1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Recife

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RECIFE, or Pernambuco, a city and seaport of Brazil, capital of the state of Pernambuco, in 8° 3' S. and 34° 55' W., near the extreme eastern point of South America. Pop. (1904 estimate) 186,000. Recife is frequently called the “Venice of America ”; it is at the mouths of the rivers Beberibe and Capibaribe which unite to form a small lagoon or bay inside the sea beach. In the angle between the two rivers is the delta island of Antonio Vaz. The city is built on the southern extremity of the sandy sea beach, on the island of Antonio Vaz, and on the mainland to the westward, the river channels being crossed by numerous bridges. With the exception of the hills on which Olinda is built about 5 m. northward, the surrounding country is low and flat, the general elevation averaging 10 ft. As the tide rises about 6 ft., the general level of the city and neighbouring coast, which is wet and swampy to the southward, is too low to be generally healthy, and Pernambuco has a high death-rate (52% per 1000 in 1904), with malaria as one of the principal causes of death. The climate is hot, although agreeably tempered by the S.E. trade winds; the temperature ranges from an absolute minimum of 61° to an absolute maximum of 99° (1904). The rainfall (1904) is 75.3 in. The three principal parishes of the city are known as São José do Recife, occupying the sandy peninsula or beach north of the outlet of the united rivers; Santo Antonio, on the island of Antonio Vaz, which was called Mauritia or Mauritzstad during the Dutch occupation; and Boa Vista, on the mainland to the westward, which is the most modern and the most rapidly growing part. The first is the oldest and most crowded section, and is now devoted chiefly to the commercial and financial interests of the port; here are the custom house, merchants' exchange (Praça do Commercio), shipping offices, banks and wholesale houses. Santo Antonio dates from the Dutch occupation. Prince Maurice of Nassau, when governor-general, built here his private residence (Fribourg House) and made it his capital. Its business edifices and residences are largely of Dutch architecture, with many storeys and steep roofs. The older part of Boa Vista dates from the 17th century. Recife has few public squares or gardens, and its streets are not usually well cared for. The older buildings are of the Portuguese type, usually plain, low and heavy, constructed of broken stone and mortar, and plastered and coloured on the outside. The city has gas and electric illumination, street and suburban railways, drainage and a public water supply drawn from a small tributary of the Beberibe about 7 m. to the N.W., in the direction of Caxangá. Among its notable public buildings and institutions are the old government palace in Santo Antonio built upon the foundations of the official residence of Prince Maurice of Nassau, with a pretty garden attached; a theatre facing upon the Praça da Republica, dating from the second empire; the palace of the Provincial Assembly in Boa Vista, built in 1860–66, surmounted by a high dome; the municipal palace, or prefecture, on Rua do Imperador, with the public library (Biblioteca Publica) occupying its third floor and containing about 30,000 volumes; the Gymnasium, a large plain building of two floors standing near the legislative palace; the Pedro II. hospital built between 1847 and 1861; a large penitentiary, insane asylum, orphans' asylum,and beggars' asylum; a law school, artisans' school (Lyceu de Artes e Officios), and archaeological institute; a normal school and school of engineering; and war and naval arsenals. One of the most attractive churches is that of Nossa Senhora da y Penha, surmounted by two slender spires and a dome.

The port of Recife is one of the most important of Brazil, on account of its proximity to Europe and its convenience for vessels passing around the east shoulder of the continent. It is the landing-place for two transatlantic and one coast wise cable lines. Its harbour consists of an outer and inner anchorage, the former an open road stead, which are separated by a remarkable stone reef running parallel with the shore-line, leaving an inside passage 400 to 500 ft. wide. The entrance to the inner anchorage, which has a depth of about 20 ft., is opposite Fort Brum in the northern part of the city, and is marked by a small Dutch fort (Picão) and a lighthouse at the northern extremity of the reef. This remarkable natural breakwater, which is about 50 ft. wide on top and has been repaired with masonry in some places, covers a considerable part of the coastline in this part of Brazil. It is not a coral reef, as is sometimes stated, but is a consolidated ancient beach, now as hard and firm as stone.[1] In 1910 contractors were at work on improvements to the port to cost about £1,666,000, under a decree of the 3rd of December 1908. The exports include sugar, rum, cotton, hides, skins, rubber, wax, fibres, dyewoods, cacáu, mandioca flour, pineapples and other fruits. Pernambuco is the principal sugar-producing state of Brazil, and Recife is therefore an important centre for this product. Its railway communications with the interior are good, and include the Sul de Pernambuco, Recife and São Francisco, Central de Pernambuco, and the Recife to Limoeiro lines, the first three now being under the management of the Great Western of Brazil Co. There are also suburban lines to Olinda, and Caxangá, the latter providing communication with some of the prettiest suburbs about the city.

Recife was settled about 1535, when Duarte Coelho Pereira landed there to take possession of the captaincy granted him by the Portuguese crown. The site of Coelho's capital was Olinda, but Recife remained its port and did not become an independent villa (town) until 1710. Down to the close of the 18th century, when Rio de Janeiro became important, Recife was the second city of Brazil, and for a time its most important port. It was captured and plundered in 1595 by the English privateer James Lancaster. It was also captured by the Dutch in 1630 and remained in their possession till 1654, during which time the island of Antonio Vaz was occupied and the town greatly improved. At the end of the Dutch War the capital was removed from Olinda to Recife, where it has since remained.

  1. See J. C. Branner's The Stone Reefs of Brazil (Bul. Comp. Zool., Harvard Univ., xliv., Cambridge, 1904).