Recife, with its approximate 4,000,000 inhabitants, as of 2013, is the capital of the Pernambuco state of Brazil.
The city is not that preponderant – yet – on the tourist map, but its many surrounding rivers, smallish islands and 50 bridges has given it the nickname of “Brazilian Venice”, and, though there is still ample room for improvement, the city has been frequently awarded the title of Brazil’s best beach, as well as UNESCO, in 1982, declaring the nearby town of Olinda a World Heritage site.
Recife – the name of which was derived from the Portuguese word for reef – started life in 1537 as a collection of fishing shacks, warehouses and inns situated on the delta between the Beberibe and Capibaribe Rivers and the “arrecife dos navios” (reef of the ships), heralding the advent of the Portuguese colonization of the Terra de Santa Cruz, later to be called Brazil.
There is plenty for the tourist to see here, including colonial churches with their extravagant architecture, markets around the city in which to meander and perhaps purchase some of the traditional handicrafts – which include leather goods, wood sculptures, clay figurines and items of woven straw – as well as a visit to the Casa da Cultura de Recife, Recife’s Cultural Centre.
Not too far away (about 3 miles), as mentioned earlier, is the city of Olina, which is really worth a visit to get your dose of colonial history in all its glory. It is easily accessible by taking a Rio Doce or Pau Amarelo bus directly outside the Recife metro station.
Olinda is one of the best preserved colonial cities in Brazil, but it comes with a warning: it is said that you will be seriously tempted to drop whatever is in your current life, and relocate here!
There are plenty of opportunities to learn about the city and its Portuguese and Dutch colonial influences, with its explanatorily named streets, narrow winding cobblestoned roads dotted with brightly painted buildings and historic churches, and friendly and cheerful locals. There always seems to be a festival or street party happening, too.
If you’re there on a Sunday, try not to miss the Basilica de Sao Bento with its Sunday evening mass Gregorian chants, or a café in the lively Do Carmo Square, which is worth a visit if only to see what the locals are up to! From carnival practices to jugglers, to small bands practicing, the park is the place to drop by. There is also the delightful Museu do Mamulengo, (puppet museum), a small but well interpreted platform of one of Brazil’s unique cultures.
The museum showcases the Mamulengo, which is a type of puppet/doll that had been used in the past to propagate church teachings as well as portraying small town rumours and folklore. The colourful puppets, with their picturesque costumes, are certainly worth the small entrance fee, in my opinion.
Address: Museu do Mamulengo Rua de Sao Bento, 344 | Centro, Olinda,
Tel: + 81 3493-2753