Stronghold-church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, or where Fortaleza was born
I’ve already mentioned that the history of Brazil has left indelible marks still visible today, signs that have reached to us through literary pieces, traditions and architectural work. During one of my frequent expeditions aimed at unearthing Fortaleza, I “stumbled” on the huge church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção. Obviously, since this is the church of the city’s patroness and one of the first buildings mentioned by tourism boards’ brochures, I did know of its existence, just I wasn’t planning to go on that day. This is why my stumbling on it really by chance after some pretty unsuccessful stops.
I had started the day with a proper itinerary (after my usual walk on the beach at 6am, without which lately it seems like I can’t do anything). The sites I wanted to visit were pretty far from where I live, but I was determined to walk to all of them without resorting to a taxi. And so I did, facing the harsh conditions of heat and wind that distinguishes Fortaleza climate. Ok, I’m flaunting it, Fortaleza weather is ideal all year long, being Ceara near enough the equator to benefit from the mild temperatures far enough to avoid stifling humidity.
So around 11am I headed out, armed with my camera and two lenses, and made my way to the Mercado dos Pinhoes, in Praça Visconde de Pelotas 41, a fantastic market where artisans sell and work at the same time, except that doesn’t exist anymore. Yes, the hard truth is that the place still stands and it looks like it was a great market, but now it’s empty and mainly used for evening music events. Which isn’t too bad, but I was looking for something else, after a 30-minute walk under the sun from Meireles district.
A little disappointed, I headed to the Mini Siará, museum of miniatures in Rua José Avelino 250, just beside the Centro Cultural Dragão do Mar, to take some photos of possibly original exhibitions, if only it still existed. You guessed it, I could barely gather where the civic 250 was among all the small and colorful colonial-style buildings lined up along the street, hidden by the empty booths of a monday market that sellers were already dismantling. It would have been a great surprise to catch a market a didn’t know of, but I was late for that, too.
Time was passing by, heat was starting soaring and my day so far had been a complete failure. What could I do if not seek divine comfort to ease my despondency after realizing that I was going through a no-no day?
This is how I stumbled on Nossa Senhora da Assunçao that, in all its majesty, was holding out her invisible hand to me. To say it all, the church had been following me for days from afar, everywhere I went in Fortaleza, I could see its towers peeping out almost as if to claim its relevance compared to the other attractions. Tired and thirsty, I grabbed the hand and stepped over the threshold of this unusual worship place.
The untarnished white of its interiors, disrupted only by colorful glass decorations that let a soft light in, was in striking contrast with the bulky, grey austerity of its outside. To be fair, the architect was not anti-religious, or at least not that I know of, and didn’t conspire to make people scared of priests, but he was actually hired to build a fort.
Unlike many people would think, Fortaleza is not very young: its official appointing as capital of Ceará dates back to 286 years ago, before that it was just a small town, inhabited by its indigenous tribes that saw themselves under siege and catapulted in the middle of an all-European war between the Dutch and the Portuguese fighting over a land that didn’t belong to either of them. You wouldn’t believe it, but in Sardinia, the land that exists since the Big Ben, we have much younger cities, such as Arborea, born as Mussolinia, founded by our own dictator after draining the former marshy area (no, it wasn’t Rockefeller that did that, in case you were wondering).
As history goes, the beautiful region that we know as Ceará wasn’t immune to the raging waves of colonization of Latin America, and in 1649 the Dutch came to Fortaleza for the second time, after being fought back in 1637 by the indios, and built the Schoonenborch fort, settling there for seven years before being expelled once and far all by the Portuguese, who transformed the fort into our church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção, naming the town “Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora da Assunção” on April 13th 1726.
It’s precisely all around this fort that the city as we know it today started sprawling, and this church is now taken as the reference point where it all began.
The cotton business and an urbanization based on the model of Paris quickly made Fortaleza become the pearl of northern Brazil, boulevards and cafés included, until now that it’s leading one of the fastest developing areas in all of the country.
After having restored myself, changed lens on my camera and cooled down in the shadow of its towering columns, I resumed my journey, this time without a map nor a plan, to avoid getting lost and causing further unnecessary disappointments.