Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Next stop -- Belo Horizonte -- Part 2

Liberdade Square
Well, we found our way to Belo Horizonte (bɛloɾiˈzõtʃi] Beautiful Horizon) and I gave you my first impressions but I did not give any back ground.  Let's start with a little intro about the third largest metropolitan area in Brazil.  The first settlement here was a small farm founded in 1701 by bandeirante explorers from Sao Paulo.  The farm was given the name "Curral d'el Rey" and with its success others soon settled in the area and  soon it became a village surrounded by farms.  Many migrants passed through the small village stopping for prayers at its little wooden chapel asking for a good journey as they set off for the south.
In 1893, after Brazil's independence from Portugal,   many of the states prominent intellectuals demanded a new state capital be created.  This small village was chosen due to its climate and topographic conditions as the new economic and cultural center for the state and the name was changed to "Cidade de Minas" (Minas City).  Plans began quickly for Brazil's second planned city and in 1897 the city was finally inaugurated even with many unfinished streets and buildings.  During the industrial revolution, the name was changed to Belo Horizonte and a massive influx of population occurred leaving the planner's vision struggling to keep up.
Oscar Niemeyer Design
I have mentioned Oscar Niemeyer in a few of my previous posts and feel compelled to mention him here.  In the 1940's a young Niemeyer was commissioned by the mayor of Belo Horizonte to designed the Pampulha neighborhood.  He filled it with wide avenues,  large lakes, manicured parks, a casino and an upscale yacht club.  Mr Niemeyer credits this commissioning as the true starting point of his career and where he began getting recognized for his free thought and ideas.  In addition to the Pampulha area,  there are several buildings throughout the city built with his natural use of curves and free space.  Mr. Niemeyer is such a well known architect in Brasil and around the world,  I had share as I pay a visit to his professional birthplace. (thanks wiki)

Enough of Belo Horizonte history - let's get up and explore for ourselves.  We
rise early and make plans to meet up with Danillo (Luiz's nephew) who is completing his residency here.    He has a few things to do in the morning and since we have a little time we decide to explore by foot. A few blocks from the hotel is the run down Antigo Hotel Itatiaia which sits adjacent to the  Predio da Estacao Central (the old central train station).  In between these two buildings lies the wonderful little park Praca Rui Barbosa, filled with wonderful sculptures, trimmed grass, and blooming flowers.  I can imagine working in the area and escaping here for lunch, a little quiet time or to do little reading.   The Antigo Hotel fits right into my first impressions of the city as it is obviously in need of renovations.  It is
a great old structure standing tall among the buildings which  surround it.   I am sure its history is interesting considering the location it holds in the city.  I understand there is talk of a face lift before the 2014 World Cup, but there is no sign of it at this point so we will have to wait and see.  The Praca Rui Barbosa is simply a delicate oasis in the concrete masses of the city.  With its beautiful fountains, sculptures and French style gardens the park has welcomed pedestrians as they exited the train station since the cities beginning. Today the entrance to the metro central station is located on the square and the old Predio de Estacao (train station) houses the Museu de Artes e Ofícios (Museum of Arts and Crafts).  Opened in 2005 and dedicated entirely to the arts and craft history of Brazil it boasts over two thousands pieces  displayed in this renovated train station.  The Museum has not opened for the day so all we can do is enjoy the architectural beauty on the outside.  We walk along the station covered with graffiti

and filled with clusters of street people.  Not sure if we should continue in this direction we ask a couple walking on the street for anything else interesting to see within walking distance.  They advise us of a park - the Americo Rene Giannetti Municipal Park just a few blocks away in the direction we are currently walking and upon seeing a mobile police station ahead,  we are reassured that is it ok to travel in this direction.
After about a ten minute walk we come to the wrought iron fence which encloses the park and begin to search for the entrance.  On the other side
of the fence we can see carnival rides, some walking paths, and a large pond of water.  The only obstacle for enjoying these things is the fence and we take a little while to come across the grand gate which opens and allows visitors into the park everyday.   We stroll down one of the many paths and my first impressions of this city comes back into my mind.  It just seems dirty and in need of some renovation as litter clutters the flower beds along the walkway.  There is little manicured here and in the mdidle of the large pond lies a large cement structure.  I am sure years ago it was impressive, but today it is missing some of the fountains and in need of some fresh paint.  We find out later that this is the municipal park and it is in the beginning stages of renovation. We spend a half an hour or so wandering down the different paths admiring the ducks and flowers.  Although their is room for improvement in the actual park,  the day is beautiful and it makes the morning so enjoyable.  Soon it is time to head back towards the hotel so we can meet up with Danillo.  On our way back we stop for some freshly squeezed orange juice and come across a majestic cathedral.    Another great example of the Catholic influence in the early years of the country,  today it stands proud with its stain glass windows and tall bell tower overhead. Time for us to get back so we don't spend a lot of time exploring but I am sure it is beautiful and maybe there will be some time in the next couple of days to come back.
We meet up with Danillo and pile into his car for driving a tour of the local hot spots. He has been here doing his residence for a few months and is happy to show us around.  We drive for a while and right away I can tell the area of the city he is taking us to is a little more upscale then where we have been.  The avenues are larger, the homes are nicer, and there is much less graffiti around.  We drive by the area where construction of the new stadium for the World Cup is underway and it is impressive.  I have looked at the drawings for each of the new stadiums and this one ranks up there as one of my favorites along with Brasilias, Sao Paulo and my
favorite Manaus. (*check them out for yourself*)  There are a lot of construction vehicles driving through the street for a while but it calms down as we enter the Pampulha neighborhood where Oscar Niemeyer began to find acclaim for his modernist style of architecture.  First on the list is  St. Francis de Assisi cathedral,  a little catholic church he designed which sits along side a large man made lagoon.  The building has Niemeyers signature curved concrete covered with blue and white tile creating a mural depicting the Saint it is named after and then strategically placed to create wave patterns on the other sides.  Not a typical catholic cathedral in Brazil with its curves and simplistic views.  Actually, when it was first built, the Catholic Church would not consecrate it for some fifteen years because of its unorthodox form.  For me it is a beautiful structure perfectly placed along the blue body of water although its size would surely limit the number of worshipers it can accommodate. 
After a little looking around, we hop back into the car to continue our tour through the Pampulha neighborhood past several large homes and the yacht club where they have a well known ball and fireworks every New Years Eve.  Danillo takes us to a quaint restaurant - Xapuri - 
tucked away in one of the affluent neighborhoods.  It is a rustic place with stables in the back where one can take a quick horse riding lesson if you had time and the desire.  I could look around and explore for hours as the large dining area is filled with intricate details.  The size of the place is massive with five kitchens to serve the guests. I understand on the weekend one must plan ahead to dine here as there is quite a long wait for a table.  It is a weekday so fortunately we are seated right away and a short time after being seated our food arrives.  Wonderful Brazilian food with rice, beans, beef, and a variety of side dishes.  The meal is wonderful and with our stomachs full it is time to head back to our driving tour of the city.
Our next destination is a look out point at the top of a large hill.  Belo Horizonte is definitely growing on the top of the large mountain like hills which lie on the edge of the city.  We travel up one of the roads to the park which overlooks the city.  The park is undergoing some renovations, but that is really ok as our visit is about the overlook and not the park itself.  The air is fresh and their is a cool breeze blowing.  The view of Belo Horizonte is wonderful from here as you can see for miles on this clear day.  It sure is nice to relax a little while and just take in the beauty.  
Next Danillo takes us to another high elevation point in the city where there is a lot of construction currently underway.  A few years ago a mall was built on this mountainous hill and part of that mall is a needle very similar to the space needle in Seattle, WA.  It is said to have a wonderful view and currently houses a well known Japanese restaurant.  We just finished eating so there is no interest in going to the top but the drive through the streets to get there is filled with breathtaking views.   Since the malls completion,  the hillsides around it are being filled with residential towers, each reaching into the skies higher then the one before.  I can imagine the view from some of these penthouses is simply spectacular as they sit perched on the cliffs.  
By this time it is late afternoon and as we head towards the hotel we drive through Liberdade Square and I convince the others to make a stop and take a look
Palace of Liberty
around.  What a wonderful historical area of the city.  A well maintained square which sits in the middle of a variety of well kept old buildings housing government offices,  university classes, and museum galleries.   Down the middle of the square is a pedestrian cobble stone street lined with the traditional palm trees. It is full of people walking their dogs,  reading their books, and playing with their children.  The well manicured landscape is accented with delicate sculptures and fountains.  At the far end of the walking street is a large cast iron fence with a building behind it.  It does not take long for me to gravitate in that
My Favorite Building on the Square
direction to take a closer look.  The building is the Palace of Liberty which was the headquarters for the state of Minas Gerais for years.  Built in 1897,  it housed governors and their families on its three floors.  In the 1960's the building withstood a proposal by Oscar Niemeyer to demolish it as those in power vetoed the idea in honor of preservation.  Shortly after this attempt,  the palace was abandoned by the governing family for a new residence and today the  Palace of Liberty is used ceremonially for the state government.  I would love to come back someday and take one of the daily tours. We just do not have enough time today.  After a quick look through the wrought iron fence,  I briskly walk towards what ends up being my favorite of the old buildings on the square.  A classic building painted a dark salmon color with stark white trim, there is no identification on the building so I can only imagine what it was built for.  What a wonderful corner lot and so 
well maintained.  I snap at least seven photos of the building and as I head back to the others waiting by the car,  I acknowledge to myself  how well kept this area of the city is.  Definitely assisting in changing my impression of Belo Horizonte.Danillo has to head back so he drops us off at the hotel for a little rest before we meet up with Renaldo and Luiz O.  After a little computer time and a nap the evening begins with a visit to a small area by the municipal market which is filled with bars.   In the middle of the round about there is a large fountain shoot water into the dark night sky surrounded by lots of people.  We grab a bite to eat and a couple of drinks and when it is time for us to leave the street is packed with people.  Renaldo drives us up to the look out point where we were earlier in the day to enjoy the city lights and a different perspective.  It is just as peaceful as it was earlier today as the twinkle of the city lights fill the landscape below.  What a wonderful end to a great day and Belo Horizonte gets a little better ranking after a drive around town.  Time to get some sleep  and be ready for the next day.

To Read Part 3 - CLICK HERE 

St. Francis de Assisi - the side view / bell tower

needle at top of hill 

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