A short cab ride from Cidade Velha , the Centro Cultural São José Liberto (Praça Amazonas, tel. 91/3344-3500, 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Tues.–Sat., 3–8 p.m. Sun., R$4) occupies an early-18th-century Franciscan monastery on Praça Amazonas. Back in the day, the square was a former execution ground and the neighboring monks routinely accompanied criminals to their hangings.
In the 18th century, the monastery was converted into a prison, which was abandoned before a major overhaul in the 1990s gave it a happier reincarnation as a cultural complex. Most of the Centro’s exhibits and activities revolve around Pará ’s abundance of precious and semiprecious stones (for this reason it is also known as the Pólo Joalheiro, or Jewelry Zone).
The colonial part of the complex houses the Museu das Gemas do Estado, which boasts a dazzling collection of Amazonian rocks and minerals (in rough and polished states). Having whetted your appetite for jewels, check out the Casa do Artesão, a series of ateliers where you can watch local artisans hard at work cutting, polishing, and creating intricate and original jewelry from the stones you saw in the museum.
If you’re struck by the buysies, the final products can be purchased in on-site boutiques. In an adjacent modern annex, you’ll find a café and a Cairu sorveteria outlet as well as exhibition areas and some stands selling handicrafts, including some very attractive ceramics in the tradition of Marajoara pottery.