Lat: -8.009369444444400, Long: -34.855279000667000


Pernambuco, Brazil

Historical Background and Urbanism

The hereditary captaincies were created by King João III in the first half of the 16th century with a view to peopling Brazil. Under the new system, Duarte Coelho was awarded 50 leagues along the north-eastern coast of that New World territory and, in 1535, disembarked as donatory by the island of Itamaracá in Pernambuco, with an entourage including cristãos novos (new Christians). Soon after, using information possibly obtained from pilots familiar with the coastline, he moved to one of five hills located south of the island, about a league from the end of a peninsula where there was a safe harbour protected by reefs. The settlement by the reefs would henceforth serve as the port for the seat of the new captaincy which Coelho named Nova Lusitânia. As the goal was to settle and not to explore, he introduced in the low-lying areas of the large delta formed by various rivers (mainly the Capibaribe and the Beberibe) the cultivation of a cane which on the island of Madeira was used to produce sugar. The idea was to make the land that he had been granted sustainable. The production system would use the river ways to transport sugar to the port. Sugar produced in small mills would be packed and sent from passos (warehouses) located by the rivers down to the harbour settlement, from where they would then be shipped to European refineries, mainly in the Netherlands. Duarte Coelho, who never lived to see the success of his enterprise, died in 1554. Yet, by the end of the 16th century, the captaincy’s seat was a prosperous town, likened even then to a small-scale Lisbon. The captaincy’s wealth attracted various religious orders. According to the urban land distribution plan set out in Olinda’s charter (foral), the religious institutions were to be situated with their respective enclosures on the coastal side of the town, protecting it from strong sea winds. Streets and buildings were to be rationally laid out in accordance with the new Renaissance ideals. The hillsides were allotted large green spaces, endowing the town with an ambience quite distinct from that of European cities. Given the singular nature of such surroundings, Olinda had become a very beautiful town by the end of the 16th century and was also much admired due to the mercantile victory it represented for the Pernambuco Captaincy. More than 120 ships were used to transport its sugar to Europe during this historic period. Besides the homes of its 700 residents, the town also had room for installations pertaining to the Franciscans, Jesuits, Carmelites and Benedictines, as well as several parish churches. But, in 1630, Holland’s West India Company arrived with a powerful fleet and took over the captaincy, setting fire to the town the following year. Everything burned, as Olinda became ‘Olanda’. After 1654, it was raised to the status of a city and slowly recovered. The churches and other religious institutions were enlarged and enriched by beautiful ornaments and sculptures, with the Portuguese baroque style predominating. As buildings were restored after 1654, the city kept its old urban layout of streets, squares and plazas, thus maintaining the unity and scale of its 16th-century occupation. The growth of the nearby port facing the reefs, deriving from the Dutch urban model, slowed efforts to reorganise Olinda, but did not inhibit the beauty of its religious structures. The city remained at its site near that settlement of ‘Arrecifes’, which was only raised to the status of a city in 1709. Olinda is nowadays acknowledged to be one of the most notable historic centres in Brazil. Its people work to uphold this reputation and the city has attracted numerous artists, galleries and studios; there is also a thriving trade in handicrafts of great interest for tourists. The city’s protected status as a national monument has also helped deter urban development that would otherwise disrupt the unique cityscape. To better protect the area between Olinda and Recife, a large swath of land has been left free of buildings. Olinda is a designated World Heritage Site.

Religious Architecture

Military Architecture

Equipment and Infrastructures