Recife and Olinda: Siblings Bathed by Atlantic
Olinda was founded between 1535 and 1537 in the place where the Marim village was previously settled. It was designated capital (capitania) of Pernambuco, and developed fastly thanks to its ideal set of features: fertile lands, a good strategic location (between hills), near the sea and provided by a natural harbour, formed by reefs.
Back then, this port was named Arrecifes dos Navios (Reefs of Ships) and used to ship products made in Olinda (sugar cane and redwood); nowadays it’s known by the name Old Recife Neighbourhood. It is considered the place where Recife was born and home to some of its most dazzling architectural riches, like the dutch style seventeenth-century buildings standing in the Baron of Rio Branco Square — also known as Ground Zero Square, since it’s the place where the zero mile marker of the roads of Pernambuco stands.
Although the seventeenth-century buildings are symbols of Recife’s prosperity and its rising to headquarters of Pernambuco, they are also synonims of the fall of Olinda, which was looted, set on fire and demoted between 1630 and 1631, after being conquested by Holland. The Mount Carmel Church is an example of that period: built in 1580, it had the biggest bell of the village… Which was removed to be applied in weapons.
In 1645 the Portuguese resumed the domain over the territory and initiated the rehabilitation of Olinda’s religious buildings according to the gothic, barroque and Portuguese renaissance styles. The Convent of Saint Francis was one of the targets benefiting from this operation. The more than 20 religious buildings, the many examples of civil architecture from the 17th to the 19th Centuries and its harmonious cohabitation with gardens and landscape led UNESCO to classify the city of Olinda as World Heritage in 1982.
By the 17th Century, Olinda had the reputation of a more rural city, often connected to summertime and healing seabathing, although its Academy of Law prepared many professionals who moved to Recife, which had the reputation of a workplace city. The capital of Pernambuco maintains its economic domain to this day, concentrating the main industries of the State, many services and the Digital Port — Brazil’s biggest tech park.
Nowadays these familiar cities have a complete set of services and attractions that satisfy the many types of tourism: gastronomic, beach, historical / cultural and religious. Olinda is abundantly green and contemplative, offering beautiful landscapes from the top of its hills, like Alto da Misericórdia (Heights of Mercy) / Church of Sé. Recife is more cosmopolitan, has invinting beaches and a thriving night life in places such as the Boavista Neighbourhood.
Nicknamed as the Brazilian Venice, the capital of Pernambuco is formed by isthmus and islands drawned by the rivers and the sea, and united by bridges and platforms like the José Estelita Pier. There you will be surprised not only by the Portuguese, Dutch and French heritage, but also by beautiful sites like the Boa Viagem Beach and its natural pools. If you are looking for things to do, access Recife’s Tourism Office, where you’ll find numerous suggestions of thematic routes, as well as the events that shake the city throughout the year.
A visit to Recife and Olinda will always be punctuated by the discovery of historically rich places and the affinities that tie two cities that are eclectic both in the architecture and the touristic offer they present. If your curiosity is already piqued, read a few other reasons to love these two cities that grew together, just like siblings.