Fribourg Palace (Palácio de Friburgo), residence and office of the Governor Count John Maurice of Nassau-Siegen, was constructed on Antônio Vaz Island, the current neighbourhood of Santo Antônio, in Recife, on the area where today the Palácio do Campo das Princesas (Governor’s Palace), Santa Isabel Theatre and a large part of the Park of the Republic can be found.
The land was acquired by Nassau in 1639, with construction beginning the following year and finishing in 1642.
It was known by the people as Palácio das Torres (Palace of the Towers) because of its architecture. It had two tall quadrangular towers with five levels, connected by a covered walkway, giving it the look of a church. Besides adding beauty to the palace, the towers served as a reference point for sailors, who could see them from over seven miles away. One of them was used as a lighthouse and the other as an astronomic observatory – the first in America.
It was built facing the sea, towards the old port area of Recife, and its back was to the confluence of the Capibaribe and Beberibe Rivers. On the front façade was a wide stairway.
From a military point of view, it was protected by cannons, a large moat and Fort Ernesto, with the latter two located where today the Palace of Justice and the Franciscan Convent of Saint Anthony are found.
It had various and luxurious halls, including the hall of honour, in which paintings by various artists could be found, including Frans Post and Albert Eckout, rich tapestries and furniture made from the country’s best wood.
There were replicas of European treasures that could only be found in the palaces of kings or residencies of nobles at the time. The large majority of these riches, or all of them, can be found scattered throughout Europe, especially in the Netherlands and France, countries to which Nassau sold a large part of his collection.
Fribourg Palace was situated in the centre of a zoological and botanical garden, where a large variety of tropical flora and fauna specimens were gathered, serving as a source for the first written discourses on natural history in Brazil, such as Historia naturalis Brasiliae and De medicina brasiliensi, by naturalists Williem Piso and Georg Marcgraf.
Also in the zoological and botanical garden was a large fish pond, a dovecote, various types of birds and other animals like parrots, macaws, swans, guinea fowl, peacocks, tortoises, anteaters, tapirs, rabbits, marmosets, pacas and howlers (a type of monkey), among others, the majority of whom were donated by residents who wished to please the Count-Governor.
Two thousand coconut trees were transplanted in the grounds, along with other fruit-bearing trees like banana, orange, lime, papaya, mango, cashew, Brazilian cherry, tamarind, Spanish lime and pomegranate.
Outside, between the Palace and Fort Ernesto, there was also a stable for 24 animals, large slave-quarters, a brickyard, a large well and a place to hang out washing.
In the garden, parties and meetings were held, which along with the gaming and entertainment in the Palace were frequented by the high-society of the period.
With the return of Maurice of Nassau to Holland in 1644, the location began to be used as a barracks during the battles against the Dutch, being practically destroyed at the time of the Pernambuco Restoration in 1654. All that remained was the building, in an adequate state, which was restored several times and still housed various governors.
From 1774 to 1787, it fell to ruins and was demolished by order of the then-Provincial Governor José César de Meneses.
In its place, the Royal Treasury was built using the foundations of the former Fribourg Palace for one of its faces.
Recife, 6 May 2004.
(Updated on 31 August 2009).
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012
DONATO, Maria das Graças Andrada. Recife, cidade maurícia. Recife: Governo do Estado de Pernambuco. Secretaria de Educação. Comissão de Moral e Civismo, 1986. p. 61-66.
GUERRA, Flávio. De Friburgo ao Campo das Princesas: nota histórica dos palácios de governo em Pernambuco. Recife: Governo do Estado de Pernambuco, [Casa Civil], 1966. 54p.
PARAHYM, Orlando. Visão de um Recife que o tempo levou. Recife: Governo do Estado de Pernambuco. Secretaria de Educação. Comissão de Moral e Civismo, [198-?]. p.9-11.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Fribourg Palace, Recife, Pe. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <https://pesquisaescolar.fundaj.gov.br/en/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009