace was home to the governor of Olinda city for many years. Today it is home to the governor of the municipality of Olinda.
The Church and Monastery of Saint Benedict (Igreja e Mosteiro de São Bento) is our next stop. Built by the Benedictine order in the 16th Century, this church is one of the most impressive in Olinda. It has a magnificently ornate altar in gold, and one of the finest Baroque examples in the world. In 2003, it was dismantled over a period of months to be transferred and exhibited temporarily at the Guggenheim Museum. The church has a mezzanine floor typical of the colonial times, when the rich attended mass on the mezzanine, free people on the ground floor, and slaves outside. The building to the left of the church was, say some guides, the first Faculty of Law in Brazil, established in 1828. Others say that it is the second school and that the first was established in in Sao Paulo slightly earlier.
To the right of the church of St Peter´s is the Large Red House (Casarão Vermelho). For a long time it was said to be the home of Mauricio Nassau from the time of Dutch rule. This false rumour has lasted over 40 years and is thought to have started with a mistaken priest, who at one time trained local guides. The fact the house did not exist at the time Nassau was in Brazil proves the rumour is incorrect. Nevertheless, it is an important house built in 1808 in the French Neo Classical style, which was much in vogue in Rio de Janeiro at the time. Most of the materials that it, and other important houses in the area, are made of came from Europe. From 1817, the British industrial revolution was in full swing, and many of the products, especially metal ones, were imported from England.
Church of Saint Peter (Igreja de São Pedro) was built in the second half of the 18th Century. It was the second church of the Order of Saint Peter, the first, built in 1711, having been dedicated to Saint Peter the Martyr.
In the same square as the Church of Saint Peter is a house thought to be the oldest in Olinda. The street level has been raised over time so access to the house is via the windows. Today the downstairs is a gift shop and upstairs a restaurant. The shop sells art, handcraft, gifts and sculptures. Many items have a strong local story to tell.
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