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Santo Antônio (neighbourhood, Recife)

Independence Square is today considered as the busiest in the city and the heart of the neighbourhood of Santo Antônio.

Santo Antônio (neighbourhood, Recife)

Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 21/03/2020

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

At the beginning of the Porfuguese colonisation, the island where the neighbourhood of Santo Antônio is today belonged to the settler Marcos André – founder of the Torre plantation – and contained only a few fishermen’s houses. It was called Ilha dos Navios [Ship Island], because it was used to make repairs on ships and other vessels that docked at the Port of Recife. At the beginning of the 17th century, a convent was founded and the area, which measured approximately six hectares, and so it became known as Santo Antônio [St Anthony] Island. In addition to these two names, the locality was still known as Antônio Vaz Island, Porto dos Navios [Port of Ships] and Ilha do Governador [Governor’s Island].

During the period of the Dutch invasion (1630-1654), Count Maurice of Nassau resided on the island. It was from there that he began his territorial expansion, a determining factor for the urban development of the time. He founded a small town covering the entire area, and in 1644 built a wooden bridge – called Mauritstaad – to facilitate access to his Palace of Boa Vista, as well as to the Port of Recife. Over time, the bridge was called the ‘Dutch Bridge of Boa Vista’ and then Boa Vista Bridge.

At the northern end of the island, in 1638/39, the Count built the Palace of Fribourg, also called the Palace of the Towers, which had two tall towers, several species of animals, and a botanical garden full of exotic plants. Nassau’s zoo-botanical garden, the first one in Brazil, was located in today’s Republic Square, one of the most beautiful public places in the city, as well as the main civic, cultural and administrative centre of Recife. The garden was near the present streets of Rua Primeiro de Março and Rua do Imperador, which at the time were called Rua do Crespo and Rua do Colégio respectively. In 1789, through many reclamations, a series of transformations began in the locality, with the Parish of the Most Holy Sacrament of St Anthony being created.

In Republic Square you can appreciate the monuments of Augusto dos Anjos and the heroes of 1817, the statue of the Count of Boa Vista, a luminous fountain, several vegetable specimens, the Santa Isabel Theatre – designed and built by the French engineer Louis Léger Vauthier (who also has a statue on the site) and inaugurated on 18 May 1850 – and the Pernambuco Government Palace, which since 1967 has functioned as the official residence of the State Governor.

The name of Republic Square was made official by the municipality in 1980. Nevertheless, it is also known as the ‘Field of the Princesses’, an expression that remains until today. The scene of great events and witness to important political meetings, the Palace of the Field of the Princesses has remained in the same place that the count Maurice of Nassau chose to seat the Government of Pernambuco since the 17th century.

The first sugar mills – made up of sugar planters and their families, farmers, chaplains, factories, bankers and slaves – appeared on the banks of the Capibaribe river, becoming large population centres whose slave quarters multiplied, giving rise to villages.

Nassau built the Palace of the Boa Vista – or Schoonzit in Dutch – in the neighbourhood in 1643, for his rest and leisure. It was located in the area where the Carmo Convent of Recife is today. The expression ‘Boa Vista’, placed by the count, was due to the beautiful landscape that could be contemplated from any point of the palace. In front of his front gate, he would have the second bridge of the city of Mauritius built, the primitive Ponte da Boa Vista, now called Ponte Velha, but whose official name is Ponte 6 de Março.

It should be noted that in one of the sections of today’s Rua do Imperador street, there was the Capoeira Theatre, whose operation dates back to 1772, and which was also called the Opera House or São Francisco Theatre; and at the end of the 18th century, the Nove e Meia do Arraial Club which, besides dances and games, counted on the presence of countless harlots. One of them who was much sought-after was Laura Passos, whose lovers fought and killed trying to get her company. For that reason, that Club was known as Laurinha Cemitério or Laurinha’s Graveyard.

Able to be appreciated in the district of Santo Antônio is the Holy Sacrament of Santo Antônio Parish Church, one of the most beautiful temples in the city, finished in the 18th century, which has a colonial Baroque style and is located on Independence Square. In the place where the church was built were previously the Dutch trenches and the well-known Gunpowder House.

Dating from the 18th century stands the Golden Chapel, located on Imperador Pedro II street, very close to Republic Square. The beauty and exuberance of this temple has attracted many Brazilian and foreign tourists, including historians and painters. It is also worth mentioning the existence of the Franciscan Convent of Santo Antônio, one of the oldest buildings in Recife, and the seventh Franciscan convent erected in Brazil. Attached to the Golden Chapel can be appreciated the Franciscan Museum of Sacred Art, whose collection contains valuable pieces that go back to the liturgical apogee of Catholicism. The Baroque collection, in particular, is located on the stairs, rooms and around the inner courtyard of the Third Order of St Francis.

Featuring two elegant symmetrical towers, with corner lanterns and an imposing dome, the Church of São Pedro dos Clérigos [St Peter of the Clerics] can be seen, which represents one of the most expressive religious architectural works of Pernambuco. It is Baroque in style, coming from the beginning of the 18th century (when the Brotherhood of St Peter of the Clerics was instituted in Recife). The Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição dos Militares [Our Lady of the Conception of the Military], on the other hand, is located on Nova Street. According to historical records, the military of the Rosary of the village of Santo Antônio do Recife – the officers, sergeants and soldiers of the Rifles and Cavalry Corps – requested the creation of a Brotherhood of Servicemen and the construction of a church that was theirs, under the invocation of Our Lady of the Conception.

Also in the neighbourhood are the Arts and Crafts Lyceum, the Secretary of Finance, the State Public Archives (which has the largest bibliographic collection on the History of Pernambuco), Joaquim Nabuco Square (where the traditional restaurant Leite is), the Portuguese Office of Reading (founded in 1850), Duarte Coelho Bridge (which connects Conde da Boa Vista Avenue to Guararapes Avenue), and Santa Isabel Bridge (which connects Republic Square to Aurora Street).

Another sumptuous building, inaugurated in 1930 and located in Republic Square, is the Palace of Justice, which occupies a space on which the fish pond of the Palace of Freiburg was built. There, one can appreciate a baobab, a tree coming from the African steppes whose trunk reaches nine meters in diameter. This baobab was registered by the Brazilian Institute of Forest Development on 2 April 1986.

In the 19th century, the Count of Boa Vista built the new Government Palace, causing its square to be renamed Largo do Palácio. In 1859, after the visit of Dom Pedro II to Pernambuco, the place was denominated Field of the Princesses, and finally, with the fall of the empire and the consequent change of the form of Government, the public place acquired the name by which it is still called today: Praça da República [Republic Square].

Located in the heart of Recife is Independence Square. During the Dutch rule, it was already included in the Mauritian City plan as the Terreiro dos Coqueiros [Field of Coconut Trees], where a large market operated. The public area was also called Praça Grande, Praça do Comércio and Praça da Ribeira. In 1788, it contained sixty-two little shops – which sold basic necessities – and was called Praça de Polé. In 1816, it underwent a significant renovation, the houses were replaced by larger stores, and was called Praça da União. In 1833, it finally acquired the name Praça da Independência [Independence Square]. However, because of the building of the Diario de Pernambuco – the oldest newspaper in Latin America – it was popularly known as Praça do Diário or Pracinha [Small Square].

At the beginning of the 20th century, in order to expand the area, various blocks and shops were demolished: the square doubled in size and acquired more or less the dimensions that it has today. In turn, a set of plaster sculptures were erected, symbolizing “the three races united against the invader”, a triumph arc, and the bust of Francisco de Assis Chateaubriand Bandeira de Melo (1891-1968), with a pen in his hand to write, all created by the remarkable sculptor Abelardo da Hora.

Independence Square is today considered as the busiest in the city and the heart of the neighbourhood of Santo Antônio. Through it finish or start various public thoroughfares, such as Duque de Caxias, Primeiro de Março, Nova, Matias de Albuquerque, Engineer Ubaldo Gomes de Matos, and the avenues Dantas Barreto and Guararapes, and Largo do Rosário. It is in this square that the great rallies are held and from it that parades, processions, civic processions and Carnival blocks march, and it also centralises political, religious and cultural manifestations and/or claims that take place in the State of Pernambuco.

Recife, 3 March 2006.
Translated by Peter Leamy, December 2016.

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how to quote this text

Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Santo Antônio (bairro, Recife). Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009