The boy brings the beverage, the glasses and soon after, in a little
plate, two breads with half meatball in each one. The man and (more than he) the children
look inside the breads while the boy, accomplice, leaves.
By Brazzil Magazine
The Tupi tribe who lived beside the Amazon estuary prior to colonization used the term,
`pa’ra’ (vast ocean) to describe its awesome size. In 1500, the Spanish navigator Vicente Yáñez Pinzón sailed past the estuary, noted the huge volume of
fresh water issuing into be ocean, and turned back to investigate a short distance up the estuary. Concluding that navigation
to the source of such a gigantic `ocean river’ was too risky, he headed back to Spain to report his discovery.
The economic development of the state is concentrated on giant mining projects (such as Projeto Grande Carajás)
and grandiose hydroelectric schemes (such as the Tucuruí dam). Much of the southern part of the state has been
deforested, and there are serious ecological problems involved with land disputes, ranching and uncontrolled mining.
Pará state is divided into two time zones. The delineation of these time zones seems to depend on local assessment,
but as a general rule, the section of the state east of the Rio Xingu uses Brazilian standard time, while the section to the west
of the river is one hour behind Brazilian standard time.
Belém is the economic center of the North and the capital of the state of Pará. It’s a city with a unique and
fascinating culture derived from the peoples and ways of the forest, and animated by the exuberance of the port. Although Belém is
clearly in a state of decay, the central area is pleasant, the sites of interest are close by and the people are friendly.
The Portuguese, sailing from Maranhão, landed at Belém in 1616, and promptly built the Forte do Castelo at an
entrance to the Rio Mar (River Sea) to deter French, English, Spanish and Dutch boats from sailing up the Amazon and claiming
territory. By 1626, the area encompassed by the presentday states of Pará and Maranhão was set up as a colony separate from
the rest of Brazil. It had its own governor, who reported directly to the Portuguese king, and its own capital (in São Luís
do Maranhão). This colony remained officially separate from the rest of Brazil until 1775.
Creating a separate administration for the territory stretching from Belém to São Luís made sense: prevailing winds
and ocean currents along the coast of Brazil made it extremely difficult for ships to leave Belém and reach Salvador, and the
inland route was long and perilous. The trip from Belém to Lisbon lasted just six weeks, whereas the journey to Salvador
took considerably longer.
Belém’s economy relied on drogas do sertão
(the spices of the backlands). The white settlers (predominantly poor
farmers who had emigrated from the islands of the Azores, off the coast of Portugal) were entirely dependent on the labor of
the filhos do mato (sons of the forest), native Indians who knew the ways of the Amazon and who could find cacao, vanilla, cassia
and cinnamon for export to Europe. These riches, and the enslavement and destruction of the Indians, made Belém a
relatively prosperous settlement. For hundreds of years, the settlement survived by striking further and further into the
Amazon, destroying tribes of Indians in one slaving expedition after another.
As elsewhere in Brazil, the Jesuits came to the Amazon to `save’ the Indians and to install them in
aldeias (mission villages) throughout the region. Terrible epidemics killed many Indians, while Catholicism killed their culture. Indians who chose
to escape this fate fled further into the Amazon, along smaller tributaries.
By the end of the 18th century, as its Indian labor force became depleted, the economy of Belém began to decline. In
the 1820s, a split between the white ruling classes led to civil war. It quickly spread to the dominated Indians, mestizos,
blacks and mulattos, and after years of fighting, developed into a popular revolutionary movement that swept through Pará like
a wildfire. The Cabanagem rebellion was a guerrilla war fought by the wretched of the Amazon.
I n 1835 the guerrilla fighters marched on Belém, taking the city after nine days of bloody fighting. They installed
a popular government, which expropriated the wealth of the merchants, distributed food to all the people and declared
Belém’s independence. But the revolutionary experiment was immediately strangled by a British naval blockade, Britain being
the principal beneficiary of trade with Brazil in the 1800s.
A year later, a large Brazilian force recaptured Belém. The vast majority of the city’s population fled to the interior to
resist again. Over the next four years, the military hunted down, fought and slaughtered twothirds of the men in the state of
Paráthey killed anyone who was black or brown40,000 out of a total population of some 100,000. The Cabanagem massacre
was one of the bloodiest and most savage of many Brazilian military campaigns against its own people.
Decades later, the regional economy was revitalized by the rubber boom, A vast number of poor peasants fled the
draught-plagued Northeast, particularly the Amazon’s rubber trees. Most of the
seringueiros (rubber gatherers) then died in debt.
By 1910 rubber constituted 39% of the nation’s total exports. Belém’s population grew from 40,000 in 1875 to over
100,000 in 1900. The town had electricity, telephones, streetcars and a distinctly European feel, in the midst of the tropical heat.
The rubber boom provided the money for the city to erect a few beautiful monuments such as the Teatro da Paz and the
Palácio Antônio Lemos.
Belém is one of the rainiest cities in the world. There is no dry seasonOctober has the least rainbut it rains more
often and with greater abundance from December to June. This is not as bad as it sounds: the rain is often a brief, welcome
relief from the heat. It is not unusual for the locals to arrange appointments according to daily rainfall time, saying: I will meet
you tomorrow after the rain! The humidity is very high, but unlike Manaus, Belém gets breezes from the Atlantic Ocean,
which makes its weather more bearable.
As it approaches the Atlantic, the Amazon splinters into many branches and forms countless channels, numerous
fluvial islands and, finally, two great estuaries. These estuaries separate the Ilha de Marajó, the `island continent’, from the
mainland. The southern estuary is joined by the mighty Rio Tocantins and is known as the Baía de Marajó before it enters the Atlantic.
Belém is 120 km from the Atlantic, at the point where the Rio Guamá turns north and becomes the Baía do Guajará,
which soon feeds into the massive Baía de Marajó. It’s the biggest port on the Amazon and from here, you can set sail for
any navigable port of the Amazon and its tributaries. Distances are great, river travel is slow and often dull, and you may
have to change ships along the way, but it is cheap.
The heart of town lies along Avenida Presidente Vargas, from the bay to the Teatro da Paz (in the Praça da
República). Here, you’ll find most of the best hotels and restaurants. Praça da República, a large central park, is a good place to relax
and socialize in the early evening.
Just west of Avenida Presidente Vargas are several narrow shopping streets. Rua João Alfredo is good for cheap
clothes and hammocks. Continue a few blocks to the Cidade Velha (Old Town), with its colonial architecture, or turn right to see
the Mercado Ver-o Peso and the waterfront.
Tourist OfficeParatur (Tel.: 2247184; fax : 2236198), the state tourism agency, has its main office at the Feira
de Artesanato do Estado, Praça Kennedy. The staff are helpful and provide free maps. It’s open from 8 am to 6 pm Monday
Dangers & Annoyances
Many readers have written to warn about the pickpockets who operate alone or in gangs at Mercado Ver-o-Peso.
Don’t take anything of value to this market, and also avoid evenings and Sunday afternoons. If you intend to travel by boat
from Belém, watch your gear carefullytheft is becoming increasingly common. Theft at the rockbottom hotels is
Spanning several blocks along the waterfront, this big market operates all day, every day. Its name originated from
the fact that the market was established as a checkpoint where the Portuguese would
`ver o peso’ (watch the weight) in
order to impose taxes.
Many readers have commented unfavorably on the smell of putrefaction and the rampant crime in the market, but
the display of fruits, vegetables, plants, animals and fish, not to mention the people, is fascinating. While this would be
a photographer’s paradise, don’t wander around dreamily with your camerayou risk being accosted with a dirty big fish
knife! It’s best to get there early, when the boats are unloading their catches at the far end of the market. Watch for the
mura, a humansize fish.
The most intriguing section is filled with medicinal herbs and roots, dead snakes,
jacaré teeth, amulets with
mysterious powers, and potions for every possible occasion. There are shops selling weird and wonderful religious objects used
for Macumba ceremonies, such as incense to counter
mau olhado (evil eye), and guias (necklaces that, when blessed, are
used to provide a connection with the spirit world). There are also restaurants and food stalls for good, cheap meals.
Teatro da Paz
Constructed in 1874 in neoclassical style, the theater (Tel.: 224-7355) has hosted performances by numerous Brazilian
stars and various international favorites, including Anna Pavlova, the Vienna Boys’ Choir and the Cossacks. The architecture
has all the sumptuous trappings of the era: columns, busts, crystal mirrors, and an interior decorated in Italian theatrical
style. Opening hours are from 8 am to 6 pm Friday (weekend visits need to be booked in advance). Admission costs $1.20.
The theatre is in the center of Praça da República.
Museu Emílio Goeldi
This museum (Tel.: 2490163) was created in 1866 by the naturalist Domingos Soares Ferreira Pena. In 1894 the
state governor Lauro Sodré, contracted Dr Emílio Augusto Goeldi to direct and reorganize the museum. Presently, the museum
is also a research institution for the study of the flora, fauna, peoples and physical environment of Amazônia.
The museum consists of three parts: a combined park and zoo, an aquarium and a permanent exhibit. The zoo is one
of the best in South America. It has
peixe-boi (manatees) browsing on underwater foliage, sleek jungle cats,
ariranha (giant river otters), monkeys and many strange Amazonian birds. There are even roving
pacas (agoustis) scurrying free through the park.
The aquarium displays a small sample of the 1500 fish species identified in local waters (there are dozens of fish
species still to identified in the Amazon region), including hoover fish, window-cleaner fish, butterfly fish and leaf fishthe
names are self-explanatory.
The permanent exhibit called `Amazônia: Man and the Environment’, has a good display of minerals,
artesanato of various Indian tribes, and an interesting collection of archaeological specimens, including intricately decorated ceramic burial
urns form the Santarém and Ilha de Marajó pre-Columbian Indian civilizations.
At the time of writing, the museum shop had been crushed by a falling tree and was awaiting restoration. The shop
sells posters, museum research publications, and booklets about Amazonian flora, fauna and culture.
The Museu Emílio Goeldi is open from 9 am to noon and from 2 to 5 pm Tuesday to Thursday, from 9 am to noon on
Friday and from 9 am to 5 pm on weekends. Admission to all three sections costs S$3.50. A gift shop sells a variety of Tshirts,
minerals and Indian arts and crafts. The shop is closed for lunch from 12.45 to 2.45 pm.
The museum is at Avenida Governador Magalhães Barata 376. From the city center, take the bus marked `Aeroclube
20′. If you fell like walking from the center, it takes about 35 minutes and you can include a couple of sights en route.
Starting from the Teatro da Paz, walk down Avenida Nazaré, which becomes Avenida Governador Magalhães Barata, and
continue past the Basílica de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, which is close to the museum.
Basílica de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré
The basílica is visited annually by over one million worshippers during the Círio de Nazaré. It was built in 1909, in
Roman architectural style inspired by the Basílica of St Paul in Rome. Many of the materials and artisans were imported from
Europe, and the interior is lined with fine marble. The elaborate altar piece frames a tiny statue of the Virgin, while the façade has
a mural depicting the arrival of the Portuguese colonizers in Brazil. Included among Indians, soldiers and priests are a
couple of men dressed in suits and ties! They are the figures of the wealthy patrons who sponsored the
Downstairs is a sacredart museum, Museu do Círio (Tel.: 2249614) which is open from 8 am to 6 pm Tuesday to
Friday and from 8 am to noon on weekends. Admission is free. Here you can buy the traditional
brinquedos de abaetetuba (toys made of balsa wood, which are sold in the streets during the Círio festival). The church is on Praça Justo Chermonta
short walk from the Museu Emílio Goeldiand it’s open daily from 6.30 to 11:30 am and 3 to 9 pm.
Our Lady of Nazaré
The origins of the image of Our Lady of Nazaré, the devotion to the Virgin and how she came to Belém are shrouded
in myth and misunderstanding, but many people accept the following account to be the true version of events.
According to the Portuguese, the holy image was sculpted in Nazareth (in Galilee). The image of the Virgin made its
way through many European monasteries before arriving at the monastery of Gauliana, in Spain. In 714, the forces of King
Roderick, the last Visigoth King, were routed by the Moors at the battle of Gaudelette. Retreating to the only remaining patch of
Christian soil in Iberia, at Asturias, the king took refuge at the monastery of Gauliana . Still pursued by the Moors, Roderick fled
to Portugal with Abott Romano, who had the presence of mind to bring the Virgin with him. Before his capture and
execution, the abbot hid the Virgin from the iconoclastic Muslims, while King Roderick escaped unharmed.
Four hundred years later, shepherds in the mountains of Siano (now São Bartolomeu) found the Virgin of Nazaré,
and the statue became known as a source of protection. The first miracle occurred on 9 October 1182. Dom Fuas Roupinho
was riding in pursuit of a stag when he was miraculously saved from falling off a cliff. According to local belief, his horse
stopped so suddenly that bits of iron from the horseshoes were embedded into the stones underfoot. The miracle was attributed
to the Virgin of Nazaré, upon whose help he had called in his moment of danger.
In the 17th century, Jesuits brought the cult and the image to northeastern Brazil, and somehow the Virgin made her
way to Vigia, in Pará, where she was worshipped. An attempt was made to bring the Virgin to Belém, but the image was lost
in the jungle and forgotten. In October of 1700, Plácido José de Souza, a humble rancher, led his cattle to drink from
Murucutu Igarapé and rediscovered the Virgin. Plácido placed the statue on a rough altar in his hut. News spread, and many of the
faithful gathered from miles around. Before long, Plácido’s hut became the sanctuary of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré. In 1721
Bishop Dom Bartolomeu do Pilar confirmed that the image was the true Virgin of Nazaré. In 1793 Belém had its first Círio and the
city has staged an annual celebration ever since
Bosque Rodrigues Alves
This 16hectare park at Avenida Almirante Barroso 1622 contains a lake, and a zoo with turtles and
jacarés. Apart from the Museu Emílio Goeldi, this is the only large patch of greenery close to the city center. Frequented by couples kissing
in the grottos, it’s a pleasant place to relax. Avoid it on Sunday, though, when little brats torment the turtles and
jacarés by throwing plastic bags filled with water at their headsone reader felt like feeding the perpetrators to the victims!
Opening hours are 7 am to 5 pm Tuesday to Sunday. From the city center, take the bus marked `Aeroclube 20′.
The old part of Belém is mostly rundown, but authentic. It’s a good area in which to walk, drink and explore. There
are colonial buildings notable for their fine
azuleaw6kx (blue Portuguese tiles). A particularly striking example of the colonial
style is Loja Paris N’America, on Rua Alfredo Santo Antônio.
Palácio Antônio Lemos (Art Museum)
This former palace (Tel.: 2235664), which had almost been condemned and reportedly had animals roaming around
inside, was renovated in 1993, and now houses the Belém Museum of Art (MABE) and the Municipal Government Headquarters.
It was built during the second half of the 19th century, when Belém was the largest city in the region and the main
beneficiary of the rubber trade. At this time Belém was considered to be `the tropical Paris’, because its opulent architecture and
customs were similar to those of the French capital. Built in the Brazilian imperial style, the symmetrical building has a grand
central staircase made of Portuguese marble. Its vast rooms have a selection of opulent imported furniture, including a Louis
XIV setting. The mayor’s office is one of these grandiose rooms.
The Palácio Antônio Lemos (Palácio Azul), between Praça Dom Pedro II and Praça Felipe Patroni, is open for visits
from 9 am to noon and 1 to 6 pm, Tuesday to Friday, and 9 am to noon on weekends. Admission is free. .
Palácio Lauro Sodré (State Museum)
The former government house has recently been renovated and turned into the State Museum (Tel.: 2252414). It was
built during the 18th century to house the Portuguese crown’s representatives in Belém. Early this century, in response to
the French influence on Belém’s bourgeois culture, the maim rooms were redecorated, each in a different style. The service
areas at the rear are just as interesting. There is a small chapel (stripped of its religious decoration during the time of the
military government, stables and a slaves’ dungeon. In 1835 the Cabanagem invaded the palace, killing the president on the
The Museu de Cidade is next door to the Palácio Antônio Lemos, facing Praça Dom Pedro II, and is open from 9 am
to 1 pm Tuesday to Sunday. Guided tours are organized at museum reception. Admission costs $2.50.
The Legend of Muiraquitã
Legend has it that in the Serra Yacy-taperé, there exists a lake that the Indians called `Yacy-uaruá (mirror of the
moon). Annually, by the light of a full moon, the all-female Ikanbiadas Indian tribe would celebrate the moon, and the
mother Muyrakitan, who lived in the depths of the lake. The local men were invited to the party to have sexual relations with the
Indian women. During the party, the women would dive into the lake to receive from mother Muyrakitan an amulet in the form
of a small frog. These amulets were then presented to the lucky men participating in the party.
River Tours & Beach Excursions
Travel agencies offer various river tours and excursions to nearby beaches. Prices range from $25 per person for
the standard river tour to $35 per person for an excursion to the beach at Ilha do Mosqueiro. City tours and cultural tours
can be good if you are short on time, as they give a quick overview of Belém.
The `canned tours’ of the Rio Guamá are heavily promoted, but not particularly exciting. In three hours you cruise
the river, go down a channel, get out on an island, and walk down a path where many have traveled before to see the local
flora (rubber, mahogany trees, açaí
palms, sumaúma, mangoes and cacao trees). This voyage into the known is recommended
only if you have no time to really see the jungle and rivers. An interesting variation is the combined early bird halfday tour
offered by Amazon Star. It starts 4 am, before sunrise, when you can see parrots and other birds leaving Parrot Island at the first
light of day. This tour costs $35, including breakfast.
Praia Funda, on Ilha de Cotijuba, 1 1/2 hours by boat from Belém, has beaches, the ruins of an old prison and the
Hotel Trilha Dourada. Boats depart from the Porto Rodomar, at Rua Siqueira Mendes, at noon on weekdays, returning at 5 pm.
On weekends, the first boat departs at 8.30 am and the last returns at 3.20 pm. Tickets cost $0.35 on weekdays and $ 1.20
on weekends. An alternative is the twoday `Sol e Mar’ package offered by the Hotel Trilha Dourada Lodge (Tel.:
2415778; Fax: 2263887), at Travessa Dom Pedro I, Alameda Francisco Ribeiro da Silva 65. The deal ($24 per person) includes
transport, and accommodation in cabanas (rustic huts), but no meals. The restaurant at the hotel serves meals for about $l2.
Every year on the morning of the second Sunday of October, the city of Belém explodes with the sound of hymns,
bells and fireworks. Started in 1793 as a tribute to the Virgin of Nazaré, the Círio de Nazaré is Brazil’s biggest religious festival.
People from all over Brazil flock to Belém, end even camp in the streets, to participate in the grand event. A crowd of 300,000 or
so fills the streets to march from the Catedral Metropolitana (also known as the Igreja da Sé) to the Basílica de Nossa
Senhora de Nazaré.
The image of the Virgin, centerpiece of the procession, is placed on a flowerbedecked carriage. While the faithful
pray, sing hymns, give thanks or ask favors of the Virgin, the pious (often barefoot) bear heavy crosses and miniature wax
houses, and thousands squirm and grope in the emotional frenzy of their efforts to get hold of the 300meter cord for an
opportunity to pull the carriage of the Virgin. Five hours and just 2.5 km later, the Virgin reaches the
basílica, where she remains for the duration of the festivities.
After the parade, there is the traditional feast of
pato no tucupi (duck cooked in manioc extract). Círio de Nazaré
without this dish is akin to a U.S. Thanksgiving without turkey. From the
basílica, the multitudes head to the fairgrounds for
mayhem of the more secular kind: food, drink, music and dancing. The party continues unabated for a fortnight. On the Monday
15 days after the first procession, the crowd reassembles for the Recírio parade, in which the Virgin is returned to her
proper niche and the festivities are concluded.
Places to Stay
Despite the overall price increases in Brazil, Belém, with its abundance of twostar hotels, still has some of the
best accommodation deals in the Amazon region. Several places with midrange facilities charge reasonable rates.
Consequently, even travelers on a tight budget may want to consider a minor splurge on the midrange hotels. Most of these hotels
are centralalong or close to Avenida Presidente Vargas (an ideal location). There are also cheap dives and opulent, old
hotels. If you’re just passing through, there are hotels in front of the
Places to Eat
The food in Belém features a bewildering variety of fish and fruit, and (unlike much of Brazil) a distinct regional
cuisine that includes several delicious dishes.
Pato no tucupi is a lean duck cooked in
tucupi sauce (a yellow liquid extract from
manioc or cassava root, poisonous in its raw form). Try
unhas de caranguejo (crab claws) and casquinha de caranguejo
(stuffed crab). Maniçoba (a stew of
maniva and meats) takes a week to prepare shoots of
maniva (a variety of manioc) are ground, cooked for at least four days, then combined with jerked beef, calves, hooves, bacon, pork and sausages. If you enjoy
feijoada, Brazil’s national dish, you will appreciate
Until quite recently, such endangered species as
tartaruga (turtle) and peixeboi (manatee) were regularly served
in Belém’s restaurants. This practice is now illegal.
Three of the best local fish are filhote and
pescada amarela and douradagreat eating. And you are no doubt
familiar with açaí,
acerola, uxi, murici,
bacuri and sapoti just a few of the luscious Amazonian fruits that are available.
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