Manaus

Milton Hatoum

Situated on the left bank of Negro river, Manaus is a city of confluence, twenty miles from Solimões river, lying on the waterfront of a system of gentle hills.

In 1669, the Portuguese colonizers founded the Fort of São José do Rio Negro, which gave rise to the future capital of Amazonas.”

In 1669, the Portuguese colonizers founded the Fort of São José do Rio Negro, which gave rise to the future capital of Amazonas. The Manaus Indians occupied both banks of the low Negro river and formed the most important ethnic group in the area of influence of the Fort.

Until the 1860’s – when the latex extracted from Amazon rubber trees became crucial for financing the construction of a modern city – Manaus kept basically the same aspect of the first half of the 19th century. Population growth from 1860 on was steady, though not significant as it would be in the 1890’s. The export trade of “hevea brasiliensis” tripled in the 1860’s and this fact had an important impact on the regional economic activity, hitherto stagnant.

Teatro AmazonasAt the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, Manaus became the second largest Brazilian city in the Amazon and one of the largest river ports in South America. From 1889 to 1915, its population grew from fifteen thousand to eighty thousand inhabitants. The timid urban center gave way to a planned city, built from a rational and supposedly efficient design.

The great transformation of the city occurred during the administration of Governor Eduardo Ribeiro (1892-1896) and was expanded by his successors. Water Supply and sewerage systems, telephone, electricity and streetcar lines formed the infrastructure of the new city. In addition to the grounding of some creeks (which became public roads), squares, bridges and two major hospitals were built as well as sumptuous residences (such as the Scholz family mansion, currently an important cultural center) and monumental public buildings, including the Amazonas Theater, the Justice Palace, the Adolpho Lisboa Municipal Market, Customs, the Benjamin Constant Institute, Pedro II Amazon Gym, the Public Library and many others. These buildings are some of the urban monuments in the city of Manaus built during the rubber pageant (1880-1912) and form a sequence of postcards of the city.

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In this square – whose Portuguese stone pavement that consists of  black and white waves inspired the famous Copacabana sidewalk – the visitor can experience one of the best tacacás in the city.”

When I go to Manaus, I always walk through the city’s central squares, which are the places of my childhood. I lived a few meters from Largo São Sebastião, where the Amazonas Theater is. In this square – whose Portuguese stone pavement that consists of  black and white waves inspired the famous Copacabana sidewalk – the visitor can experience one of the best tacacás in the city (a hot soup made with tucupi[1], jambu[2], dried shrimp and tapioca starch) . Or have a beer or an Amazon guarana soft drink at Armando’s bar, African House and other bars in the square. The squares of Matriz, Health, Saudade and Pedro II are also important historic squares. The latter is situated at the end of Sete de Setembro Avenue, where you can see old houses, including the building of the History and Geography Institute. At the end of this avenue is the island of São Vicente, where there is a building of the Navy. From there one can see Negro river. In this central area there are still beautiful neoclassical townhouses, as can be seen at Largo São Sebastião. The most popular area of downtown Manaus is formed by the port (Manaus Harbour), the Customs (both built by the British) and Nossa Senhora dos Remédios square and its surroundings (Barés street, Barão de São Domingos, Miranda Leão) and the Municipal Market. At the end of Remédios square is located the Porto da Escadaria, from where the (motor) boats leave for the inner Amazonas.

INPA (Institute for Amazon Research), where is Bosque da Ciência (Science Forest), is one of the most delightful places in Manaus. At Adolpho Ducke Forest Reserve – an important area of scientific research administered by INPA-, there is a Botanical Garden which is a stunning cutting of virgin forest. Another preserved forest area in the urban perimeter is the campus of the Federal University of Amazonas. But there are also two beautiful parks in the city: Bilhares and Mindú. Farther from downtown, it is worth visiting the Cultural Center of the Peoples of the Amazon, located near the industrial center, an area that is home to hundreds of factories in the Free Zone.

Of the older neighborhoods, I like Aparecida, with its old houses that refer to a Manaus from another era. São Raimundo and Educandos are more popular neighborhoods, crossed by creeks which, unfortunately, were grounded. From the avenue that borders the upper reaches of Educandos there is a panoramic view of the Negro river.

Praia da Ponta Negra às margens do Rio NegroThe most beautiful beach in the city is Ponta Negra, but close to Manaus there are beautiful beaches, especially during the period from August to November. For those who want to know a little more about Amazonas, I think it is essential to take a boat trip to the Anavilhanas islands, which form the largest river archipelago in the world. The biodiversity of this archipelago is amazing. No less impressive is the beautiful landscape of Alter do Chão (a Pará town near the city of Santarém), bathed by the greenish waters of Tapajós river. And also the Ecological Station of Mamirauá, located in the Alto Solimões, which is considered the largest submerged rainforest on the planet. The model of sustainable development of Mamirauá is pioneer in Brazil, because it directly involves the local population regarding the management, preservation and conservation of biodiversity.

Footnotes

[1] A seasoning prepared of pepper and manioc juice.
[2] A typical herb of the Northern region of Brazil.