Fort Cinco Pontas
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Fort São Tiago das Cinco Pontas [St James of the Five Points] is located in the present district of São José, near the old Santa Rita Bus Station. It is the last Dutch building in Recife and one of the most representative monuments of colonial architecture. It was built by the Flemish in the year 1630, by determination of the Prince of Orange – Frederik Hedrik – and as its founder Commander Teodoro Weerdemburgh. It was first called Fort Frederico Henrique.
Built in mud on high ground, and completely dominating the port of Recife, the fortress’ patroness was Our Lady of the Assumption. It was in an area close to the drinking water reservoirs of Ambrósio Machado, a wealthy sugarcane plantation lord on the island of Antônio Vaz. As a result of its proximity to these wells, it was also called Forte das Cacimbas of Ambrósio Machado [Fort of Ambrósio Machado’s Wells] and Forte das Cacimbas das Cinco Pontas [Fort of the Five Points Wells].
The most relevant objectives of this fort were to guarantee the supply of drinking water for the population by protecting the wells (vital to Recife’s water supply), and to prevent enemy ships from passing through the waters of the Capibaribe River to reach Barreta dos Afogados (through a passage in the reefs), and then escape loaded with sugar.
With the coming of Count John Maurice of Nassau-Siegen to Recife, the Dutch began the construction of a thirty-metre wide channel starting from Fort Frederico Henrique and extending to the place where is today the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary of the Black Men. Then in 1637, the walls and the depth of the fort’s moat were reformed.
In the 17th century, it was destroyed by João Fernandes Vieira and occupied by Luso-Brazilian troops under the command of André Vidal de Negreiros and General Francisco Barreto de Menezes. The capitulation of the Dutch occurred in Campina do Taborda, near the current Cabanga Yacht Club. When the fort was surrendered in 1654, there were the following elements in its official inventory: seventeen 2 to 24 gauge cannons, two head-cut swords and several other warlike paraphernalia.
In this regard, there is today at the entrance of the fort a plaque that records the Dutch surrender:
Next to this Fort of the Five Points, one of the last Flemish bastions, in the so-called Campina do Taborda, was where the southern gate to Mauricéia, where Field Marshal General Francisco Barreto, military chief of the liberation and restoration campaign of Pernambuco, received on 28.1.1654, as the victor, the keys to the city from General Segismundo von Schkoppe, commander of the Dutch forces who had surrendered the day before. This memorial was placed by the Army on the occasion of the commemorations of the tercentenary of the Restoration. 1654-1954.
Understanding the strategic importance of the fortress to the security and control of the city, Fernandes Vieira ordered for the construction to begin to be restored in 1677. This time, the Portuguese employed a more resistant material than the clay and wood (that the Flemish used in the primitive construction), and the works were completed in 1684.
During this restoration, however, one of the bulwarks (or points) of the fort was suspended, and the fort was reduced to four points only (acquiring a quadrangular shape), instead of the original pentagon. From 1746, the following description of Fort of the Five Points is preserved: “a square with four bulwarks, with moats and a covered road, and 8 mounted 6 to 14 calibre bronze pieces, eight 6 to 30 calibre iron, and six 1 and 2 calibre bronze pieces, commanded by a Captain who received a 16$000 salary per month plus three quartas [roughly 21kg] of flour, had a detachment of marines and gunners with a sergeant and a constable.”
But it continued to be called by all Fort of the Five Points (or Vijfhoek, in Dutch) for having a star shape. In spite of the loss of a bulwark, the place ended up having a much greater total area than the previous one thanks to the new layout. It should be noted that the fortress functioned as a prison for many years.
The final name acquired by the fort is that of São Tiago das Cinco Pontas, because inside there is a small chapel dedicated to St James the Greater, one of its patron saints.
Around 1817, the site also housed the Military Headquarters. Formerly, the fort had underground tunnels that served as a prison, but they were demolished in 1822 by order of Gervásio Pires Ferreira, who headed the Junta of the Provisional Government of Pernambuco. It is worth noting that such tunnels were true tombs of the living. One of the most illustrious prisoners was the novelist Graciliano Ramos in 1935. In his famous book Memórias do Prison [Memories from Incaceration], Graciliano refers to the Estação de Pontas as being a barracks.
Fort St James of the Five Points has an internal courtyard, several cells with heavy iron doors and a hidden tunnel, designed for the Dutch to flee in case of an invasion. The walls of the building, on the other hand, have openings where the old bronze cannons were positioned. There is a beautiful gate at the entrance of the fort, made entirely of hardwood. The other doors and windows of the fort were made with the same material.
Next to the fortress is an historic wall where, on 13 January 1825, the Carmelite friar Joaquim do Amor Divino Caneca – known as Frei Caneca – was killed. The wall was next to the gallows, where the celebrated Pernambuco martyr was supposed to have died.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Pernambuco Archaeological and Geographical Institute had a marble tombstone placed on the wall where Frei Caneca was killed, with the following words:
In this place, he was shot near the gallows on 13 January 1825, because there was no one who would hang him, the patriot Homage from the Archaeological and Geographic Institute 2-7-1917 Pernambuco.
In addition to serving as a prison, Fort St James of the Five Points also functioned as the headquarters of the Cavalry Squadron and as the headquarters of the Presidency of the Republic’s Secretariat of Planning (SEPLAN).
To preserve national memories, on 14 December 1982 the then mayor of Recife Gustavo Krause transformed Fort of the Five Points into a museum: the Museum of the City of Recife. With the exception of Mondays, this museum is open to public visitation every day, including Saturdays and Sundays. The site has a vast and important iconographic collection, collected in Pernambuco and Portugal, where original designs of civil, military and ecclesiastical constructions, cartographies, paintings, drawings, sculptures and engravings are exhibited.
In the museum, among the important pieces that can be appreciated are: models of different forms of fortress; paintings by Franz Post, showing Recife and its population during the Dutch period; old photographs of Recife; a collection of old prints; the carved doors from the Church of the Martyrs (all in hardwood); archaeological pieces of the fort itself; pieces of Portuguese porcelain from Santo Antônio do Porto; cannons of various origins; a gold bar (from 1645) with the emblem of the West Indies Company (which was found in Pernambuco); and a symbolic key (in gold and silver) given to Dom Pedro II on the occasion of his visit to Recife in 1859.
In addition to the relics, the Museum of the City of Recife houses a part of the Church of the Martyrs collection of 150,000 maps and photographs, including 1,114 glass negatives, screens, as well as an exhibition of 800 pieces that record the development of the City of Recife.
Recife, 30 September 2003.
(Updated on 5 May 2008).
Translated by Peter Leamy, October 2016.
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Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Forte das Cinco Pontas. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Acesso em: dia mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.