It might not be obvious when you first arrive in São Paulo, but this gigantic city (the largest in the southern hemisphere) actually has a historic city centre hidden in its ocean of concrete. I arrive walking from the south, skirting the Liberdade neighbourhood, and arrive at the end of the 7 September Avenue, with the impressive Sé Cathedral rising to my left. Among the largest neo-Gothic cathedrals in the world, Sé Cathedral has two faces: the back side looks pompous and is dominated by an enormous green dome, while the view from the front shows slender, neo-Gothic belltowers that rise above the dome. The Praça da Sé around the cathedral is a place where many people congregate; a lively place with street performers, people going for shopping in the streets behind the cathedral, passers-by, visitors, businessmen. Take a bench and just watch life pass by and listen to its sounds.
From Sé Cathedral, I continue north, and reach Rua Roberto Símonsen, a Scandinavian-sounding name for a street with some outstanding older buildings. The most remarkable is the 18th century neo-classical Solar da Marquesa, but there are a few more older buildings in this street. From here, I continue to the Praça Patio do Colégio, named after the Jesuit church/school that still stands here (even though it had palm leaves as a roof at the beginning), and that saw the birth of São Paulo back in 1554. The founders, who could never have imagined their small settlement on top of a ridge to grow into the sprawling crazy city that now is São Paulo, are memorised on a column right in front of the church. Walking north from the navel of the city brings me to the São Bento monastery and, just around the corner, the Banespa, Banco de São Paulo, and Martinelli skyscrapers, all their separate styles, all three remarkable buildings. Unfortunately, the Banespa building is closed to visitors, and I cannot go up to the top floor for the views; it will have to be on a next visit. From here, I cross the Parque Anhangabaú, a small stretch of greenery, with a huge mural on the other side of a half-skeleton holding a heart between its bones, dressed in yellow, with a purple arrow with a subtle flower on one side.
A short walk takes me to the Largo de Paiçandú, a small square with the Nossa Senhora dos Homens Pretos, behind which I find the monument to the Black Mother: a black slave woman nursing a white child, a clear reminder of the history of slaves taken in large numbers from Africa to South America. I have reached a more modern part of the historic centre, walk past the Edifício Italia building, among the tallest skyscrapers of São Paulo, to the Theatro Municipal, an impressive baroque building and landmark of the old part of the city, home to the Symphonic Orchestra and the City Ballet. Just steps away, I walk across the Viaduto de Chá, a metal bridge constructed at the end of the 19th century but renewed in 1938. Looking out towards the south from this bridge, with a highway running straight into a tunnel under the bridge and a view of the seemingly endless sea of concrete, it is hard to imagine that the name refers to an old tea plantation. Taking a few turns from here brings me to the twin churches of São Francisco de Assis and a statue with a Frenchman kissing a native, which then is but a couple of minutes away from Sé Cathedral.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from São Paulo Historic Centre (Brazil). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to São Paulo Historic Centre.
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