Brazilians often refer to the city as Belem do Para, Belem of Para. An earlier name for the city was Santa Maria de Belem do Grao Para.
Belem, in Portuguese, is Bethlehem, in English. It is the largest city in the state of Para, in the north of Brazil. It lies about 100 km, sixty miles, upriver from the Atlantic Ocean, on the Para River. It is a gateway to the Amazon River and all that lies to the south of here.
The city was founded in 1616 by the Kingdom of Portugal. It was the first European colony on the Amazon. It became part of Brazil in 1775.
Contrary to what many people think, Mercado Ver-o-Peso, See-the-Weight Market, is not just one building but is made up of a complex of buildings and about 2,000 market stalls located near the old Mercado de Ferro, Iron Market. It was created in 1688 when the crown decided to tax everything going into or out of Amazonia.
The Iron Market functions principally as the fish market.
The former Municipal Market now houses the meat market in a cast iron structure.
Clock Square is anchored by a cast iron clock tower brought from England.
There are at least five colonial era churches in the historic center of the city.
Estacao das Docas is the remodeled waterfront of former warehouses. These structures were pre-fabricated in England and built in Belem in the beginning of the 20th century. The bright yellow cranes are a symbol of the city’s past.
The Complexo Feliz Lusitania is a complex of 16th to 18th century buildings next up the river. It includes the old fort, two churches and the Dom Pedro II Plaza.
One of the churches is the cathedral of Belem, Catedral da Se. The original church had been constructed inside the fortress. A few years later it was constructed on the current site but in 1748 construction began on the current church.
Another, a baroque church, was part of the Jesuit complex. Church construction of St Alexander began in 1698 and opened on March 21, 1719.
It also now houses a sacred art museum in what was the former convent and College of St Alexander.
Casa das Onze Janelas, House of Eleven Windows, now houses a modern art museum and has a wonderful riverside location.
Forte do Castelo is the original riverside fortress which dates back to the founding of the city.
The museum of the fort contains many archaeological ceramic pieces. I would strongly encourage visiting this museum because of the displays and explanations of the exhibits. IMHO, this is the best collection and least well-known collection in the city.
Praca da Republica, the Square of the Republic, is the main square of the city.
It is also home of the Teatro da Paz, Theater of Peace. This is the oldest theater in northern Brazil. Construction of the theater began on March 3, 1869. I found there to be many similarities to the theater in Manaus.
Museu Emilio Goeldi, founded in 1866, would have been a huge disappointment for me had it not been for the park, and small zoo, in which the museum is located.
“The institution is probably the largest repository of such Amazonic collections in the world, with more than 81,000 pieces in the archaeological collection, including lithic and ceramic artifacts…”
On the day on which I visited, there were maybe ten pieces on display and those were very plain funerary items.
The park offered me my first glimpse of Victoria amazonica, the largest variety of water lily. They are an amazing sight with their huge leaves which can grow to three m, almost ten feet, in diameter.
This was also my first sighting of the scarlet ibis.
Parque da Residencia has served as the official residence of the state governor since 1934. The cast iron bandstand and the station Gasometer, another old English iron structure, which is now a theater make up some of the sights in this public park. The station Gasometer once belonged to the Gas Company of Para.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Nazareth of Exile is located near the edge of Murucutu Creek. According to legend, a farmer had found an image of the Virgin and Child on the edge of the creek and decided to take it home. The legend goes on to tell that every time the farmer took it home that it would return to the location where he had found it. He ultimately built a small chapel near the edge of the creek and it has evolved into the church we see today. Construction of the current church began in 1909.
The Sao Bras Market began construction in 1910 and has a structure of iron. It has a mix of architectural styles. In 1910, Belem was at the height of its golden age because of Amazonian rubber.
Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian author, wrote, “The few times I said to myself anywhere: ‘Now that’s a nice spot for a permanent home,’ I would immediately hear in my mind the thunder of an avalanche carrying away the hundreds of far places which I would destroy by the very act of settling in one particular nook of the earth.”