The capital of Santa Catarina State is a unique paradise. The island where it was built, occupied for last seven thousand years, boasts fine beaches, stunning landscapes, oodles of art and the rich cultural heritage of Azorean settlers. Everything is seductive, colourful, and has a wonderful flavour: oysters!
Quality of life
There is something about this sunny place in southern Brazil. Something enchanting. It’s no surprise that the Ilha de Santa Catarina is also known as Ilha da Magia (Magic Island) – in addition to its natural beauty, myths and legends explain the rest. Unsurprisingly, it’s a destination for many Brazilians and Europeans. Stats estimate that 52% of the 500 thousand inhabitants are not Florianopolitans, or “Manezinhos da ilha”, as the natives are also called, which harks back to the time when Portuguese settlers (mostly from the Azores) arrived, at the time when Florianópolis (Floripa) was called Nossa Senhora do Desterro. Manoel was the most common name in Portugal, so they called islanders “manoelzinhos”. Over time, the expression changed to “manezinho” and then “mané”.
Floripa, the capital of Santa Catarina State, is located on the island, 700 kilometres south of São Paulo, which has collected stories for centuries, but continues to write the future. Today, the vestiges of prehistoric tribes constitute the largest collection of rock art in the country. In the 18th century, Azoreans fled an archipelago, dreaming of finding a “promised land.” Later, in the 1980s, major European migration flows brought another perspective, not to mention the unique interaction of nature and city, its 42 beaches and its hospitable people.
The oyster industry – Floripa is Brazil’s largest producer (92% of the national market) -, technology and tourism are the main drivers of an economy that is one of the country’s most innovative. Universities bring thousands of students and, in the summer, there are about two million tourists, many entering the island via two parallel bridges, Colombo Salles and Pedro Ivo Campos. The imposing Hercílio Luz Bridge, a symbol of independence and 1920s architecture in Brazil and Santa Catarina, is currently being renovated. “Ilha do meu coração” (Island of my heart), so goes a song that accompanies us on this trip.
After crossing the lovely Avenida Beira-Mar Norte, the road points the way to the heart of Florianópolis. The hustle and bustle of the yellow-hued Mercado Público (city market), and the 19th-century buildings, examples of Portuguese-Brazilian colonial style, create the scene. The centre also has the cathedral dedicated to Nossa Senhora do Desterro, designed by the Portuguese Brigadier, José da Silva Paes, which was completed in 1773. “The city was born here,” we hear. Below the mother church, the engineer and soldier also built the Casa do Governo da Capitania da Ilha de Santa Catarina (House of Government of the Captaincy of the Island of Santa Catarina), another legacy of the colonial period in the 18th century, now the Palácio Cruz e Sousa, in honour of the symbolist poet from Santa Catarina. The subject of various preservation projects over time, the current head office of the Museu Histórico de Santa Catarina boasts eclectic architecture, characterised by a conciliation of styles, such as Baroque and Neo-classical, and by sculptures, painted ceilings, furniture and a marble staircase. In addition to the architectural, archaeological, archival, bibliographical and museological examples, the palace’s main entrance is occupied by the piano of maestro José Brazilício de Souza, who composed Santa Catarina’s anthem.
The artistic tempo extends to the Professor Henrique da Silva Fontes Cultural Centre, which is home to the Museu de Arte de Santa Catarina (MASC), the Image and Sound Museum, Ademir Rosa Theatre and other cultural events in Santa Catarina. MASC possesses around 1,800 works of contemporary art by Brazilian and international artists, many from the region, and celebrated its 70 birthday in 2018.
We return to the city centre and the intellectual elite’s old meeting point, the Miramar trapiche. From there, we climb to XV de Novembro square, where Hassis’s art underfoot demonstrates elements of Floripa’s culture, from fishing endeavours to festivities, as well as bobbin lace and traditional figures. The fig tree, in the same square, is another symbol of the centre and capital, not only for its exuberance, but also because of its mystical aura.
The tenth island
At first sight, anyone who lands here, which is one of the capitals with the largest area of preserved Atlantic Forest in Brazil, notices the hills. Floripa is considered the tenth island of the Azores archipelago, but not only because of its natural features. Brigadier José da Silva Paes is key to this connection with Portugal. In 1739, it was he who devised the Ilha de Santa Catarina’s defensive triangle, which was made up of the fortresses of São José da Ponta Grossa, Santo Antônio de Ratones and the main one, Santa Cruz de Anhatomirim, in the north, which consolidated Portuguese rule in southern Brazil and protected the island from foreign incursions. Leaving from Canasvieiras Beach, there’s a ship – the Corsário Negro I, a pirate vessel – which visits the fortresses of Ratones and Anhatomirim in the company of a hostess who introduces herself as Lady Leonor. “Let yourself be carried by the lapping of the waves, like a kind of poetry,” says the noblewoman, as soon as we cast off, heading towards those buildings preserved by the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina. This was the starting point for the colonisation by Azoreans, who arrived in 1748 and were accustomed to living with the sea, adapting immediately. They brought new life, customs, seeds, tools and cattle, in addition to cassava production and bobbin lace, which became a local tradition. Like in Santo Antônio de Lisboa. Next to the beach with fishing boats and an oyster farm/ nursery, this neighbourhood has a fine array of Portuguese colonial architecture. On the Caminho dos Açores road, whose epicentre is the Nossa Senhora das Necessidades Church, there are workshops, handicraft shops, art galleries and restaurants. And then there’s the first calçada portuguesa (Portuguese paving) of Santa Catarina, which was laid to welcome Emperor Pedro II in the 19th century. The colourful houses continue on the West coast, like in Ribeirão da Ilha, another Azorean colony.
Praia de Itaguaçu beach (an indigenous word for stone slab) is a city landmark. And the dozens of large stones in the sea are the pride of the Bairro de Coqueiros (part of Floripa’s gastronomic route), as well as an integral part of local folklore that explains the meaning of Ilha da Magia. Legend has it that they are petrified witches and that this beach was a meeting place for other frightening figures, such as werewolves and vampires. Together, the witches decided not to invite the Devil to the party, ignoring his absolute power. Furious, amid thunder and lightning, he turned them into the large stones that can still be seen in the waters of Itaguaçu.
In the East, there’s a little bit of paradise to add to the 42 beaches of Santa Catarina’s capital: the natural pools of Barra da Lagoa, which can be accessed via a trail that is both adventurous and attractive. After crossing the bridge and climbing the steps that lead to Prainha da Barra da Lagoa, there are landscapes overlooking an endless ocean and, ahead, on the other side, we can see the nine- -kilometre stretch of Praia de Moçambique beach. At the end of the walk, there are the crystalline waters of the natural pools, complete with tropical, rocky and verdant scenery.
Praia do Mole is also accessed by a trail. We begin the boat trip heading towards Coast da Lagoa, from the Centrinho da Lagoa da Conceição Marina. Next to this old fishing village, covered by enormous hills, there’s an isolated, car-free community that still preserves vestiges of the culture left by the Azorean immigrants. The boat stops at several piers, so people can disembark, on their way home to their houses on the coast and in the middle of the Atlantic Forest. Around 50 minutes after we set off, there’s a stop to enjoy the delicious fish caught locally. Living here starts to seem like a good idea. Life is good!
The man from Sambaqui
In the 18th century, Praia da Armação was a whaling station. At the time, whale oil was used for street lights in cities such as Florianópolis, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (the surplus was exported to Lisbon or the Azores). Whaling is now illegal, and southern right whales still appear in the South Seas, especially in the winter.
In Armação, the fishing boats share the waters with surfers. And by the beach, there are vestiges of lithic workshops, which mark the place where stone instruments, like needles and hooks, were made. These polishing basins, where prehistoric man honed his tools, can also be found on Ilha do Campeche. The boats at Armação Beach make the crossing there, where we find the largest collection of rock art in Brazil and a paradise of Caribbean-like blue waters. We climb the hill covered by Atlantic Forest, towards the East, to observe the engravings. Its triangular appearance is probably a reference to the tribe’s combative nature. Descending the rocky slope, ocean on the horizon, we encounter the famous Máscaras Gêmeas (Twin Masks), the symbol of Ilha do Campeche. The geometric design has a reflectioin effect; however, its meaning is unknown. It may be something territorial or just a form of expression. It’s estimated that each line took 200 hours of work.
Praia do Santinho’s Open-Air Archaeological Museum also confirms this heritage and the arrival of the sambaquieiros – the name given to the primitive coastal inhabitants – 7,000 years ago, with records of permanent occupation of Ilha de Santa Catarina dating back 5,000 years. Located in Morro das Aranhas, the museum is accessed via the Costão do Santinho resort and preserves the legacy using structures that reduce the temperature of the engraved rocks.
by Manuel Simões /// photos Marisa Cardoso
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