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Published: January 31st 2010
With view of the Ver o Peso
Belém was founded in 1616 by the Portuguese to guard the mouth of the Amazon river from other European powers, mainly French and Dutch.
Today it is the capital of the state of Pará, it has about two million inhabitants.
We arrived on Monday with a flight from Manaus. What a difference between these two cities.
Belem is an attractive city, an important port in Northern Brazil, a city with many colonial and republican architecture jewels.
We stayed at 'le Massilia' hotel. When you will be remembered that Massilia is Latin for Marseilles, you will understand we were in French hands and French company. The owner is indeed from Marseilles and having dinner in his restaurant is being in France. French food is served and one is in company of French peolpe, mainly French expats from nearby French Guinea coming there to relax and find a bit of civilisation.
The public market or 'Ver-o-Peso' is a fascinating place. The waterfront fish market, also called Mercado de Ferro is an iron-built building built in England in the end of the 19th century and then assembled in Belém. Next to the fish market there is also a market for vegetables,
'farinha' (see further), para-pharmaceutical products, a lunch area, bars and much more. 'Farinha' is essentially manioc (or cassava) flower. There are many varieties as some are toasted, some are gross, some extra fine, some yellow coloured with natural products and many more other preparations. It is an essential part of the Brazilian table. People add this as such or prepared as 'farofa' to any meal they have. We bought some samples to share with Robson's family as what is done in the North is of course totally different from what is done in the South. Once back home in the South, all were pleased and endless discussions took place about the respective merits of this or that kind of 'farinha'.
Next to the Ver-o-Peso stands the Forte do Castelo, a Portuguese fort built in 1616. We saw that the cannons were built in Manchester and enjoyed the views on the river you get when walking on its walls. Inside there is an interesting small museum presenting the history of the city and some information about the conquest of the Amazon.
In front of the 'forte' stands the Igreja Santo Alexandre with a superb nativity scene painted above the altar.
Ver o Peso
This building is the 'mercado do ferro'
Just like Manaus, Belém has a magnificent theatre, the Teatro da Paz. Built in 1878 it was inspired by La Scala in Milan. There was no cinema festival this time, so we could visit the theatre with a guide. Everything is first class inside, but what we admired most was the use of Amazon timber to built beautiful floors. The same evening we could enjoy for free a concert of classical music with the symphonic orchestra from Pará.
The basilica de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré was inspired by St.Peter's in Rome and is more than worth a visit. The roof is in red cedar wood and it stands on 16 arches beautifully decorated with mosaics. This basilica was built to accommodate the Círio de Nazaré a festival of candles that attracts over a million visitors each year in October.
We also visited the Mangal das Garças, a natural reserve along the river. The vegetation on the river side is typical of how the shores of Brazil were when the Portuguese arrived there. Now, at least this spot is preserved.
The rest of the reserve is a beautiful 'park' with several areas for birds, butterflies and even orchids.
There is a tower that can be accessed and from the top of which splendid views of then city can be contemplated. As a cherry on the cake there is a very good restaurant with an excellent buffet and wine card. As it was about lunch time when we were there...
We also enjoyed the city as such, for what it is. We discovered a nice boulevard with restaurants and terraces where locals come at night to enjoy a bit of fresh air and to socialize.
We even found a hairdresser so that our look was again acceptable.
I would like to add that it can be very hot in Belém, close to 40 Celsius and that it has a rainy season from November to May, just in case you would be too enthusiastic with our description.
From Belem we went to visit the island of Marajo, which will stay as a highlight among our Brazilian trips.
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