Recife was built on the islands and peninsulas of two river deltas, sheltered behind the wall of reefs that gives the city its name (Recife means reef in Portuguese). It is sometimes known as "the Venice of Brazil" although the resemblance to the Italian Venice ends with the waterways and bridges. Recife is the capital of Pernambuco state and it is the fourth biggest city in Brazil (after Sao Paulo, Rio and Belo Horizonte). The city has several historic landmarks, especially among the over 60 churches. Old colonial houses and buildings, ancient forts and monasteries and miles of fascinating beaches complete Recife's atmosphere.
Contrasting with the lively Recife and only 4 miles away lies Olinda, the ancient regional capital, today a national monument. Sister cities, they owed much of their prosperity in the 16th and 17th centuries to the sugar plantations and industry. Competition from the Antilles and French and English West Indies was responsible for the decline of the sugar industry and Olinda, unlike Recife, never recovered.
Recife's weather is stereotypically tropical. The average minimum and maximum temperature ranges between 73°F (23°C) and 84°F (29°C). It is recommended that you wear light clothing and comfortable shoes when visiting city attractions. It is not necessary to bring warm clothing.
The old area of Recife is relatively small and very easy to visit. It is divided into three areas: Recife district, covering its own island, Sao Jose and Santo Antonio, both sharing the peninsula of another island. The main attraction of old town Recife is its churches. One of them is a "must see": the Capela Dourada, in Santo Antonio district. The building is a baroque splendid manifestation of colonial wealth, erected in the 17th century. Attached to the church, there is a small museum of religious art. Next door is the Sao Francisco Monastery with its church of Santo Antonio, dating from 1606, the oldest in Recife. Nearby, you will find the Teatro Santa Isabel (Santa Isabel Theater), first inaugurated in 1850 but reopened in 1876, after being destroyed by a fire.
The modern Avenida Guararapes is located in Recife's business area. Rua Nova and the church of Nossa Senhora dos Militares are worth visiting. From here you enter the Sao Jose district, that hides a number of market streets full of traders, musicians and visitors, culminating in the iron hall of the central market (fish, leather, fruits, handicrafts).
You can also visit the Sugar Museum on Avenida 17 de Agosto, a fascinating prove of what sugar cane economically meant during colonial times. One of the most important remains of the Dutch rule in northeast Brazil is the Forte de Brum, on the northern end of Recife island. From here you can view the harbor protected by its reef. A "must see" is also the fantastic six-mile long beach of Boa Viagem.
Olinda (4 miles from Recife), a national monument, is a "must see". Also, Itamaracá, 29 miles (46km) from Recife, is a lovely island which is linked to the mainland by a bridge. It is well known for its palm-bordered beaches, the ruins of old naval buildings, the first sugar mills of Brazil and Fort Orange, built by the Dutch in 1631.
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