BRAZIL  |  São Paulo, Brazil Travel Guide
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The Centro of São Paulo

The Centro of São Paulo

When São Paulo was founded in 1554, it was on a plateau between two rivers, the Tamanduatei and the Anhangabaú. The Jesuits lived on the hilltops, while other people settled in the valleys below. The eastern shore of the Anhangabaú River (now a highway) is where the oldest sites, if not the oldest buildings, stand. Locals refer to it as Centro Velho (old). Start your day at the Praça da Sé, where the Metropolitan Cathedral stands. This building dates only to 1954 but several churches have stood in this plaza since the city was founded. Small streets radiating from this plaza intersect and cross at odd places, rather like those in New York’s Greenwich Village. Two old streets are Rua Diréita and Rua São Bento (its Basílica has an organ with over 6,000 pipes).

Some sites of interest nearby include:

São Francisco Church

Igreja São Francisco is one of the few Portuguese colonial buildings still standing. It was built between 1647 and 1790 in Baroque style. Today, two churches are located here – one run by Catholic clergy and the other by lay brothers. This church honors St. Francis of Assisi.

Pátio do Colégío

This square is where Fathers Anchieta and Nóbrega built their mission school. Several years later they built a larger church, called Colégio, which was torn down. City fathers soon realized their error and in 1896 built this new church in the same style as Colégio. The Father Anchieta Museum here has some historic and religious paintings. It’s open Tues- Sun, 9 am- 5 pm. The church has a 10 am mass on Sunday. The plaza is near Rua Boa Vista, north of Praça da Sé.

Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil

The former home of the Bank of Brazil has become a movie theater and cultural center that has art exhibits and dance and theater productions. Check schedules for the time of your visit. Tues-Sun, noon-6:30 pm. Rua Álvares Penteado 112.

São Paulo Stock Exchange

The Bovespa is one of the most influential exchanges in the world. You can observe it in action and check your own portfolio while here. Weekdays, 10 am-1 pm, 2-4:30 pm. Rua 15 de Novembro 275.

Edificio Banespa

This all-white 36-story building offers panoramic views of Centro and looks like New York’s Empire State Building. Weekdays, 9 am-6 pm. Praça Antônio Prado.

Edificio Martinelli

Most of the city’s skyscrapers were built in the boom years after WWII, but the city’s first skyscraper, the 36-story Martinelli Building, was built in 1929. It too offers city views from its roof. Weekdays, 10:30 am-4 pm. Av São Jono 35.

As you walk through Centro Velho, you’ll be aware of the hum of traffic. Those sounds and blaring horns are rising from the highway that was built in the Anhangabaú River bed. Since the city was built on both banks of that river, two viaducts were built over it, as was Parque Anhangabaú, a civic plaza and park that spans the highway. It is a half-mile long and beautifully landscaped. It’s a good spot to take a break before crossing into the other part of the historic center called Nova Centro (New Centro). You can walk across Parque Anhangabaú or one of the high viaducts – the pedestrian-only Via St. Ifigênia, north of the plaza and Viaduto do Chá, south of it.

Teatro Municipal

The beautiful building you see at the fringe of the plaza is the Teatro Municipal, which looks like its counterpart in Rio (both modeled after the Paris Opera). Built in the early 1900s, it hosts international and local opera and ballet companies. Unfortunately, you can’t visit unless you have tickets for a performance. Praça Ramos de Azevedo,   11- 222-8698. Tickets are available at the box office, ticket booths throughout the city and via your hotel’s concierge.

Continue walking west. You can follow Av. 7 de April or 24 de Maio, but a personal favorite is Barão de Itapetininga, a pedestrianonly street (as are several others in this part of town). It has lots of shops to browse and lots of street vendors too.

Praça da República

Cross Av. Ipiranga (carefully!) and you’ll find yourself in Praça da República (Republic Square). This is where the Hippie Fair (arts and crafts, see page 123 for details) is held on Sunday. Many artisans display their wares on other days as well, and there are often street musicians. As you look around the plaza and continue your walk, notice that the buildings look newer and that residential buildings are mixed in with commercial ones. The most attractive building here is Edificio Itália, which offers terrific views from its 41st-floor restaurant. You must dine or drink to enter the restaurant; a drink at sunset seems to be the best option. The bar opens at 6 pm. Av. Ipiranga 336.

Last updated December 14, 2010
Posted in   Brazil  |  São Paulo
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