Belém is considered the “gateway” to and the most attractive capital of the Amazon.
Belém do Pará, the capital of the state of Pará, lies approximately 100 km upriver from the Atlantic Ocean, on the Pará River, which is part of the greater Amazon River system, separated from the larger part of the Amazon delta by Ilha de Marajó. With an estimated population of 1,402,056 – 2,249,405 in its metropolitan area – it is the 11th most populous city in Brazil as well as the 16th by economic relevance.
Belém was founded in 1616 by the Kingdom of Portugal, and was the first European colony on the Amazon but did not become part of Brazil until 1775.
This month it commemorates 396 years of its foundation, and is increasingly preferred by tourists for its cultural diversity, its streets, the green islands and the creativity of its people, all characteristics that best sum up the Amazon. A closer look by roaming the streets of its first settlement, Cidade Velha (Old Town), can reveal a little of the architectural and cultural hybridity of Belém do Pará.
Another striking feature is the Portuguese influence showcased in the Feliz Lusitania Complex, with the Casa das Onze Janelas (House of Eleven Windows), the Museum of Sacred Art and the Church of St. Alexander, the Metropolitan Cathedral and Forte do Presépio, which besides representing the foundation of the city, holds relics of the first inhabitants of the Amazon: the Indians.
Visiting Ver-o-Peso, the largest open air market in the country, the tourist’s attention is drawn to the English architecture present in the Praça do Relógio (Clock Square), the Mercado de Carne (Meat Market) and the Mercado de Ferro (Iron Market), one of the main symbols of the city. The Ver-o-Peso market, sells a variety of fruits and delicacies of the Amazon, and is also the scene of encounters between different cultures. In the middle of Ver-o-Peso, the Solar da Beira, depicts the refinement of the time of the founding of Belém, as well as all the architecture around the site.
The most impressive leisure complex, gastronomy and tourism in the region, Estação das Docas, was erected after the decline of the port of Belém, transforming simple iron sheds, long ago imported from Europe. For lunch, sunset or night, that’s where Belém upper class is, to taste the breeze coming from the Guajará Bay, with the exhilarating joy of the place or the menu, excellent quality and flavour of Pará’s culinary escapades.
The Mangal das Gracas is an example of how the state capital unites modernity and environmental preservation. The space constructed on the river Guamá, preserves much of the mangrove vegetation and puts the visitor in contact with certain species of birds and other wildlife in the region. At the site the tourist has a view at the Museu da Navegação (Navy Museum) and a 40 meters high belvedere from where you have a privileged view of the city and the islands of Belém.
The green nature of Belém can be seen in the Botanical Garden Bosque Rodrigues Alves, in the Museum Emílio Goeldi and in Amazon Biopark.
Note: Photos courtesy: Bruno Magno/ORM
Next stop tomorrow: The other side of the coin.