A stroll in Recife's historical center, Brazil

Fabio Jardelino | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Brazil is a big country, covering a huge part of South America. It's divided between the federal district (the Brazilian Capital, Brasília), and 26 States, each one carrying an independent capital. Inside the State of Pernambuco, Recife is one of the biggest capitals in Brazil, with more than 4 million people in the metropolitan region, and one of the oldest cities in the country, founded on the 12th of March in 1537. Furthermore, Recife's cultural scene produces dozens of artists, music, and rhythms, part of which is expressed into the Old Recife, or "Recife Antigo," the neighborhood, where the whole city begins from.  

In the Brazilian colonization, the Portuguese needed a big port to bring back to Europe the riches from the colony. Using the geographic aspect of the region, they founded the Port of Recife, and occasionally the Village. During the eighteenth century, the port was considered the busiest port in the Americas, which can actually, give you an idea of its size. It was built on this small Island at the coast, and the corals protected it on the sea. Besides, it was surrounded by rivers (yes, Recife is divided by rivers, and that's why in Brazil they call Recife as the "Brazilian Venice"). This strategical geographic spot with the "Coral Reefs" that covers all the Recife coast is the reason the city of Recife got its name. "Coral Reefs" in Portuguese can be translated to "Recife de Corais."

The same port made by the Portuguese in the colonial times still exists and gives the engine to the cultural effervescence in the city center. Walking into the old town, you can find museums in the daylight and bars and "bohemia" at night. Concerts are also taking place there on special occasions. But, it is in  Carnival that the neighborhood achieves its maximal climax.

Museums and historical buildings 

Picture © Credits to Istock/FerreiraSilva

You can find at least three prominent museums into the Old Town. The first one is the "Cais do Sertão." It is a new museum, inaugurated in 2014, that shows the cultural history of the countryside of the State of Pernambuco. In the same year, the "Paço do Frevo" museum became a reality, too.  Located in front of the Arsenal square, it narrates all the history of the "Frevo," a musical rhythm that is danced mainly during the Carnival, originating from Pernambuco. The Old Town also has a modern museum, the "Caixa Cultural" museum, a space for temporary exhibitions in the heart of the old town. 

Another important spot is the "First Sinagoga of Americas," a museum explaining the history of the first Jews into America. It's located at the "Rua do Bom Jesus," which was before called "Rua dos Judeus" (Jew Street). The change of the name goes back to the expulsion of the Jews upon the Portuguese Inquisition. Documents prove that these same Jews are responsible for founding the New York Jew community. 

The Malakoff Tower is one of the best places you can visit in the Old Town. It's situated just in front of the Praça do Arsenal (or, Arsenal Square), which was the old Marine base territory. The construction of the tower started in 1853 and was designed to be the "the arsenal gate of the Marine." Years later, when the military territory was no longer used, the tower transformed into a cultural place. 

But if you are not in the mood for museums, keep in mind that a walk through the old streets is also a "journey into time." The old buildings' architecture inspired by the colonial time and the Dutch invasion has its own magic.

The Fortifications

As was explained, Recife was a small village, but as it was positioned in a strategical location, it became the wealthiest region in the Colonial period. For this reason, the Portuguese conquerors built the "Forte do Brum" to protect the city against foreign invasion. Right next to the port, it was built on the XVI century, and today it is one of the best touristic destinations at the capital. The area currently holds a military museum, which displays weapons, cannons, and photos from the time of the Dutch invasion into the Region.

Out of the old town, but in a close distance, you can also find a second Fort- the Dutch conquerors built this one, and it's called "Forte das Cinco Pontas." Currently, it functions as the "Museum of the City of Recife." 

Beautiful Views and landscapes

Picture © Credits to Fábio Jardelino

The "Paço Alfandega" building can be found inside the heart of the Old Recife. Currently, it's a cultural space and also a shopping mall with excellent cafes and restaurants. At the highest floor of the mall, you can find one of the best Recife city's views, and it's free to go. Another beautiful view is offered on the last floor of the Malakoff Tower. However, it's better to check if it's open before getting there, as the last floor is usually closed for temporary exhibitions. 

Marco Zero and the boat trip to the Sculptures Park

Picture © Credits to Istock/ Ildo Frazao

If you ask anyone in Recife what to do at the Old Town, they will tell you (for sure), to go to the Marco Zero. And that's why I left this for the end. The "Zero marks of Recife" (or Marco Zero do Recife) is where all the destinations start in Pernambuco. It's a big square, built to hold cultural events and touristic purposes. At the square, on the coast, you have two perspectives: from the ocean to the continent you can find beautiful buildings with a variety of colors and architecture, but from the land, looking to the sea, you can see the river separating this beautiful "sculptures park", built upon the Coral Reefs, protecting the land from the ocean. At the river, you can also rent with locals a small boat (around 3 euros one way) that will take you there to appreciate the best spot of the Old Recife. 

Where to eat and drink

At night you have a lot of options to drink a good beer or caipirinha. A good place is at the Rua da Moeda (or, Moeda Street), where you can find a lot of bars and a strong cultural scene, with live music and dancing. In this same street, the statue of Chico Science is standing proud; it is one of the most significant musical references in Pernambuco. Not too far, you have the Rua Tomazina (or Tomazina Street), for an "alternative approach." If you prefer a quiet place to enjoy the moment while looking at the river, then go to the Armazéns do Porto (or, port warehouse)- a restaurant complex located just next to the Marco Zero. Walking around the neighborhood, you can always find some right places at the Praça do Arsenal and the Boulevard Rio Branco.

Enjoy your first day in Recife! 

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