Cearí¡, Brazil, Is Not Just for Sun Worshippers Anymore

Fortaleza's Casa da Cultura Although the city of Fortaleza, capital of the Brazilian northeastern state of Ceará, is quite well-known for its beautiful beaches, comfortable hotels and also for its culinary wonders, what many do not realize is that the city is also a cultural hub that is sadly unnoticed by the many visitors it receives year after year.

As a former resident of Fortaleza, I had many opportunities to enjoy music, theater, dance and of course the work of the famed artisans who come from various parts of the state to sell their goods in different parts of the country.

One destination that visitors should not miss is the Centro Dragão do Mar de Arte e Cultura (Rua Dragão do Mar, 81 – http://www.dragaodomar.org.br), a giant multimedia center built about ten years ago in what was once a derelict part of town where many warehouses used to stand in the days when the city's port was in the area. 

In addition to a large number of restaurants, it hosts various concerts, exhibits, literature and music festivals. They also have three movie theaters dedicated to independent cinema  and the state's only planetarium. The best time to go there is in the early evening, when you can enjoy a nice cup of coffee while you plan what to do.

Not far from the Cultural Center is the Mercado Central de Fortaleza (Av Alberto Nepomuceno, 199;  85-3454-8244 http://www.mercadocentraldefortaleza.com.br), a four-story facility dedicated to the city's artisans. Survival Portuguese is recommended here as most of the people who work there have little or no knowledge of the English language, and many look at tourists with dollar signs in their eyes.

I recall that during out last visit there about a year ago, I was talking with my Polish-born wife (who does not speak Portuguese) and a storekeeper smiled as we entered his stand. That smile immediately disappeared when I began speaking with a full Fortaleza accent, inquiring about the prices and even haggling a bit about them.

Some might argue that Pirata Bar (www.pirata.com.br) is nothing but a tourist trap where few locals ever set their foot in – that is partially true (the part about the locals), but the truth is that this is one of the few places where you can enjoy forró and other northeastern rhythms safely.

The security is tight there, and owner Julio Trindade is careful to make sure that "the wildest Monday night in the world" does not become a nightmare  – it's bad enough that the entire Iracema Beach neighborhood deteriorated so badly over the years.

There are numerous festivals that come to Fortaleza on a regular basis – among them is The Eleazar de Carvalho Festival (http://www.eleazarfundec.org.br), which happens between June and July every year. The brainchild of Sonia Muniz de Carvalho, she continues the work of the late maestro Eleazar de Carvalho, who dedicated his life to classical music education.

Another option is The Festival BNB da Música Instrumental (http://www.bnb.gov.br) one of the few opportunities that Brazilian musicians have to be exposed to instrumental jazz – in addition to live performances, there are also videos from international performers. For those who prefer more contemporary, pop-friendly material there is the Ceará Music (http://www.cearamusic.com.br), which showcases both local and national talent.

History buffs can walk the streets of the city's center (just don't carry yourself like you have money to burn and look behind your shoulder), where you can visit some of the historical locations where the city was born.

Among them is Emcetur (Rua Senador Pompeu, 350, 3212-3566; http://www.ceara.com/emcetur.htm ), formerly the local jail that has long been converted into a series of shops. On the same street you will find the police battalion that is located at the very fort where the city was born.

The city of Fortaleza has a lot more to offer – it just takes curiosity and a spirit of adventure to find out that the city is not only about lying on the beach. There is much to be seen there that unfortunately does not fit this article. How to start? Ask around – you might just find a friendly Cearense who might show you the way.

Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at ebarteldes@yahoo.com. This article appeared originally in The Brasilians.

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