There was more anticipation than fatigue, as we descended on São Paulo’s Guarulhos–Governador André Franco Montoro International Airport, popularly referred to as GRU Airport, after travelling nearly 21 hours from Mumbai. I couldn’t wait to embark on our 21 day stay in Brazil starting with São Paulo. We were pleasantly surprised to be received by the 72-year-old Marlene Kocher, who would be our guide for one of the two days in São Paulo.
São Paulo (pronounced Som Paulo) is both a state and a city. Situated in south-east Brazil, São Paulo is the capital of the state. It is also the largest and most populous city in Brazil. We learnt that, Paulistanos’ are those born in the city of São Paulo, while those born in the state of São Paulo but not in its capital, are called ‘Paulistas’. The city is fondly called ‘SamPa’.
Brazil has a hoary past, but what started as a missionary outpost to convert local natives to Catholics, has now become an economically important centre of Brazil. The city is a melting pot of cultures with the advent of the entry of miners from various countries of Europe in the 17th century due to the ‘Gold Rush’; followed by African slaves who were brought in to work in the coffee and sugarcane plantations; the 19th century brought in more Europeans and the 20th century brought in the Japanese. In this melting pot, the dominant language is Portuguese and it can be a challenge for a non-speaker in the country.
Day 1: Our guide Marlene was at the hotel at sharp at 10 am to show us around the highlights of São Paulo. Marlene was of German descent and thanks to her knowledge of English, it made it easier to know the city of Sampa better.
- Avenida Paulista: Our hotel was situated at the central location of Avenida Paulista. Avenida Paulista (Paulista Avenue) is the central avenue of Sao Paulo. As you walk down the avenue, you find many shopping complexes, malls, restaurants and cafes. There is something interesting at every corner, including many museums, theatres, exhibition halls and large bookstores (all in Portuguese, though!). Prominent amongst the museums is the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP). Built in 1968, it is a glass and concrete structure, which is supported by two lateral beams over freestanding public space. Founded by Assis Chateaubriand, a media mogul and entrepreneur, the MASP is a not-for-profit venture. He employed the Italian artist Pietri Maria Bardi to help him along with his extremely talented wife Lino Bo Bardi. It houses some priceless works of renowned artists such as Raphael, Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne and Titian as well as Brazil’s own artists.
The Ibirapuera Park: From Avenida Paulista, we drove to the Ibirapuera Park or Parque Ibirapuera, which is an amazing sprawling urban park. Marlene mentioned that this land was indigenous land and was originally a large swamp. The municipality of São Paulo took ownership in 1920 and trees were planted to firm up the ground. The spacious park was designed meticulously by agronomist Otávio Augusto de Teixeira Mendes. The park was opened to the public in 1954, in the Villa Mariana neighbourhood to commemorate the 400th birthday of São Paulo.
We stop at the entrance of the Ibirapuera Park, at the square Armando Salles de Oliveira, in front of the Nove de Julho Palace, the seat of the Legislative Assembly. Across the road is the large granite structure called the O Monumento às Bandeiras (Monument to the Bandeiras or Monument of Flags). Marlene tells us the history of the monument. It was sculpted by the artist Victor Brecheret using 240 blocks of granite weighing 50 tonnes each. This sculpture is 50 metres long and 16 metres high and took 33 years (1921- 1954) to complete.
This statue represents an important part of history that shaped Brazil as a nation. In 1554, the Portuguese Jesuit missionaries arrived to convert native South American Indians to the Catholic faith and the landscape changed forever. The Bandeiras were 17th-century Portuguese settlers in Brazil, who led expeditions called bandeiras, which means ‘flags’ in Portuguese. São Paulo became the primary settlement for the most bandeirantes. They penetrated the interior of Brazil for their expeditions, by capturing and enslaving the natives. Different tribes frequently fought with each other for territory or revenge, and the Portuguese found themselves allying with one tribe against other tribes to expand their territory. The bandeirantes later shifted their focus of their expeditions to exploration of gold, silver, and diamond mines. As they ventured into unmapped regions in search of profit, they also expanded the borders of the Brazilian colony. Most bandeirantes were descendants of first and second-generation Portuguese who settled in São Paulo, but their numbers also included ‘mameluco’ background (people of both European and Indian/native ancestries).
The Monument to the Flags represents the bandeirantes, such as the Portuguese (Barbados), Blacks, Mamelucos and Indians with crosses hung on their necks pulling a canoe used in the river expeditions.
The park also has the Obelisk of São Paulo or Obelisco do Ibirapuera. Close by is also the Obelisk Mausoleum to the Heroes of 32. This monument is a symbol of the Constitutionalist Revolution of 1932- also referred to as the Brazil Civil War -when the Brazilian state of São Paulo rebelled against the central government. It is the biggest monument (72 metres in height) of the city of São Paulo. The Italo-Brazilian sculptor Galileo Ugo Emendabili was the mind behind this monument that took 33 years (1947-1970) to complete. Pure travertine marble was used and the monument was inaugurated on July 9, 1955, one year after the inauguration of Ibirapuera Park.
Also interspersed in the midst of trees, and lawns are many, many museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Afro-Brazil Museum that has artworks of black painters and writers displayed. The Oca do Ibirapuera is the venue for many exhibitions. The impressive Ibirapuera Auditorium is often the obvious venue for music shows and this impressive structure was designed by the famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyar.
- Museum of Contemporary Art: To get a bird’s eye view of the park and other parts of Sao Paulo, Marlene drove us to the Museum of Contemporary Art. A giant stuff cat at the entrance makes for a great photo op. If you are not interested in the exhibits, you can go straight to the terrace for the glorious view. Here are some panoramic shots of the city.
- The São Paulo See Metropolitan Cathedral: The next stop was the São Paulo See Metropolitan Cathedral. Built in 1661, the cathedral built in Neo-Gothic style, is the biggest church in Sao Paulo with a capacity of 8000 people. Its construction began in 1913 and ended four decades later. It was ready for its dedication on the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the then humble village of São Paulo. The organ is the biggest in Latin America with 12000 pipes. It is located in the Praça da Sé, or “Cathedral Square”. ‘Sé’ and “cathedral” mean “seat” and therefore the ecclesiastical authority of a bishop or archbishop is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of São Paulo. More than 800 tons of rare marble was used in its completion. The inner quarters are decorated with sculpted Brazilian produce as coffee branches, pineapples, and native animals such as armadillos. The dome is modeled on the cathedral of Florence in Italy.
In front of the cathedral is the Marco Zero (Zero milestone) of São Paulo. This marble milestone was installed to indicate the centre of the city.
- The Central Zone: We drive around the Zona Central or the administrative zone of the city of São Paulo, Brazil. One of the largest commercial and business districts in South America, the region is administered by the administration of the Sé. It also has impressive structures such as Municipal Theatre of São Paulo; the Praca de Republica; Centro Cultural Banco do Brazil; The Altino Arantes Building(also known as Benespa building)
- The Patio de Collegio: We make a stop at The Pateo do Collegio for a photo-op, as this is where the city of São Paulo was literally born! It all began from the construction of a small hut where the Jesuit priests Manuel da Nobrega, José de Anchieta and others committed to ‘evangelize’ the natives. The current structure is a white-washed baroque replica of the original structure. The official ceremony of the city’s founding occurred on 25 January 1554. This is also the date of conversion of the Apostle Paul, which originated the name of the capital. Today, the Pátio do Colégio is home to the Museu Anchieta which tells the story of the foundation of Sao Paulo and of José de Anchieta himself, who was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2014. The museum features parts of the original construction from the 16th century, as well as a fascinating collection of artefacts and records from the time period. The courtyard outside is vast and has a pillar in the centre and is right opposite the Municipal Theatre.
We drove around and stopped at another church which had a holy communion in progress.
- Hotel Unique: Marlene took us to this unique hotel- and guess what- it is actually called Hotel Unique. If we were on our own, we probably, would not have this hotel in our list of places to visit. This is located in the Jardim Paulista neighbourhood close to the Ibirapuera Park. The external façade is curved and is an avante garde and modern architectural attempt by architect Joao Armento Ruy Ohtake. The hotel was one of the winners of the 2009 Conde Naste Traveller Excellence awards in the luxury hotel category.
- Liberdade: This is an interesting neighbourhood in Sampa and is called Bairro da Liberdade. Pronounced as ‘liberdaadge, it was earlier known as Campo da Forca (Field of the Gallows, until the late 19th century, and was an area reserved for the execution of slaves and convicts. Death was considered the only course to liberty (liberdade) for slaves. But now it is famous for experiencing a bit of Japan right here in Brazil. A tall red arch welcomes you to Liberdade and you can see lanterns hung all along the streets. Immigration of the Japanese in 1908 and nearly 400,000 Japanese and their descendants have made Sao Paulo their home. There is a delicious buzz of activity on the streets and you can find a wide variety of dining options include sushi bars, ramen shops and stalls for yakisoba noodles. You can also find Chinese and Korean eateries too. Infact we went back on Day 2 for a vegetarian Japanese meal! After visiting Liberdade, Marlene dropped us back at the hotel where we had a late lunch.
- Vila Madalena: In the evening we planned to go to the bohemian neighbourhood of Vila Madalena that is famous for its high concentration of bars. This is where you will find popular botecos (traditional pubs and bars). Unfortunately, it started to rain and so even though we made it to the neighbourhood; we couldn’t explore much and popped into the first bar we came across!
Day 2– It was a day of exploring as Paulistanos and it promised to be fun!
- Beco do Batman Alley: I had seen quirky pictures of street art on Batman Alley, which is located in the Vila Madelena neighbourhood and so we made a second trip to see it in daylight. However, I would suggest a visitor can combine a visit to Batman Alley and to the botecos in the evening.
Beco do Batman is the nickname for the area around Rua Gonçalo Afonso and Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque in the Vila Madelena neighborhood of São Paulo. It was in the 1980s that the street art tradition started in these alleys, when the first drawing of the DC Comics superhero Batman, appeared. Soon more was to follow with fine-arts students painting cubist and psychedelic images along the long walls. Soon Beco do Batman was completely covered in bright, stylized spray paint art. Check out the lively pictures.
- Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo: The Pinacoteca is one of the important galleries of São Paulo. Established in 1905, it is the oldest art museum in São Paulo.
It is worth a visit to see the works of Brazilian art as well as interesting installations. This is located in Jardim da Luz in a brick coloured building built in 1900. There is an entrance fee of 6 Brazilian Reals.
- Luz Station: And while you are at the Pinacoteca, have a peep into the Luz Station which is just opposite it. The station was built in the late 19th century and served as the main entrance to the city. This was an important decision economically as most of the coffee from Santos (a municipality in São Paulo) was delivered here. An interesting fact is that the station was assembled in Glasgow by a manufacturing company called Walter Macfarlane & Co. Saracen Foundry. It was then disassembled, sent to São Paulo to be reassembled again.
Other Places to visit
- Parque do Estado or the Botanical Gardens of São Paulo.
- The Banco do Brazil
- Viaduto Santa Ifigênia ( an art nouveau viaduct only for pedestrians)
- Mercado Municipal
Where we stayed: We stayed at the Blue Tree Premium Paulista, close to Avenida Paulista.
The following is my husband’s review on Trip Advisor, “Blue Tree Premium Paulista is a 3 or 4 Star property. We stayed for 3 nights in end of April 2019 in this hotel. The location is great and is walking distance to the happening Paulista. The hotel staff were very friendly and helpful. Rooms are comfortable, but not high end. Not having an ironing table and iron was a negative. They expect you to turn in everything to their laundry service. They accommodated our request for a coffee making machine which was nice of them. Otherwise, only tea bags and a kettle were provided. The breakfast is basic, not many options for vegetarians. Overall we had a positive experience.”