Capital of Amazonas
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Manaus, also called ‘Paris of the Tropics’, is located in the heart of the Amazon Forest. The Golden Rubber Era at the end of the nineteenth century provided the city a status of wealth. Teatro Amazonas, now a landmark of Manaus, is a clear example of that era. The Zona Franca (Free Trade Zone) attracted many (international) industries to Manaus. Located on the confluence of Rio Negro and Rio Solimões that form the Amazon River, almost all municipalities in the state of Amazonas may be reached by boat. Manaus is one of the twelve cities that will host matches of the FIFA World Cup in 2014.
Manaus is the capital of the state of Amazonas, the largest state in Brazil, measuring more than 1.5 million square km. Amazonas shares borders with the Brazilian states of Pará, Mato Grosso, Rondônia, Acre, and Roraima, and with neighboring countries Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru. Amazonas counts a little more than 3.5 million inhabitants. More than 1.8 million live in Manaus (IBGE, 2011), the seventh largest city in Brazil. The city counts 11.4 thousand square km, slightly smaller than Flanders. Manaus is located at the confluence of the rivers Rio Negro and Solimões. The average altitude is slightly less than 100 m. The region of Manaus has a tropical monsoon climate, with over 200 cm rainfall annually, and an average temperature of more than 26 degrees centigrade. The Human Development Index is 0.774.
At the time of the discoveries, there was tough competition to discover new worlds. In 1540, it was the Spanish discoverer Francisco Orellana who sailed on a big river that was called Amaru Mayu, the ‘Mother Serpent of the World’. Two years later, Orellana reached the Atlantic Ocean, coming from Peru, and his stories gained attention of the English, Spanish, French, and Dutch to exploit this immense region commercially. Only in 1639, the Portuguese managed to expel the invaders. In order to maintain their dominance in the region, the Portuguese started to construct a fortification in 1669.
Maquette of the fortress
At the location of this Forte São José do Rio Negro, a small settlement was erected: Lugar do Barra, the original location of Manaus. The entire Amazon region was under control of Belém, capital of Grão-Pará, more than 5000 km away. On March 3, 1755, the new capitania of Rio Negro was created, with Mariuá (now Barcelos) as capital. In 1833, São José da Barra was elevated to a village and was renamed into Manaus. It means ‘Mother of God’, as a tribute to the indian tribe Manaós.
Manaus in 1913
On October 24, 1848, the village received the title Cidade da Barra do Rio Negro, which was changed into Cidade de Manaus, on September 4, 1856. In order to block attempts of neighboring country Peru to expand its territory, the Province of Amazonas was created, dismembered from Grão-Pará, on September 5, 1850. Manaus became the capital. A second reason for the creation of the Amazon province was the participation of rebels from the region of High Amazonas (region of Manaus) in the so-called Cabanagem revolt (1835-1840). Rebellion wanted to separate Graõ-Pará from Brazil, and to free themselves from the white dominance. About 40 percent of the entire Grão-Pará population died in the conflict.
At the end of the 19th century, Manaus became the center of booming rubber plantations. Poor migrants from the northeast of Brazil escaped poverty and drought, seeking for wealth. Indeed, the rubber barons became very wealthy, and showed their wealth in various weird ways: keeping exotic animals in their yards, buying expensive crystals and jewels, and decorate their homes with granite, marble and glass. One of the highlights was the construction of the Opera House, which cost ten million dollars of public money. This Teatro Amazonas (1884) is now a landmark of the city of Manaus. The arrival of British rubber companies contributed to the wealth of the city. The city received electricity and electric trams, potable water and a sewage system. A new harbor was built. A level of wealth, which was not met in the rest of Brazil.
Porto de Manaus
Thanks to the smuggle of rubber tree seeds out of the region, other countries, such as Malaysia, started rubber plantations. Manaus gradually became impoverished, and even public illumination was cut for many years. There was a small revival during the Second World War, when there was a significant increase of the demand for rubber. The decline continued, until 1967, when the Brazilian government introduced the Zona Franca de Manaus, the duty-free zone of Manaus. Tourism was booming, the tourist industry was booming with the construction of new hotels and other facilities. Manaus also gained many international industries, which have become the pillars of the local economy.
At the end of the 19th century, rubber plantations provided wealth for Manaus and its inhabitants, as described above. The decline of rubber production in the first half of the 20th century impoverished the city. In 1951, a plan was introduced to create a free trade port in Manaus, to boost the local economics. The free trade port was then converted into a free trade zone, and was decreed by the military government in 1967. They had another motivation for this free trade zone, to colonize the territories as soon as possible, in order to prevent claims of neighboring countries. A third motivation was to make Brazil less dependent on the import of electronic products. The city expanded rapidly, many electronics companies arrived there to produce (read: assemble) their products. Because of the transportation costs, the critics called the production in the heart of the Amazon Forest an economic disaster. The Zona Franca (Free Trade Zone in Portuguese) will be maintained by constitutional law until 2013, and is extended until 2023.
Next to electronics production, the factories in the Industrial Zone produce chemicals, textiles, and food. The city has a oil refinery, and receives gas via a pipeline from Coari, another municipality in Amazonas where large gas and oil wells have been detected.
Tourism is booming in Manaus; Brazilian and foreign tourists are attracted by the unique combination of urban culture and nature. It is expected that hosting four World Cup matches in 2014 will give another boost to tourism.
What to see
Many tourists arrive in Manaus for the Amazon Forest and ecotourism. A great part of them also will visit the city of Manaus. The city has a good infrastructure of hotels and restaurants. The principal touristic attraction in Manaus is undoubtedly Teatro Amazonas, built in 1896, as the remarkable example of the Golden Era of Rubber. There is a tourist bus, named Amazon Bus, with 2 floors that will follow a track of 40 touristic locations (20 stops) in 2 hours and 20 minutes. The track starts at Teatro Amazonas, and will continue along Palacio da Justiça, Casa Ivete Ibiapina, Igreja São Sebastião, Monumento Comemorativo Abertura dos portos, Colégio Amazonense D. Pedro II, Centro Cultural Palacete Provincial, Biblioteca Artur Reis, Catedral Nossa Senhora da Conceição, Relógio Municipal, Prédio Antigo da Alfândega, Igreja Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, Faculdade de Direito, Mercado Municipal, Feira da Banana, Palácio Rio Negro, Penitenciaria Raimundo Vidal Pessoa, Ponte de Ferro Benjamin Constant, Praça Igarapé Mestre Chico, Capela Santo Antonio (Pobre Diabo), Cemitério São João Batista, Parque dos Bilhares, Millenium Shopping, Manaus Plaza Shopping, Estádio Vivaldo Lima, Centro de Convenções( Sambodromo), Vila Olimpica.
Amazon Bus and Teatro Amazonas
The neoclassical Palácio da Justiça was built in 1900, and now serves as a cultural center. Igreja São Sebastião (1888) was built in eclectic style, with Gothic and neoclassical elements. The story goes that the constructor took the money that was meant for the construction of the second tower and disappeared. This second tower never was built thereafter. The principal church in Manaus is the Catedral Metropolitana, with a Greek-style facade, that was constructed after the destruction of the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição (1695) during a great fire in 1850. The Relógio Municipal (1927) is a clock tower that was built to commemorate the centenary of Manaus as a village. The Alfândega, in eclectic style with medieval and renaissance elements, was a former customs building. It is considered as one of the world’s first buildings with prefabricated stone blocks, imported from the United Kingdom. The central market, Mercado Municipal ‘Adolpho Lisboa’ (neoclassical style, inaugurated in 1883) is located at the margin of Rio Negro. It is a replica of the famous ‘Les Halles’ in Paris. Palacete Scholtz, named after German rubber baron Waldemar Scholz, was renamed into Palácio Rio Negro, and became seat of the government of the state of Amazonas in 1918. The palace in eclectic style was transformed in a cultural center in 1997. Another landmark is the historic bridge made of iron and steel, imported from the United Kingdom, between 1893 and 1895. This bridge, between the center and Cachoeirinhas District, is called Ponte de Ferro Benjamin Constant, or – more popular – Ponte Metálica. The bridge was completely renovated in 2009.
Bosque da Ciência (1995) is located within the city limits. Visitors may encounter an overview of the local natural environment inside this park of 13 hectares. There are natural trails through the park, the giant water tanks contain many species of fish and even manatees (photos).The Botanical Garden (Jardim Botânico ‘Adolpho Ducke’) exhibits an interesting collection of local flora. One ZOO in Manaus was created by the army (CIGS) in 1967, in order to become more acquainted with wilderness warfare.
Manatees at Bosque das Ciências
One of the principal touristic attractions outside the city of Manaus is the Encontro das Águas (photos). At this location, brown-colored water of the colder but faster Solimões River meets the dark-colored water of the warmer but slower Rio Negro. A floating restaurant is located at the observation point – where a new platform, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, is being constructed – where one may taste regional dishes.
Left: Rio Negro; right: Rio Solimões
From August to January, when the water level of the rivers is lowered, a number of beach locations along the rivers attract many tourists. Most popular is Praia da Ponta Negra (photos), 13 km from the center of Manaus. At this location, tourist will meet warm river water, and many facilities such as restaurants and bars. Other beaches are Praia da Lua, Praia do Tupé, and Praia Dourada.
More adventurous tourists may opt for a four-day boat trip over the Amazon River, to Belém, capital of the state of Pará. From Porto de Manaus (Manaus Harbor), almost all municipalities in the state of Amazonas may be reached by boat.
Also interesting are boat trips to destinations in neighboring Peru.
Manaus – Metropole in the Amazon
Tourism in Manaus
Manaus, different in everything, but it is Brazil!
Historical constructions in Manaus
Historical Manaus (2)
Bosque da Ciência
Encontro das Águas
Renovated Ponta Negra
Porto de Manaus
Manaus – Belém, on the Amazon River
Capitals of the Amazon: Manaus, Belem, Rio Branco, Porto Velho
Amazônia, part 1
Amazônia, part 2
Amazônia, part 3
By Adriano Antoine Robbesom
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