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Olinda Travel Guide

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One of the most important historical cities in Brazil, Olinda also plays host to one of the liveliest Carnival celebrations in the country.

This city of old colonial buildings is home to friars and nuns, wild merrymakers, fast-talking young guides, artists, and folk musicians. Tourists come here for the city's beautiful views of the sea, coconut groves. The state capital, Recife, only 7 kilometers (4 miles) to the north, is visible from various lookout points. Olinda was founded by the Portuguese nobleman Duarte Coelho in 1535, sacked and burned by the Dutch in 1631, and rebuilt during the Restauraҫão Pernambucana (restoration period) in 1654.

Today, the city is divided into two areas: the Cidade Baixa (lower city) and the Cidade Alta (upper city).

Cidade Baixa, the flat region by the sea, is home to many people working in nearby Recife; Cidade Alta, the historical section, is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Despite Unesco's protection, Olinda still suffers from the effects of unauthorized construction, poorly planned urban growth in the surrounding neighborhoods, and the daily threat of the advancing sea.

A walk through Olinda's steep streets requires stam.in a and a little patience - guides and street vendors loudly hassle passersby. Tourists flock to the city's crowded beaches and take long walks along the popular promenade.

Map of Olinda Pernambuco

Map of Olinda In Pernambuco

LOOKOUT POINTS

Mirantes are everywhere in Olinda. The two most popular mirantes, accessible on foot from the sloping street called Ladeira da Misericórdia, are the benches in front of Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Misericórdia church and Alto da Sé.

The latter site, where the Sé Cathedral stands, is the highest point in Olinda. Be sure to walk backward up the steep street in order to take in the view as it gradually unfold beneath you.

Ladeira da Sé, another street that leads up to the mirantes, is not as steep, but it lacks some of the charm of Ladeira da Misericórdia. The Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Misericórdia church stands at the top of Ladeira da Misericordia.

From the curved benches at the front of the church, visitors can see the famous four corners of Olinda - the point where the four main town roads cross - as well as houses surrounded by tall coconut palms and leafy mango trees, church towers, the sea, the Capibaribe River, and, farther off, the port city of Recife. The Se Cathedral, set on the Alto da Sé, is one block away. From the Alto da Se, you can get the best views of neighboring Recife and the roofs of the old houses and churches of the Cidade Alta. If possible, watch the sunset from here and try the popular crispy tapioca or roasted cheese on a skewer from the Alto da Se street market.

PERNAMBUCO SACRED ART MUSEUM

Located in Alto da Se, this 16th –century building has served as the Town Council building, a bishop's residence, a school, an army headquarters, and a convent. The collection at the Museu de Arte Sacra includes colonial paintings created by native Indians in Jesuit workshops in Bogota, Cuzco, La Paz, Quito, and other colonial cities.

The collection also showcases folk artists' wood, clay, and plaster sculptures, as well as a room of old maps and a detailed inventory of Olinda's monuments. Rua Bispo Coutinhto, 726, Alto da Sé.

CARNIVAL ON THE STREETS OF OLINDA

Samba schools, maracatu dancers and musicians, and a number of other groups draw an annual crowd of two million revelers to the steep, narrow streets of Olinda's Cidade Alta. The city hall has divided the town into "theme areas" (frevo, maracatu) that vary from year to year.

The truly impressive variety of traditions and cross-cultural influences present at carnival are best demonstrated by its musical and dancing groups offerings, which include caboclinho (dancers and players that show off indigenous traditions), Afoxés (Candomblé), ursos ("bears," whose style is inspired by European gypsy traditions), and the blocos and troҫas that follow the bonecos (giant dolls) along the streets.

The partying continues around the clock, with an estimated 350 groups – each with its own orchestra, themes, colors, and audience - parading by.

Each group holds a separate parade. Perennial performance groups include: Pitombeira dos Quatro Cantos, Elefante, Vassourinhas, Lenhadores, Gremio Lítero Recreativo Eu Acho é Pouco, Enquanto Isso na Sala de Justiҫa, and Bacalhau do Batata, whose parade marks the end of the festivities on Ash Wednesday.

On Monday, the maracatu groups meet in the Cidade Tabajara neighborhood before parading through the steep streets. The creative costumes of the various groups are always a highlight of the festivities: performers wear papier-mache masks from Julião das Máscaras's studio, as well as homemade outfits representing everyone from super-heroes to international public figures.

The bonecos also attract a fair amount of attention; one of the bonecos, the Homem da Meia-Noite ("Midnight Man"), has been kicking off the festivities at midnight on Saturday since its creation in 1932.

A large number of bonecos gather on Tuesday, during the traditional Encontro dos Bonecos. Several other older members of the bonecos “family” can be seen parading to the sound of frevo orchestras: Mulher do Meio Dia ("Mid-day Woman"), created in 1967, Filho do Homem da Meia-Noite ("Son of the Midnight Man"), from 1980,and Menino and Menina da Tarde ("Afternoon Boy and Girl"), from 1974.

A complete schedule of performances is usually available two weeks before CarnivaI in hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and public places.

SÃO BENTO MONASTERY AND CHURCH

With its heavy jacaranda doors, fine, gilded cedar carvings on the high altar, and intricate ceiling paintings depicting the life of São Bento, the Igreja de São Bento is one of the richest churches in Olinda. The sandstone columns supporting the heavy choir and the finely carved pulpit and refined sacristy set it apart from other churches. The church and monastery were constructed in the late 16th century in a predominantly baroque style.

One of the country's first law schools opened here in the 19th century and operated under the auspices of the church. On Sundays at 10am, monks open the church doors and accompany mass with Gregorian chants. Rua de São Benedito, Varadouro.

NOSSA SENHORA DA GRAÇA CHURCH AND OUNDA SEMINARY

Duarte Coelho ordered the construction of the chapel in 1552, and immediately turned it over to the Jesuits. From here the Jesuits worked to convert the local native population and developed plans for the Real Colégio de Olinda (Olinda Royal College), which was constructed in 1575.

Burned by the Dutch, restoration of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graҫa began in 1660. The Arquidiocesano School, the Faculty of Architecture, and the School of Agronomy have all resided in the Royal College at some point. The Seminario da Arquidiocese seminary functions out of the chapel today.

Despite many renovations, the complex is a rare example of 16th century architecture: The side altars in the church contain the oldest stone constructions in Brazil. Visits are restricted to certain areas and visitors must be accompanied by a prearranged guide. Rua Bispo Coutinho, Carmo.

SÃO FRANCISCO CONVENT COMPLEX

The Franciscans began construction on the Convento de São Francisco in 1585 and gradually extended its boundaries.

The complex, consisting of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora das Neves church, the Capela de São Roque chapel, and the convent, was damaged during the Dutch invasion and renovated in the 17th century.

The chapter room in the convent cloisters, the only surviving room of the original convent, catches your eye with its blue, yellow, and red Portuguese tiles. These tiles extend throughout the church, convent corridors, and the chapel. Highlights inside the church include its impressive paneled ceiling, with 18th century paintings depicting the Holy Family, and tiled murals showing the life of the Virgin and the circumcision of Jesus.

The sacristy at the back of the church is worth a peek; it contains a sumptuously carved jacaranda chest.

The chapel connected to the church also displays finely detailed carvings. Rua São Francisco, Carmo.

NOSSA SENHORA DA CONCEICÃO CHURCH AND CONVENT

Built in 1585, this building was a shelter for homeless women in the 16th century. After the Dutch burned the church to the ground, it was rebuilt in 1675 and turned into a convent.

Currently in the care of the Sisters of Saint Dorothy, it now only opens to the public on Sunday mornings for nine o'clock mass. Highlights of the church include its ceiling paintings, which depict the life of the Virgin, and the gold and polychrome statue of Nossa Senhora da Conceiҫão (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception), with its silver crown. Largo da Misericórdia, Alto da Sé.

NOSSA SENHORA DO MONTE CHURCH

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte was built in 1540 in an isolated location 55 meters (180 feet) above sea level. Today, 30 Benedictine sisters live here.

The church is known for its distinctive architectural elements: a stone arch around the entrance door and a simple interior with no ceiling and exposed beams. The stark altar contains a statue of São Bento (Saint Benedict). Try to visit the church at five o'clock, when the nuns sing and sell their traditional bricelets (wafer-thin layers of pastry, folded to form a puff pastry biscuit) at the side door.

The Swiss recipe has become almost sacred due to the nuns' exceptional pastry making skills. If you miss the five o'clock window, be assured that the biscuits can also be ordered by phone. Praҫa Nossa Senhora dos Montes, Bultris.

NOSSA SENHORA DA MISERICORDIA CHURCH

Also known as Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Luz, this church was built in 1540. Burned down during the Dutch invasion, it was restored soon after the Dutch were expelled.

Today, Benedictine sisters look after the church and sing daily at 6pm mass. Highlights include the Dom João V carvings on the pulpit and altar, the ceiling panels illustrating the life of the Virgin Mary, the Portuguese stone baptismal font, and the lovely view of Olinda from the churchyard. Largo da Misericórdia, Alto da Sé.

Olinda travel guide and tourism information such as accommodation, festivals, transport, maps, activities and attractions in Pernambuco, Brazil - Brazil Travel Guide

SÉ CATHEDRAL

The most important church in Olinda, the Catedral da Sé, or Igreja de São Salvador do Mundo has passed through many construction phases. The first small, wattle-and-daub building dates from 1540. The year 1584 saw the construction of a whitewashed stone church; the Dutch later pulled it down and it was rebuilt in 1656.

After extensive restoration work throughout the 20th century, further renovations recovered the original 16th century design.

Drawings and photographs exhibited on the side of the church capture each stage of construction and renovation. The 17th century tiled murals inside the church and the views of Olinda and Recife from outside the church are worth a look. Rua Bispo Coutinho, Alto da Sé.

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