Olinda, Gift of the Portuguese

Brazil's Art Enclave Mixes Colonial with Modern Treasures
Olinda at a Glance
Name : Historic center of Olinda
Location : Olinda, Brazil
Date of Inscription: 1982
Why You Should Go: Explore Brazil's colonial past in Olinda, which has barely changed since the Portuguese first sighed over the coastal town's beauty almost half a millenia ago.
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In Brazil, the Portuguese of the 16th century were like Donald Trump in the 20th. They came, conquered, and constructed, filling the town of Olinda with eye-popping edifices. The head honcho was explorer Duarte Coelho Pereira, who gushed, "How beautiful a situation for a village," as he stood on a hilltop overlooking the Atlantic. That rough translation still rings true today.

Olinda retains much of its colonial flavor, despite a run-in with Dutch occupants, who torched the town in the mid-1600s and poured all their sugar-cane profits into Recife, a neighboring port. Yet, 20 Baroque churches, a convent from 1585 and "passos" (chapels) still pop up through the hills. The ornate igrejas (TK), many with gilded carvings and intricate woodwork, also share space with a thriving art community, remnants of the town's 18th-century intelligentsia. The Museu de Arte Sacra de Pernambuco, for example, displays sacred art in the 17th-century digs of the government council, while the Museu de Arte Contemporanea hangs modern art in a former prison the Catholic Church used during the Inquisition.
Practically Speaking:
Olinda is in the northeastern region of Pernambuco, five miles from the port town of Recife, considered the Venice of Brazil. You can easily see all the sights by foot, just be prepared to work those quads. You can also charter a mini-bus from local tour operators. There are a range of lodging choices, from hostels for the masses to more private rooms in colonial mansions. And for those with a party streak, join the 11-day bacchanal called Carnaval.

Published: 20 Jul 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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