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Coelhos (neighbourhood, Recife)

Neighborhood located in the center of Recife.

Coelhos (neighbourhood, Recife)

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 30/05/2023

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - Researcher at the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Master in Psychology

During the 16th century, the cities of Recife and Olinda received many Jewish immigrants who fled from the inquisitorial persecutions of the Iberian Peninsula. At the time of the discovery, the Jewish population in Portugal was quite significant, corresponding to 30% of the total Portuguese population. According to Kaufman (2000), during the Dutch occupation Jews, Germans and Poles fled to Recife, escaping the Thirty Years War (1620), and the massacres of 1648 and 1649.

The exact size of the Jewish population in Pernambuco after the discovery of Brazil is unknown. But researchers estimate that during the Dutch period of rule, about 300 Jews lived in Recife (MELLO, 1996). During this period of Flemish domination, the lands belonging to today’s Coelhos neighbourhood were called the Jewish Cemetery, because that was where Jewish burials were carried out.

According to Moura (2002), the Jewish cemetery was already marked on maps of the Dutch era. Gonsalves de Mello, based on these maps, asserts that the cemetery is located in the current Sítio dos Coelhos, in the Boa Vista neighbourhood. Historian Mota Menezes has indicated, with relative precision, the place where the cemetery is, by overlapping old maps with more recent ones. The writer José Alexandre Ribemboim also informs that by personally visiting the open-air sites located at the back of two religious institutions in Rua da Glória – the Recolhimento Nossa Senhora da Glória and the Santo Antônio Dispensary – as well as a private company – Amadeu Barbosa Timber Warehouse, he was able to delimit three rectangles where archaeological surveys are to be made (MOURA, 2002, p.290).

It is known today that the Portuguese Gaspar da Gama (the interpreter of Cabral’s fleet), Fernando de Noronha, João Ramalho, the grantee of the captaincy Duarte Coelho, the poet Bento Teixeira and many others were New Christians (Jews recently converted to Catholicism to escape the Inquisition). The captaincy of Pernambuco, therefore, was populated, initially, by many Jews, of the most distinguished places and professions.

With the Dutch invasion and the arrival of Count Maurice of Nassau to Pernambuco, Jews came to enjoy the freedom available for their own religious practices and customs.

The lands of Coelhos, because they were acquired by the descendants of the Coelhos Cintra family, became known as Sítio dos Coelhos [Coelhos’ Farm]. In 1818, the property belonged to the heirs of João Coelho da Silva and possessed a large villa house, a chapel and slave quarters.

On 13 August 1824, the lands were sold by Elias Coelho and purchased by the government to serve as a site for a slaughterhouse and livestock pens. Also established there were a tannery and a tannin factory.

On 13 October 1831, a law established that a charity hospital should be founded in Coelhos: São Pedro de Alcântara Hospital. In 1846, however, the hospital was transferred to the former Sítio dos Coelhos villa house, because it was large, had two floors, a façade and very large grounds, thus serving this purpose.

In 1847, the government acquired a piece of land owned by João José dos Anjos Pereira, and built a nearby building called Hospital Pedro II. At the entrance of the building there is a small portico of Portuguese masonry between two columns that support the pediment where you can see the sculpture of a woman (symbolising charity) and a child.

In the hospital lobby are two stone plaques:

Hospital Pedro II. Created by provincial law on 17 November 1846. The cornerstone was placed under the presidency of the His Excellency Councillor ANTONIO PINTO CHICHORRO DA GAMA, on 25 March 1847.

Santa Casa de Misericórdia of Recife. Authorised by provincial law on 12 June 1838. Inaugurated on 29 July 1860 by the indefatigable zeal of Dr Ambrozio Leitão da Cunha, president of Pernambuco. Open as an asylum for the misfortunate by the efforts and mercy of the same president. 10 March 1861.

There is also a plaque to the indigent, with a phrase by Gustavo Corção:

There are no useless lives: the most obscure, which still brings life and warmth to the most broken heart, is still an invaluable and irreplaceable good, unique in its kind, necessary to the harmony of the universe. Gustavo Corção. Homage from the 1954 physicians to the Indigent.

Along the banks of the Capibaribe River, in the water and mud, the poor built houses on stilts, giving rise to large urban shantytowns in flooded areas. In this respect, the conviviality of people and animals in the same habitat allowed the Pernambuco sculptor Abelardo da Hora to draw a series of engravings that formed the precious collection Meninos do Recife [Children of Recife].

The current Coelhos neighbourhood has been constantly improved by the Recife City Council and the state government. Old façades have been improved, streets paved, the balustrade on Rua Dr José Mariano (also called Cais Zé Mariano [quay]) and Ponte Velha [the Old Bridge] restored and widened, among other benefits.

Bl. Gonzalo de Amarante church, after being restored, looks like a wedding cake. In it are valuable images: two statues of Saint Benedict; one of Bl. Gonzalo on the main altar, the Good Jesus of Sorrows crucified, and the popular Our Lady of the Impossibles. In the main chapel a date is registered: 1712.

The São Gonçalo street has some houses with tile façades at numbers 30, 34, 42, 212. In Santa Cruz street, there is the portico of the Municipal Market of Boa Vista. And on Leão Coroado street was the Talmud-Torah synagogue (founded in 1936 by Mr Jaime Kelner and sons).

The street formerly called Rua Nova da Boa Vista [New Boa Vista St], today’s Rua Velha [Old St] has several interesting houses at numbers 180, 182, 186, 201, 228, 233, 239, 302, 308, 327 and 408.

In Dr José Mariano street (also called Cais Zé Mariano), you can observe a series of wooden warehouses and shops. In the house at number 186, it is worth registering that the Fundamentalist Presbyterian Church of Recife was built in 1972: a quadrangular temple with stained-glass windows (containing many Bible’s verses), a rose window and an ogive arch.

In the first half of the 20th century, at number 215 Rua da Glória, there was a Sephardim Synagogue. Sephardims are the Jews from Spain (sefarad), who emigrated to Portugal and later went to the Netherlands, southern France, England, Italy, and North Africa. In this same place, the Israelite Cultural Centre of Pernambuco was constructed, which operated until the 1950s (KAUFMAN, 2000).

At number 375 on the same street, in addition to several houses with tiled façades, today is the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Glory, and the date 1791. Formerly, the institution was called Recolhimento Nossa Senhora da Glória do Recife. In the chapel of this convent are the remains of two priests who died in the late 18th century. In those same grounds are buried the Jews that came to Recife in the 16th century, fleeing from the Holy Inquisition.




Recife, 24 July 2003.


sources consulted

COSTA, F. A. Pereira da. Arredores do Recife. Recife: Fundação de Cultura Cidade do Recife, 1981.

GALVÃO, Sebastião de Vasconcellos. Diccionario chorografico, histórico e estatístico de Pernambuco. Rio de Janeiro: Imprensa Nacional, 1908. 4 v.

GUERRA, Flávio. Velhas igrejas e subúrbios históricos. Recife: Fundação Guararapes, 1970.

KAUFMAN, Tânia Newmann. Passos perdidos, história recuperada – a presença judaica em Pernambuco. Recife: Edição do Autor, 2000.

MELLO, José Antônio Gonsalves de; SANTOS, Maria Helena Carvalho dos. Gente da nação; cristãos-novos e judeus em Pernambuco – 1542, 1654. Recife: Fundaj, Ed. Massangana, 1996.

MOURA, Hélio Augusto de. Presença judaico-marrana durante a colonização do Brasil. Cadernos de Estudos Sociais, Recife, v. 18, n. 2, p. 267-292, jul./dez., 2002.

ZISMAN, Meraldo. Jacob da balalaica. Recife: Bagaço, 1998.

how to quote this text

VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Coelhos (bairro, Recife). In: Pesquisa Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2003. Available at: Accessed: month day year. (Exemple.: Aug. 6, 2009.)