I’ve been reading part of some research done on the history of Olinda and came across some interesting facts about Olinda’s second coming as a regional hot spot and what forced people to eventually choose Boa Viagem instead. First some background.
“In 1827, Olinda lost its status as the capital, losing with it the political power. From then on it became an ecclesiastic city and a place for schools while the bourgeois all went to live in Recife. At the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, with the arrival of the urban trolley, this facilitated the coming of people to Olinda and it became a resort town. Olinda saw new growth, and as a result the city became all about the coastline. It wasn’t just a historical city anymore.”
Around the same time that electricity (meaning the electric trolley and thus progress) came to Olinda, something called thalassotherapy (thalassa in Greek means ‘sea’) became popular. The new trend saw seawater baths being taken for their health benefits. People searched for nice places to receive such therapy and Olinda was the logical choice. What started out as a healthy thing to do soon became the chic thing to do.
All this attention resulted in summer homes being built and bought up on the coast of Recife’s twin city. Once again, Olinda found itself the center of Pernambuco and with it came parties, live music events, with a new newspaper called O Sol, letting everyone know about the social happenings going on in the summers. Along with its intense social life, there were strolls through the cashew forests and to Alto da Sé (where the famous church is). The best part of all of it, though, were the end-of-year parties, but like all parties, there’s a time when they come to an end.
The Sea Invasion
Between 1647 and 1876, there had already been a small tidal surges upon the coastline of Olinda. In the 1950s, however, Olinda’s coast began to be destroyed and its beaches soon lost their status as the rich families returned on a more definitive basis to Recife, for both work and leisure. Entire streets were being devoured by the strong tidal surges. No one, not even those adept in geology, oceanography and naval engineering understood the phenomenon. Many residents of Olinda didn’t become intimidated and rebuilt their homes on the coast, time and time again. But the sea would swallow them up just the same.
By the late 50s, studies were showing that only one thing could be done. Buttresses had to be put in place to stop further destruction. Josué de Castro (a famous Recife resident who I’ve written about before) went to the Congress to address the nation on the destruction of his home. I’ve translated most of his address below.
“The cultural heritage of Olinda is being threatened. Mr. President, I’ve received various appeals from my home state of Pernambuco, among which I highlight the one from the Mayor of Olinda, Mr. Barreto Guimarães, in hopes that the attention of Congress is placed on the state of tragedy, of true public calamity in which the city finds itself, the old capital of Pernambuco, sadly threatened with the violent corrosion by the sea, which destroys the lower, coastal part of the city, where much of the city is located. Congress knows very well that Olinda represents a glorious national heritage. It means something of extreme importance to the history of Brazil, in the Dutch battles, when it played the role of a vigorous defensive bastion of nationality, against the foreign occupation. It represents, furthermore, a type of colonial architecture of the highest expression in our history, in the cultural evolution of Pernambuco and of Brazil […] This is a threat that painfully weighs on the city, seeing mansions of old, historical and architectural tradition being destroyed. The sea abruptly destroys the coasts. This fact must deeply sink into those that represent the people, their history and their tradition […]”
After 30 years of asking for state and federal assistance to abate the gradual advance of the sea upon the coasts of Olinda, it was only after the situation became bad (in the 50s) that the city finally got the money it needed to begin protecting itself from nature. Not only were buttresses put in parellel to the coast but the sandy areas of the entire coast were replaced with the rocky walls that can be seen today on Olinda’s beaches.
Most of the info in this post was found in an online thesis titled Memórias de Olinda by Elaine Nascimento. I’ve uploaded it to my Research Papers page.