Recife and Olinda
Recife and Olinda, twin cities in northeast Brazil, have an interesting beginning. Late in the 15th century the pope stepped in to set boundaries for Spanish and Portuguese possessions in South America. The two countries signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, but the French, English and Dutch did not abide by it and continued to stake claims to parts of the continent. The Portuguese decided to establish 15 “captaincies” to protect their interests throughout the vast wilderness that is now Brazil. Each was assigned to a captain who governed and protected it. In 1627, an area on Brazil’s northeastern coast was assigned to Duarte Coelho. The area was primarily home to vast sugar plantations. Coelho searched for a spot to establish his headquarters. Standing on a hilltop overlooking the ocean and the rugged coastline, he founded his capital and named it Olinda because it was so naturally beautiful even though the area was completely landlocked.
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Olinda prospered under Coehlo’s watch, but in 1630 the Dutch successfully captured the town and burned its buildings. They transferred the seat of power from Olinda to Arrecifes (now Recife) to take advantage of its natural harbor. The city was built around three rivers, so myriad bridges (49) and an intricate network of canals became its main arteries and remain so today. Although Recife flourished under Dutch rule, local plantation owners preferred Portuguese rule and, after a series of skirmishes, forced the Dutch to leave.
Recife, named for its offshore reefs, is now home to over three million Brazilians, who are primarily black-skinned. It is the capital of the state of Pernambuco and Brazil’s fourth-largest city. Its most famous beach, Boa Viagem, four miles south of center city, resembles Rio’s Copacabana, with tall modern buildings overlooking the coconut-tree-lined sand strip. Recife is a sprawling city because of the bridges and canals, but only a small part of it is of interest to visitors.
Activities in Recife and Olinda
Recife and Olinda have wonderful Carnaval celebrations. They are different from those in Rio and Salvador, but exciting nonetheless.
Activities begin in December, when you can attend open rehearsals. The beats here are frevo, a frenzied dance that some compare to breakdancing, and maracatus, which resembles an old-fashioned conga. In any case, it is an experience to savor.
The reefs that gave Recife its name wreaked havoc on ships attempting to dock at the city’s piers. At least 12 didn’t make it. They have become a divers delight and local scuba operators have well-planned outings to several of the wrecks. You don’t need any prior experience to enjoy a ride on a jangada, those long skinny rafts that glide through the waters near Boa Viagem. Found only in Pernambuco, these boats are also typical local handicrafts.
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