Dreaming of Venice

      of Venice

But who was is talking about exterminating, Father? Who? Who talked
about this? You talked about this. From where did you get this idea? You know, sometimes
you move me. You really move me. Your naïveté, your imbecility, and your cruelty, did
your hear it well? Your part with the demon or I don’t know who.
By Brazzil Magazine

Recife is the country’s fourth biggest city and the capital of Pernambuco. The `Venice
of Brazil’ (a rather hopeful comparison), Recife is a city of water and bridges with arrecifes
(reefs) offshore. Its sister city of Olinda was once the capital of Brazil and today
is a beautiful enclave of colonial buildings filled with artists, students and bohemians.

Amidst all the recent development, Recife retains a rich traditional side, with some of
Brazil’s best folk art, including painting and sculpture, dance, music and festivals. It
takes time to discover this side of the city, but it’s well worth the effort.

Recife is the port of entry for many flights from Europe and has recently been trying
to broaden its tourist appeal. The main beneficiary of these developments has been Boa
Viagem, the Copacabana of Pernambuco. Site of the welltodo nightclubs, restaurants and
most of the midpriced to expensive hotels, Boa Viagem has wide beaches which are essential
for escaping Recife’s muggy heat, although the water is not always very clean. Unless you
want to be right on the beach, Olinda has more cheap accommodation and is a more
interesting place to stay.


Recife developed in the 17th century as the port for the rich sugar plantations around
Olinda. With several rivers and offshore reefs, Recife proved to be an excellent port and
began to outgrow Olinda. By the 17th century, Recife and Olinda combined were the most
prosperous cities in Brazil, with the possible exception of Salvador (Bahia). The
neighboring Indians had been subdued after brutal warfare, and the colonial aristocracy
living in Olinda was raking in profits with its many sugar engenhos (mills).
Naturally, all the work was done by slaves.

No European country had managed to grab a part of Brazil from the Portuguese until
1621, when the Dutch, who were active in the sugar trade and knew the lands of Brazil
well, set up the Dutch West India Company to get their teeth into the Brazilian cake. A
large fleet sailed in 1624 and captured Bahia, but a huge SpanishPortuguese militia of
12,000 men recaptured the city the following year. Five years later the Dutch decided to
try again, this time in Pernambuco. Recife was abandoned; the Dutch took the city and by
1640 they had control of a great chunk of the Northeast, from Maranhão to the Rio São

The Dutch had hoped the sugar planters wouldn’t resist their rule, but many Brazilian
planters took up arms against the nonCatholic Dutch. In 1654, after a series of battles
around Recife, the Dutch finally surrendered. This was the last European challenge to
Portuguese Brazil.

Recife prospered after the Dutch were expelled, but in spite of the city’s growing
economic power, which had eclipsed that of Olinda, political power remained with the sugar
planters in Olinda, and they refused to share it. In 1710 fighting began between the filhos
da terra (the sugar planters of Olinda) and the mascates (the Portuguese
merchants of Recife), the more recent immigrants. The Guerra dos Mascates (War of the
Mascates), as it came to be known, was a bloody regional feud between different sections
of the ruling class and native Brazilians and immigrants. In the end, with the help of the
Portuguese crown and their superior economic resources, the mascates of Recife ,
gained considerable political clout at the expense of Olinda, which began its long, slow

More dependent on the sugar economy than Rio or São Paulo, Recife was eclipsed by
these two centers as the sugar economy floundered throughout the 19th century.


Recife is large, modern and more difficult to negotiate than most cities in the
Northeast. The city center is a confusing mixture of highrise offices, colonial churches
and popular markets. During the day, traffic and tourists get lost in the maze of winding
oneway streets.

The heart of Recife, containing the old section of town, ranges along the waterfront in
Boa Vista district, across the Rio Capibaribe to Santo Antônio district and then across
to Ilha do Recife. All are connected by bridges.

Olinda is six km to the north over swamps and rivers, while Boa Viagem is six km to the


Tourist Office 

The headquarters of Empetur (2412111), the state tourism bureau, is in the monolithic
Centro de Convenções (Complexo Rodoviária de Salgadinho), between the city center and
Olinda. To get there from the center, take the `Rio Doce/Conde da Boa Vista’ bus. Smaller
information booths are in the Casa da Cultura de Recife and the rodoviária (good,
but with no literature). The information desk at the airport has maps and can book hotels.

Useful publications available from tourist offices include the Pernambuco Tourist
Guide, which has a map of the beaches around Recife, Itinerário (a monthly
mini-guide for Recife) and Brazil Travel News—Pernambuco, a glossy brochure
about the state’s main attractions. Diário de Pernambuco, one of the local
newspapers, has cultural listings (museums, art galleries, cinemas, etc) in its daily
Diversões (amusements) section.


There are several bookstalls along Rua do Infante Dom Henrique. The airport bookshop
and the Livro 7 de Setembro are the best bets if you’re looking for foreignlanguage books.

Museums & Galleries

With such a long and important history, it’s not surprising that Recife is loaded with
churches and museums, but few of them are mustsees.

The best museum, Museu do Homem do Nordeste (Museum of the Northeast), is east
of the city center along Avenida 17 de Agosto. Catch the `Dois Irmãos’ bus from Parque 13
de Maio (in the city center) and ask the driver to let you off at the right spot. The
museum is divided into three sections: an anthropology section about the people of the
Northeast; a popularart section with some superb ceramic figurines; and a pharmacy exhibit
about the region’s herbal/indigenous medicine. Opening hours are 11 am to 5 pm on Tuesday,
Wednesday, and Friday, 8 am to 5 pm on Thursday, and 1 to 5 pm on Saturday, Sunday and
public holidays.

The Horto Zoobotânico, with a zoo and botanical garden (both renovated in
1990), is in the same neighborhood. Opening hours are 8 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Sunday.

Train fetishists may like to visit the Museu do Trem (Train Museum), which is
adjacent to Recife Metro Station—formerly known as Estação Central (Central Train

For a look at some paintings by renowned artists of Pernambuco you can visit Galeria
de Arte Metropolitana,
at Rua da Aurora 265. It’s open Tuesday to Saturday from noon
to 6 pm.

Archaeology buffs will want to browse around in the Museu Archeológico, at Rua
do Hospício, 130. It’s open Tuesday and Wednesday from 2 to 6 pm.

Old City

To see the old city, start over at Praça da República, where you’ll see the Teatro
Santa Isabel
(1850) and the Palácio do Governo (1841). Take a look at Igreja
de Santo Antônio
(1753) in Praça da Independência, and then visit Catedral de
São Pedro dos Clérigos,
on Pátio de São Pedro, an artists’ hangout. There are many
intimate restaurants, shops and bars here, all with interesting local characters. On
weekends there’s often good music.

Walk down Rua Vidal de Negreiros to the Forte das Cinco Pontas, which was built
by the Dutch in 1630, then rebuilt in 1677. Inside there’s the Museu da Cidade, which
displays maps and photos of the city. Opening hours are 10 am to 6 pm Tuesday to Friday
and from 1 to 6 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Nearby, at Praça Dom Vital, is the daily Mercado de São José (market) and the
Basílica de Nossa Senhora da Penha. The market used to be a major center
for food and crafts from throughout Pernambuco, but now you’ll find mostly manufactured
goods here.

Casa da Cultura de Recife

The Casa da Cultura de Recife, across the street from Recife Metro Station, once served
as a huge, colonialstyle prison, but was decommissioned, renovated and redecorated in
1975. It’s now home to many craft and souvenir shops. Good traditional music and dance
shows are often performed outside the building, and the complex contains tourist
information and telephone offices. It’s open from Monday to Saturday 9 am to 7 pm and on
Sunday from 2 to 7 pm.

Olaria de Brennand

The Olaria, a ceramics factory and exhibition hall, is set in thickly forested
surroundings, a rare landscape for suburban Recife and an even rarer chance for travelers
in the Northeast to see what the Mata Atlântica looked like several centuries ago. The
buildings and exhibits in Olaria de Brennand are perhaps the most bizarre highlight of the
Northeast—they are highly recommended.

History—The Irish forbears of the present owner, Francisco Brennand,
arrived in Brazil in 1823 to work as peasant farmers. The unmarried daughter of a sugar
magnate took a liking to Brennand’s father, who was employed by her father. She later
inherited her father’s property and, when she died, willed her entire estate and immense
wealth to Brennand Senior.

The house in which Francisco Brennand was born, in 1927, was imported from England in
prefabricated form. Brennand’s father founded a brickworks in 1917 and continued this
business until 1945. Francisco left for France, where he studied art and was influenced by
Picasso, Miró, Léger and Gaudi. The property in Recife remained abandoned from 1945
until 1971, when Brennand returned from France and set about restoring the dilapidated

The Gallery/Museum—This contains a permanent exhibition of around 2000
pieces, which are not for sale. Wander around sculptured collages of cubes, spheres
and rectangles absorbed into animal shapes: worms with balaclava hats; bluntheaded lizards
bursting out of parapets; cuboid geckos straddling paths; geese with flying helmets; birds
of prey hatching from halfshells lodged in the walls; pigs formed from giant nails; and
vistas of busts, buttocks, breasts, and phalluses…meanwhile, black swans glide over
shoals of goldfish in ponds dotted with vulvas shaped like tortoises. Kooky, but fun!

The gallery/museum is open Monday to Thursday from 8 am to 5 pm, and from 8 am to 4 pm
on Friday. For information, contact Oficina Cerâmica Francisco Brennand (2714814), s/a,
Propriedade Santos Cosme e Damião s/n (no number), Várzea, CEP 50741 Recife PE.

Olaria Brennand produces superb ceramics, which are sold in its shop (3250025), at
Avenida Conselheiro Aguiar 2966, loja 4, Galeria Vila Real, in Boa Viagem.

Getting There & Away—From the center of Recife, take the bus marked
`Caxangá’ for the 11km long ride to the Caxangá bus terminal. Continue walking about 100
meters away from the city and over the bridge. Then take the first road on the
left—easily recognized by the roadside statue of Padre Cícero. Walk about two km,
past a couple of stray hotels, until you reach a gaudy housing development. Take the road
to the left at the T-junction and continue for about three km through dense forest to the
office. Shady characters hang out in the area, so it’s best if you are in a group. The
walk takes about 1¼ hours.

Otherwise, you can take a taxi from the bus terminal or the bridge to the
Olaria—and walk back after your visit. Tour companies and taxi companies will also do
the trip from the center of Recife or Olinda, but it’s expensive unless you can form a
small group to share the costs.


The RecifeOlinda combination may be the best Carnaval in Brazil, but even if you decide
to carnaval in Rio or Salvador, Recife starts celebrating so early that you can enjoy
festivities there and then go somewhere else for Carnaval proper. Two months before the
start of Carnaval, there are bailes (dances) in the clubs and Carnaval blocos
practicing on the streets, with frevo dancing everywhere. Galo da Madrugada,
Recife’s largest bloco, has been known to bring 20,000 people in costume onto the
beaches at Boa Viagem to dance.

There are supposedly 500 different Carnaval blocos in the Recife area, and they come in
all `shakes’ and colors. There are the traditional and well organized, the modern and
anarchical. There are samba schools there are afoxés, Indian tribes and maracatus
(African processions accompanied by percussion musicians), but the main dance of
Carnaval in Pernambuco is the frenetic frevo. The Fundação da Cultura do Recife,
which runs Carnaval, has on occasion organized public frevo lessons for the
uninitiated at the Pátio de São Pedro.

Along Boa Viagem beach, Carnaval groups practice on weekends, and as Carnaval
approaches they add trios elétricos to the tomfoolery. The week before Carnaval
Sunday, the unofficial Carnaval really starts. Several groups march through the city
center each day and at least one baile kicks off each evening—time to practice
that frevo.

Bigtime Carnaval takes place from Saturday to Tuesday, nonstop. The big Carnaval groups
parade in wonderful costumes, singing and dancing. For the parade route and schedule,
check the local papers or the tourism office. Along Avenida Guararapes there’s a popular frevo
dance that starts on Friday night and goes on and on.


For reviews and listings of the latest bars, dance spots, and cultural events in
Recife, pick up a copy of Veja. There is usually live music in the center around
Pátio de São Pedro in the evening on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The major nightlife
center for Recife is Graças district, which is a short taxi ride northwest of the city
center and is packed with bars and nightclubs. Some of the options in Graças include
Overpoint, at Rua Graças 261, a popular meeting place and dance club; Cravo e Canela, at
Rua das Creoulas 260, a suave and relaxed bar; New Hits, at Rua Gervásio Fioravante 111,
a very active dance club; Depois do Escuro, at Rua da Amizade 178, and Canto das Águas,
at Rua das Pernambucanas (at the end of the street, beside the river), which are divided
into separate sections with enough space allotted for quiet drinkers and frenetic dancers.

Things to Buy

Recife is a good place to look for Pernambuco’s traditional handicrafts, such as clay
figurines, wood sculptures, leather goods and articles made from woven straw. Check out
the shops and stalls in Casa da Cultura de Recife, Pátio de São Pedro, and markets such
as Mercado de São José or the Feira de Arte e Artesanato, which is a market held in Boa
Viagem during the late afternoon and evening on Saturday and Sunday.


This is excellent beach territory protected by coral reefs. The sea is calm, the waters
are crystal clear and the beaches are lined with coconut palms and white sand dunes. The
coastal PE060 road doesn’t hug the ocean like the road in northern Alagoas, so you have to
drive a dozen or so km on an access road to see what each beach is like. There are
frequent bus services to all these beach towns from Recife. Many of the towns have one or
two simple hotels and, away from Recife, all have excellent camping.

São José da Coroa Grande

The first beach town you reach after crossing into Pernambuco from Alagoas is São
José da Coroa Grande. It’s 120 km from Recife on the PE060 coastal road. This fishing
town is receiving attention from property developers, mostly for construction of weekend
homes. There are a few restaurants and bars and two hotels: the Hotel Valeiro on
the beach, or the more comfortable Hotel do Francês, under French management, 200
meters back from the main beach.


The next access road north of São José da Coroa Grande goes 10 km to the beach at
Tamandaré. There is a small fishing village here with a few restaurants and a couple of
cheap hotels. The beach is idyllic and you can see the old 17thcentury Forte Santo

Other Beaches

The road going north along the coast Tamandaré will take you to the beach Ponta dos
Manguinhos, Guadalupe, Camela
and then heads to Barra de Sirinhaém where there
is a 10km access road back to the main road.

The only lodging in these towns is with the local fisherfolk. During the week the
beaches are practically deserted. Off the coast is the Ilha de Santo Aleixo.

Porto de Galinhas

Seventy km south of Recife is Porto de Galinhas (Port of Chickens). The name came as a
result of the slave trade, which secretly continued after abolition. Upon hearing that the
chickens from Angola had arrived the masters of Recife knew to expect another load of

Porto de Galinhas has one of Pernambuco’s most famous beaches, which curves along a
pretty bay lined with coconut palms, mangroves and cashew trees. Unfortunately, there are
some new housing estates creeping towards the town of Porto de Galinhas. Most of the
beach, three km from town, is sheltered by a reef, but there are some waves for surfers.
The water is warm and clear—you can see the colorful fish playing around your feet.
There are plenty of jangadas for rent, but they’re not cheap ($3.5 per person per
hour). Other boats can take you out to Ilha de Santo Alexio for $15 per person.

Should you tire of Praia de Porto de Galinhas, head for Praia de Maracaípe, a more
secluded beach three km away, which also has accommodation.

Gaibu & Cabo de Santo Agostinho

Although Gaibu is the larger town further up the coast, beach bums should head only as
far as Cabo de Santo Agostinho, one of the state’s finest beaches There are facilities for
snorkeling and spearfishing. Take a walk to the ruins of the Forte Castelo do Mar, which
is next to the church.

On a hill between Gaibu and Calhetas (you have to ask around for directions) there’s a
small, freshwater stream that’s used for nude bathing.

Suape & Ilha do Paiva

Suape has been developed as an industrial port. Heading north again, Ilha do Paiva,
nicknamed the island of lovers, is popular for its nude beaches. Take a boat from Barra
das Jangadas—it’s worth a visit.

The mainland beaches here—Candeias, Venda Grande, Piedade—are semiurban
beaches with many barracas, hotels, and crowds on weekends. But they are still good
beaches, with clean water and sometimes strong surf.

(To be continued.)

Excerpts from Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit, 3rd edition, by
Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey, Leonardo Pinheiro,  and Robyn Jones. For more
information call Lonely Planet: (800) 275-8555. Copyright 1996 Lonely Planet Publications.
Used by permission.

Buy it at

Lonely Planet
Brazil – A Travel Survival Kit

by Andrew Draffen, Chris McAsey,
Leonardo Pinheiro, Robyn Jones,
704 pp

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