The New York Times published a couple of years ago The Other Brazil: Minas Gerais. The daily calls the state, the second more populated in the country, “rural heartland”. The author, Seth Kugel, writes:
I think too many foreign travelers miss: the Brazil that lies beyond the Christ on the hill in Rio, the eco-lodges of the Amazon and the model-flecked beaches of Florianópolis. Instead of a cross on a hill, Minas has colonial towns loaded with Baroque-style churches. Instead of vast rain forests, Minas has gorgeous mountains and countless waterfalls. And instead of beaches, it’s the home of a country cooking style famed across this nation of more than 190 million.
hiking at Ibitipoca State Park, famous for its quartzite caves, natural pools, waterfalls, special rock formations, great views and typical fauna and flora.
Centenarian Oscar Niemeyer, the internationally acclaimed architect, just published a book with photos of the 16 gorgeous churches and chapels he conceived. A historic communist – who designed the headquarters of the French Communist Party and never rejected his Stalinist views -, he explained this way his many religious projects (on daily paper Folha de S. Paulo):
I felt that I should explain it, because I am a communist and have been working on so many churches. But I was born in a very religious family. My grandfather was religious. The house where I used to live had five windows and one of them was converted into an oratory by my grandmother. We had masses at home. All this is very natural. Continue reading Communist Niemeyer’s churches→
You decided to make a list of all the absolutely must-see Brazilian sites – but don’t know how to begin it? Here is a great starting point.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared 18 Brazilian places of outstanding historic or environmental value UNESCO World Heritage sites. They are a precious guide for those who want to discover the country’s riches. I have visited most of them and couldn’t agree more with the selection.
See below the full list and the UNESCO’s justification for its choices:
One of the divine experiences of traveling along the Brazilian lands is the surprise appearance of little waterfalls along the road. You stop the car, dive into the shower, fill your bottle and go back to the car, dripping, in bliss.
The capital of the state of Minas Gerais, unlike the many colonial sites that represent the best of Brazilian Baroque, was planned in the late 19th century. Today, it has around 2.4 million inhabitants, but in 1949 it had only 200 thousand people, as shown in this interesting American documentary (produced to strengthen Brazil-USA relations). It also presents some images of other cities, such as historic Ouro Preto and Itabira, plus a portrait of “capable and enthusiastic” mayor Juscelino Kubitschek, later the country’s president.
Compared to some of his neighboring countries, Brazil is practically immune to natural disasters. All Brazilians volcanoes have been extinct for several million years (more about that here). As far as registers go, the country never witnessed a hurricane, although a first cyclone, dubbed Catarina, killed a few people and destroyed 1,500 houses in 2004. Floods are the only recurrent natural drama and produce several deaths every year, but they cannot be attributed to an unexpected amount of rain. Most of the losses are associated to the inadequate occupation of mountains and river banks, plus government neglect.
Even earthquakes are discreet if compared to those registered in another country of South America, Chile. The reason is simple. Earthquakes normally occur in the borders of the tectonic plates, the huge rocks that lay under the surface of the earth. Chile is more exposed because it is on the edge of the South American plate while Brazil is on the middle of the same plate, a much stabler place.
If you ask a Brazilian if his country has any volcanoes, he will answer with a very solid no. He will even tell you a very popular joke about that.
Once upon a time, God was showing an angel around the brand new Earth. “This is Indonesia – they will have tsunamis and volcanoes. And this is the US – they will have hurricanes and earthquakes”, he says. The angel points to Brazil: “what about this country?”. God answers that Brazil will have the best weather of the planet, no volcanoes or earthquakes, a real paradise. The angel scratches his halo and asks: “How come everything is so great there?”, to what God answers: “Just wait to see the people I will put there!”
This joke, told whenever a Brazilian is in a self-deprecating mood, reinforces a stereotype that is only partially true. Check the image I chose to open this post. This is Trindade island, a stone wall of volcanic origin off the coast of Espírito Santo state. It’s cliffs are so steep that only crabs and spiders are able to survive there. Many ships that tried to go there sank and the only safe way to reach it is by helicopter. Trindade is the living proof that even if Brazil is safer than the average, it is not 100% immune to natural catastrophes. Continue reading Brazilian volcanoes→
When you think of Baroque, you probably remember the curvy, exaggerated, passionate form of art that blossomed in Europe since the 17th century. You may think of Caravaggio and Bernini in Italy, or the rococo in France, or Bach and Handel in Germany. Less known but equally important was the Brazilian Baroque, that dominated the art scene in the country between the end of the 17th and the 19th centuries.
Although both literature and music incorporated baroque elements, it is in architecture that Baroque really excelled.
Most baroque churches have sober exteriors that contrast with very ornate interior decoration, including chubby angels, birds, vines and a profusion of color. Cities that were rich at the time, thanks to diamonds, gold or sugar trade, such as Salvador, in Bahia, or Ouro Preto, in Minas Gerais, could afford to use gold leaves and noble materials and to hire the best artists of the time. Among them, Antônio Francisco Lisboa, known as Aleijadinho (The Crippled, a nickname given in less politically correct times), and Manoel da Costa Athaide (or Mestre Athaide).
Aleijadinho, the son of a Portuguese with a slave, lived in the state of Minas Gerais from 1730 until 1814. His amazing work as an architect, decorator and sculptor has a unique, dramatic style. The details and the realism of his statues, sculpted in wood or soap stone, are particularly impressive when you think of how the Aleijadinho worked: he had to attach his tools to his hands, after he lost his fingers to leprosy. Mestre Athaide was a very influential painter, known for the use of perspective and for the African traits of his angels and saints. Continue reading Brazilian Baroque→