Brazil travel blog by Mark Berman -
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At first glance Belem doesn't look so appealing but in reality it is a very interesting city with many sights and historical buildings to discover
around the center. I arrived in Belem at the port after a 43hr Amazon River journey by ferry from Santarem towards the
west. Belem was founded in 1616 and is the gateway to the Amazon Rainforest in the Bay of Guajara near the eastern Brazilian coast. I stayed in a hotel in the heart of the historic area near
the river and markets.
Plaza D. Pedro II
The first place I visited was plaza Praca D. Pedro II which has many colonial buildings around it and views of others in streets
nearby. This plaza is across the road from the river and is very much in the center of everything you want to see in Belem. The monument in the
middle features lions and statues with the statue at the very top being of Hilario Maximiano Antunes Gurjao (1820-1869), a military man. The plaza
has lots of trees and walkways. Better still are the interesting buildings all around the plaza. The palaces Palacio L. Sodre and Palacio A. Lemos,
The Museum of Art and other smaller colonial buildings on another side. All facades are well-kept. Across the road is the iron-cast clock tower
which came from England. From the clock tower you can see a street beside the river with a line of old colonial buildings along one side.
the iron clock tower you can see the fortress Forte do Presepio up a slight hill. I walked up a derelict cobblestone street with a train track down the middle
to get there, 2 mins walk. The area around the fortress is very nice with green lawns, paths, artworks and views of the river. A stone archway, a
cobblestone path, then a bridge across a lower path brings you to the fort entrance. The top part of the fortress is in a circle shape with cannon
pointing out towards the sea in all directions. From this vantage point you can see tiled roofs and the cathedral with historic buildings all around.
Also the view of the port and city is fantastic from up here! The fortress is in great condition and also has a museum and archaeological
information to read.
The Most Beautiful Plaza
From the fort I headed towards the huge white cathedral which has a plaza across the road called Praca Frei Caetano Brandao, this
is the oldest area of Belem. This is a beautiful plaza and the thousands of red flowers give the white cathedral a nice contrast. You can buy
fresh cold coconut juice straight from the coconut and sit to enjoy the surroundings of this most beautiful part of the inner city. The plaza has
a central monument of the man it is named after. The interior of the cathedral has beautiful facades and fittings. On the other side of the plaza
is another church called Igreja da Se which is also a standout historic building.
Waterfront and Markets
From Plaza Frei Caetano Brandao I walked a few minutes back to the waterfront around
the central market Mercado de Ferro do Ver-o-Peso which is marked by the huge blue building that has a tower on all 4 corners. It was built between
1899 and 1901. This is an area of the city you need to be careful in, there are people sleeping rough, drunks, drugs and thieves all about. But it is
perfectly safe if you stay aware of what is around you. It is an interesting and lively place as you would expect from a large market area. There is
also a huge food hall where you can sit and have a nice big meal for $10 Reals ($3-4USD). Beside the market is a derelict historic building called
the Solar da Beira. I walked up the stairs and took a few photos out of the windows but I wouldn't recommend doing that particularly because there
were dodgy out-of-it people laying around the place.
Back 1 or 2 Blocks
Across the road is the historic facade of the Municipal Market. From here I walked a few
minutes and came to plaza Praca das Merces which has an historic church that goes by 2 names - Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Merces and Covento dos
Mercedarios, last restored in 1753. The plaza has a statue of politician Jose da Gama Malcher (1814-1882) as well as historic buildings all around
it. On the upper side of the plaza are streets with shops, food, hotels and more interesting colonial facades. Other buildings I saw while walking
to plaza Praca da Republica in a nearby part of the city included Palacio Cabanagem (the Legislative Palace), Baroque church Capela de Sao Joao
Batista, the pink facade of the O'Cosmorama building and statues opposite the yellow church Igreja de Sant' Ana (1782) at plaza Praca Maranhao
and the colonial baroque church Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Homens Pretos. I arrived at Praca da Republica and saw a plaque that said that
this is the site called Pioneer's Bench where 2 Swedish missionaries Daniel Berg and Gunnar Vingren prayed to God and ate mangoes in 1910 after
landing ship Clement. In 1911 they founded the Apostolic Faith Mission (Assembly of God) in Belem.
Plaza Republica is a very large park and has
some fantastic buildings to see including the pink theatre Teatro Waldemar Henrique and the prestigious theatre Teatro da Paz. Across the road
from here is the antique fountain in plaza Praca da Sereia. I then walked past the red flowery plaza Praca Barao do Rio Branco which has a
bust of Dr. Ruy Barbosa (1849-1923), a politician and diplomat. Across the road is church Igreja da Santissima Trindade, built in 1802, rebuilt in
1941 and a bust of Jose Maria da Silva Paranhos (1819-1880), a politician and journalist. I found quite a bit of street art around the city on
my travels, much of it was on shabby side-streets.
Near the River
Back down near the river and markets is a statue of Pedro Teixeira (died 1641), he was a
Portuguese explorer and the first European to travel up the entire length of the Amazon River, he has a plaza named after him of course! Between
this plaza and the Ver-o-Peso markets is a very flash section of the waterfront area in Belem. This area has a cobblestone pathway beside the
water underneath an archway of yellow wharf cranes. Also there is an old train engine monument plus restaurants and bars. On another day I was in the area
around plaza Praca da Bandeira where there are many flags flying, some cannon, a Simon Bolivar bust and a big red fire station. Also there is the
green historic building of the military Quartel General.
Ferry Ticket at the Port
I walked to the port to get information about a ferry north to Macapa
passing a few
sights along the way - plaza Praca General Magalhaes Barata and some graffiti art and historic buildings. You are never far away from things historic
in Belem it seems. I enjoyed this city a lot, it is actually one of the more dangerous cities in Brazil but as long as you stay inside at night
and keep your wits about you, you should be fine. From Belem I took a ferry north
26hrs to Macapa