From Praça da República, Avenida Nazaré cuts through the upscale neighborhood of the same name. Belém is renowned for its centuries-old mango trees and Nazaré’s streets are lined with a dark-green leafy canopy. Keep a lookout for the bright yellow pulp on the sidewalks (much more slippery than a banana peel) and for the possibility of mangoes falling on your head (particularly October–December). Aside from mangos, Nazaré possesses many pastel-colored, historic buildings, some of which house chic boutiques and restaurants.
On the corner of Avenida Nazaré and Avenida Generalíssimo Deodoro lies Belém]s most famous church, the Basílica de Nossa Senhora de Nazaré (Praça Justo Chermont, Nazaré, tel. 91/4009-8400, 6 a.m.–7:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 6 a.m.–noon and 3–9 p.m. Sat.–Sun.). Completed in 1908, it was modeled after Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica. Aside from its spiritual importance (this is where the image of Nossa Senhora de Nazaré, the patron saint of Pará, is housed), this majestic white church is a stunner. The exterior is impressive for its majestic simplicity offset by the giant samauma tree in front.
More awe-inspiring is the splendid marble interior, which is accessorized with beautiful stained-glass windows, ornate wooden ceiling carvings, and intricate, colored tile mosaics reminiscent of Moorish architecture. Every October, the church and the statue of the saint are the focal point for Círio de Nazaré, one of Brazil’s most lavish religious and popular festivals.
After the basilica, Avenida Nazaré turns into Avenida Magalhães Barata. Two blocks further is the not-to-be-missed Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi (Rua Magalhães Barata 376, Nazaré, tel. 91/3219-3369, www.museugoeldi.br, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., R$3). Founded in 1895, the museum was the world’s first research center devoted to the flora, fauna, and cultures of the Amazon. To date, it is also considered one of the best. Located on a vast estate, the museum has an impressive collection of Indian artifacts, including a great display of the distinctive and delicate pre-Colombian ceramic vessels made by the indigenous groups that once inhabited the Ilha de Marajó.
Better yet is the introduction it provides to the jungle itself. Simply strolling around amidst towering mahogany and rubber trees, past lagoons strewn with giant Victoria amazonica water lilies, will get you in a jungly frame of mind. The art nouveau-style aquarium is chock-full of electric eels, flying fish, matamata turtles, and black piranhas. And you can familiarize yourself with mammals you may never see in the actual jungle, such as spider monkeys, tapirs, anteaters, and ultra-rare spotted jaguars as well as more common, but surreally Day-Glo toucans and macaws.
Two blocks from the museum, the Parque da Residência (Av. Magalhães Barata 830, Nazaré, tel. 91/4009-8721, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Tues.–Sun.) is a small, but very pretty park surrounding the former governor’s residence. This handsome mansion is now headquarters to the Secretary of Culture. It functions as a cultural center with a gallery space, theater, and the excellent Restô do Parque. Reward yourself for walking in the heat with a refreshing ice cream at the 100-year-old train wagon that has been converted into a sorveteria.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition