Historic Centre of the Town of Olinda, Brazil

An exceptional ensemble of landscape, urbanism and architecture

Historic Centre of the Town of Olinda (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

The exceptional ensemble of landscape, urbanism and architecture found in the Historic Centre of the Town of Olinda is an eloquent reflection of the prosperity nourished by the sugar economy. Founded in 1535 on hillsides overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on Brazil’s northeast coast, close to the isthmus of Recife where its port is situated, Olinda served from the last years of the 16th century onward as one of the most important centres of the sugarcane industry, which for almost two centuries was the mainstay of the Brazilian economy.

One of the most important centres of the sugarcane industry (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

This former capital of the Portuguese administrative division (capitania) of Pernambuco became the symbol of sugar and of the wealth it procured. Its historic centre today is marked by a number of architecturally outstanding buildings set in the lush vegetation of gardens, hedgerows and convent precincts, a mass of greenery bathed in tropical light with the sandy shore and ocean below. Rebuilt by the Portuguese after being looted and burned by the Dutch, Olinda’s existing historic fabric dates largely from the 18th century, although it incorporates some older monuments such as the 16th-century church of São João Batista dos Militares. Olinda became a remarkable nucleus, first as an economic, architectural and artistic centre, and later as a centre for the renewal of ideas.

World Heritage inscription (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

The harmonious balance between its buildings, gardens, convents, numerous small passos (chapels) and about twenty baroque churches all contribute to the Historic Centre of the Town of Olinda’s particular charm. It is dominated by the Catedral Alto da Sé, the former Jesuit church and college (now the church of Nossa Senhora da Graça), the Palácio Episcopal, the Misericórdia church, the convents of the Franciscans, Carmelites and Benedictines, and various public buildings ranging from the 17th to 19th centuries. The studied refinement of the decor of these architectural works contrasts with the charming simplicity of the houses, many of which are painted in vivid colours or faced with ceramic tiles. All are located in an informal web of streets and alleyways and set within a lush tropical forest landscape overlooking the ocean that differentiates this town and gives it its unique character.

Churches, convents and gardens (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

During the century of its foundation, religious orders settled in the city the oldest churches and convents in Brazil. Some of these convents, like that of the Jesuits, played a major role in the propagation of useful vegetables of the country, of Europe and Africa, which turned its vegetable gardens into famous orchards at the time, as Father Cardim (1584) and a fellow of the Senhor de la Ravardière (1616) testify.

Historic Centre of the Town of Olinda (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

Outstanding architecture

The historic centre of Olinda contains a number of buildings that are outstanding from the point of view of both their architecture and decoration, including the Catedral Alto da Sé, the church of Nossa Senhora da Graça and examples of civil architecture ranging from the 17th to 19th centuries.

Church of the Savior of the World (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

Founded in 1540, the Church of the Savior of the World, the city’s Cathedral, was the first religious temple in the town of Olinda. It occupies a prominent position in the landscape of the city (Alto da Sé), offering one of the most delightful views of Olinda.

Church of the Savior of the World (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

The Carmo Church (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

The Carmo Church, one of the finest and unique temples of Brazil in the Renaissance architectural spirit, exhibits one of the religious architectures of the city, as well as the convent of Nossa Senhora das Neves, the oldest Franciscan convent of Brazil, and São Bento monastery.

The Carmo Church (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

Church and Monastery of São Bento (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

The Church and Monastery of São Bento is protected by the National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN), the building dates back to the time of the colonization of Brazil.

Church and Monastery of São Bento (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

Mercado Eufrásio Barbosa (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

A vibrant city

The Mercado da Ribeira was built in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century.

Mercado da Ribeira (Ribeira Market) (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

The building is characteristic of colonial Brazil: brickwork flooring and two porches with pilasters in Portuguese stone.

Mercado da Ribeira (Ribeira Market) (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

The market has been restored.

First Brazilian Capital of Culture (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

Carnival (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

Olinda is also famous for its grand Carnival. Every year during the festivities, millions of people dance and party on the streets following the “Blocos” or parades that play the traditional rhythm of Frevo. Another typical feature at Olinda’s Carnival is the giant puppets that reproduce the celebrities from Brazilian and worldwide.

Carnival (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

Frevo, the contagious rhythm that amuses visitors and locals during Carnival, was inscribed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2012. The dance that follows the music is vigorous and as the name suggest “feverish”. Men and women in colorful costumes and usually carrying a little umbrella perform the moves with impressive ability.

Mamulengos (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

Pernambuco Museum of Sacred Art (Maspe) (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

The memories of Olinda’s history and culture are kept at a noteworthy museum. Inaugurated in 1977, the Pernambuco Museum of Sacred Art (Maspe) is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Vila de Olinda, the former City Hall.

In poetry (1982) by Historic Centre of the Town of OlindaUNESCO World Heritage

Olinda is all for the eyes
it's not tangible, it's all desire.
No one says, "That's where I live."
They just say, "That's where I see."

-- Celebrated Brazilian poet Carlos Pena Filho, 
in his poem Olinda.

Credits: Story

This exhibit was created by Embratur
www.embratur.gov.br

More on Olinda and World Heritage:
https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/189

Photos: Embratur; Prefeitura de Olinda; Arquimedes Santos / Prefeitura Municipal de Olinda; Passarinho/ Prefeitura de Olinda; Antônio Melcop / Prefeitura de Olinda

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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