Pernambuco’s forgotten forts

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(Forte Orange pictured)

In Search of Pernambuco’s Forgotten Forts

Analysing ruins and historical documents, researchers are mapping dozens of forts spread throughout the state, still unknown to the public

Every day you could walk by the ruins of a fort built hundreds of years ago. With a known history of battles, invaders and colonizers, there needed to be means of protecting these forts in Pernambuco. In Recife, the neighborhoods of Santo Amaro, Engenho do Meio and even the port were used for building fortifications, recognized and registered by archeologists over years of document analysis and field work. Some are merely ruins, while others were covered by water. Almost 50 “unknown forts” have already been discovered by local archeologists, but it’s estimated that many still have yet to be found.

One example is the Forte Arraial do Novo Bom Jesus, the triumphal starting point for Luso-Brazilian troops in the Battles of Guararapes. Due to being made on land (dirt), time wasn’t so kind to it, as it was to other forts in the state, which were transformed into museums and tourist spots. Today, an avenue and a bus line have taken its name, but the location is fated to be forgotten.

In the Avenida do Forte Plaza, in Recife’s West Zone, the ruins have been protected by IPHAN, but it’s limited to an obelisk built afterwards to honor those who fought, flag-less masts, a pile of land, theoretically responsible for demarcating the area where the fort was built, as well as the ruins of two walls, used as shade for visitors. The thick jungle and the presence of horses there gives the space the appearance of being abandoned.

Those who live in the area know about the existence of the fort, but have no idea about its worth. “We also call it the Cruzeiro Fort. There was a plaque beside it saying so, but they took it away”, affirms vendor Eraldo Barbosa, resident of the neighborhood for the last 68 years. The plaque’s frame, without anything else written there, is the only sign that, at some moment, someone considered the location to be an important historical spot.

In Eraldo’s memory, the location never looked like it was a fort that Recife residents would have known about. “Before, there was no gate around the plaza, nor any illumination around here, sometimes the Army comes around to hold ceremonies,” he remembers. “The fort was built as a place where the Luso-Brazilian command decisions were made”, says professor Marcos Albuquerque, coordinator of the archeology lab od UFPE’s history department.

Another place where there was a similar building are the old grounds of the June festivals in the Pernambucan capital: the Sítio da Trindade. There, during the Dutch invasion, the Forte Real do Bom Jesus was built, registered in paintings of the era. Back in the 1990s, researchers undertook an expedition to the location, where they found traces of a moat, of the outer walls and even military artefacts.

Many people don’t understand the location of the forts, far from coastal areas, in contrast to the others, preserved along the Pernambucan coastline. This is due to era that both were built, when the Dutch had already taken over the local coast and the, until then, colonizers withdrew from their tactical locations to more deserted and strategic locations. “The Forte Real do Bom Jesus is the most Western fort. Its function was to impede the Dutch from leaving Recife’s coast and from walking inland”, says Marcos.

Source: Diario de Pernambuco (article included below).

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Basic information on all the forts on the two maps above can be found in the sourced article, in two parts (here and here). But if you want a definitive source on said forts, you’ll want UFPE’s Fortes de Pernambuco (PDF, which I’ll also be adding to the Research page for this blog).

Regarding Fort Orange, pictured at the top and which is number 1 on the map, below is a video which shows archeology work at the site (as well as other sites). The man shown throughout most of the video is one of the authors of the book I link to above.

 

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