Chris and Anisia collected us from our hotel early this morning, taking us to breakfast before taking us to get some sightseeing done before it got too hot. They were taking us to the Old Town. Generally I have observed here that ‘old town’ is a euphemism for a collection of once magnificent buildings left to crumble and collapse amongst ‘newer’ concrete constructions; and so I was pleasantly suprised by Aracaju.
Aracaju is the capital of Sergipe State and sits at the mouth of the Sergipe River. The village of Sāo Cristovāo, the original name of the town, is recorded as being founded in the 17th century. In the mid 19th century the state organisations began to move to Sāo Cristovāo, adopting it as the capital due to its position on the river and the need to be able to easily export thel major products of coco, salt and sugar cane. In 1856 the town changed its name to Aracaju.
Our first stop was the old chuch of Santo Antônio on top of the hill over looking Aracaju. It is a picturesque but simple chuch which befits its humble origins as a fisherman’s church.
The old town is centred on the Govenor’s Palace, Palacio Olimpio Campos, which faces across the Praça Almirante Barroso, paved in typical black and white mosaic pattern, to the Sergipe river
The palace dates from the late 19th century, is very ‘colonial’ in design and is a very impressive building, more so for being maintained. No longer a seat of government it is now a museum. Although the tour was guided my Portugese was not up to following the commentary and I only got half way through each written description before we moved on. Unfortunately there are no handouts and the Web site doesn’t cover half the information in the building. On the ground floor were the offices and public areas and the upper floor was the Governor’s private apartments, office and main reception rooms. The upper rooms were all floored with polished wood and decorated with tapestries and painted ceilings. Really impressive, and by Brazilian standards, unexpected.
Also unexpected was the armed Fireman on guard duty; there are a bewildering array of armed government agencies here and now I can Bombeiros Militar to that list.
A short walk away from the river is the Cathedral, set in its own tree lined square and unfortunately it is in a more ‘normal’ ‘old town’ state; magnificent facade as you approach from the Praça Almirante Barroso, but then you notice the shabby, badly applied paint and the crumbling stone work, and the temporary roof; but at least it looks like it might have been a work in progress at one point. Inside is far better and the fabric of the building at least appears water tight.
We had lunch in ano there ‘old town’ building housing a craft market. It used to be a school 25 years ago and the cynic in me thinks this is an ideal way of finding a use for the building without needing to maintain it, as it falls apart it will fit in with the ‘rustic asthetic’ of a traditional craft market. Regardless of that we bought a couple of gifts before leaving!
From there we went to the Central Market. I do like markets and this one is a massive and obviously popular one with mountains of fresh fruit and veg, beans and nuts, fish and, rather incongruously, more sacks of dried dog and cat food than I have ever seen in one place. We then had a wander round the craft market next door.
We then had an early dinner of one of my many favourite Brazilian foods, Pastel, basically a deep fried crispy pancake filled with virtually anything, including chocolate! It sounds revolting but apparently it is nice and I can’t help thinking of that Scottish delicacy of deep fried Mars bar – which doesn’t fit with sun, golden beaches and fluttering Brazilian flags.
And talking of beaches, that’s where we’re headed tomorrow.