A JOURNEY TO RIO GRANDE DO SUL
from a manuscript by the French biologist Auguste de Saint-Hilare, about his
passage by Porto Alegre in 1820.
by Adroaldo Mesquita da Costa)
Alegre, the 21st of July, 1820 - Porto Alegre, capital of Rio
Grande do Sul Captaincy, residence of the general and the auditor, is located on
a pleasant location, on a peninsula formed by a hill that advances towards the
north-southeastern part of Lagoa dos Patos. This lagoon is sixty-league long and
in its origin is called Lagoa de Viamão or Lagoa de Porto Alegre. It extends
from the north to south and its waters are, ordinarily sweet for more than 30
leagues. The lagoon is derived of 4 navigable rivers that mix their waters in
front of Porto Alegre and that is, in its estuary divide into a large number of
branches, forming a labyrinth of islands.
Three of these rivers as Gravataí, which is the most eastern one, Rio dos Sinos
and Rio Caí, come from the north, from Serra Geral and have a short course. The
fourth river, Jacuí or Guaíba, is much bigger than the others, it comes from
the west and in its course many streams are received.
city of Porto Alegre rises as an amphitheater, on one of the sides of the
aforementioned hill, turned to the northwest. It has three main streets that
start a little before the peninsula, in the continent. They spread along the
lagoon, and several shorter streets cross the hill slope. Several of these
crossing ways are paved; some are partly paved, but most are in very bad
conditions. In the so called Rua da Praia, that is the nearest street to the
lagoon, there is a sidewalk made of slabs, and in front of them there are high
houses in Porto Alegre have white painted
tiles, are built in brick on stone basis and are well cared. Most of them have a
balcony. They are also bigger than in other cities and many of them have two
da Praia (see images: 1,
2 , 3)
is the only commercial street and is always very crowded. There, we can see a
lot of people walking or riding horses, sailors and many black people carrying
packages. There can also be seen many well installed stores, with different
kinds of goods and also several professional offices. At the same distance from
this street, there is a big harbor that goes into the lagoon and can be accessed
through a wide wooden bridge that is around 100-step long, with a parapet and
supported by stone posts. The goods that are discharged there, received at this
bridge end, under a 23-step wide and thirty-step long warehouse, supported by
eight stone pillars on where other wooden ones lean. The view of this harbor
would have a beautiful effect on the city if it were not impaired by the
construction, at the bridge entrance, of a heavy and rustic building that shall
be the customs.
of this three big streets, named Rua da Igreja (presentRua
Duque de Caxias) spreads on the hill top. It is there that the three main
buildings of the city are located: the Government House, the Parish Church and
the Court. They are aligned, one at the foot of the other, turned to the
northwest and on the other side of the street, they have raised a supporting
wall so that it would not ruin one of the most beautiful sceneries of the city.
Down this wall, on the slope, there is a square, unfortunately very irregular,
and its ground is supported by stones that do not come to the surface, forming
flowerbeds disposed in lozenges (see some images of the present Praça
the Church, the Government House, and the neighboring buildings, there can be
seen the lagoon (see images: 1,
may have the same width of the Loire in Orleans, surrounded by low islands
covered by a not very high vegetation. Among them, the branches of the four
aforementioned rivers coil, but it is impossible to determine, exactly, to what
river they belong because, before they reach the lagoon, they mix. The waters
that run into the Gravataí, at the most eastern part of the lagoon, arrive in a
huge curve (see
image), and present as a
beautiful river, distinct from the others. A little more to the north, other
waters form a big bay between two strips of land curved into a semicircle and
leaving, at the end, a very narrow opening. Some of the rivers are seen behind
the islands, and from this mixture of water and land we have a very pleasant
set. To complete the scenery, I would also say that the horizon line is limited
by the tops of Serra Geral that take the east/north direction and are lost at a
distance. If you want to enjoy a different landscape, but also full of beauty,
it is enough, when you reach the highest city part, on Rua da Igreja to turn to
the opposite side
(see image). The lagoon
portion that bathes the peninsula on the southwest side forms a big
semi-elliptical small bay with still waters. A long and not very deep valley,
limits the lower part of this small bay. On its margins Count Figueira has just
requested the growing of a very wide alley with wild fig trees that, in the
future, will constitute a pleasant place for strolling. Farther the land, which
is covered by trees and, mainly by bushes, there can be seen country houses. A
little farther, there are big lawns with woods, and bush rows that draw the
irregular contours of a great number of hedges. The lagoon extends to the south,
skirted with not very high hills and it is confounded in the horizon with the
clouds, and at the distance there can be seen a whitish rock in the middle of
the waters (nowadays known as “Ilha do
Presídio”). The panorama before our eyes, on the northwest side, is more
pleasant and lively; something that invites for a dream.
buildings on the top of the hill do not have any other beauty than their
location; we can surely state that they do not have the value for the city
importance and richness.
Government House is nothing else than a common construction, with just one floor
and nine verandas. The inside is not well divided and there is no any room,
where the numerous society of Porto Alegre can be hosted.
Court is even shabbier; it has only one ground floor. The Parish Church, which
can be accessed through its external stairs, has two different towers; it is
light and well decorated, with two altars besides the ones found in the main
chapel; but it is very small, because I’ve counted just forty steps from the
main chapel to the door.
other public buildings in Porto Alegre are less important than those I’ve been
describing. Besides the Parish Church, there can be seen two others still not
finished. In one of them the messes are celebrated; and the other is with the
works stopped. The Council House is nothing more than a floor ground (Casa
Rosa). A middle class individual, would not wish to live there. Here, the
prison is not part of the Council House building. There are two, very small ones
located at the city entrance. On Rua da Praia end, two neighboring buildings
serve as a warehouse for the Navy, as a storehouse for arms and also workshops.
I have admired the order, the organization, I could even say, the elegance in
the room for the reserve arms. At the lagoon side, the buildings have a façade
and each one presents an elongated body, with only one ground pavement and with
a one-floor pavilion. Between the two buildings there is a considerable space
where Igreja das Dores is located (see images:1,
to the Church, besides the warehouses, very close to the lagoon, it can be seen
a column with a globe on the top, indicating that this is the seat city for the
image) . In front of it, there
was built a double stone sea protection with the purpose of serving as a dock
for two warehouses.
could have a great effect if the church if it would have been concluded, if the
ground would be leveled and if those, although having the same model, do not
presented so shocking differences. Outside the city, on the top of the highest
hill points, there have been started the construction of such a huge hospital (Hospital
Santa Casa), that probably will not be finished so early. Nevertheless, its
location was favorably chosen because the place is aired, far from the downtown
and, at the same time, near enough to provide assistance for the sick. If they
have chosen the peninsula northwest side to build the city, it was due to the
fact that only by this side the ships can anchor.
there are on the opposite Hill side, some spread and not well aligned houses,
very badly built and inhabited by poor people. Since I have arrived, I have
counted around twenty to twenty five boats in the harbors and they assure me
that sometimes, there are fifty. In the harbor there can enter several kinds of
at the margin of a lagoon that goes into the sea and, that, at the same time, is
able to communicate with the interior through several navigable rivers, the city
of Porto Alegre, shall, for sure, become rich and flourishing. Founded about
fifty years ago, it already has a population of ten, twelve thousand souls and,
someone who has been living here for seventeen years, informed me that it has
grown two thirds, in this meantime. It can be regarded as the major captaincy
mart, mainly for the northwest regions.
businesspeople buy almost all goods in Rio de Janeiro and distribute them around
the city; exchange the products for leather, wheat and dry meat. It is also from
Porto Alegre that all the canned food is exported. The fast population growth
made the land become more valued here than in the interior cities. Few houses
have a garden and many of them do not have even a yard. This is an inconvenience
because all the garbage is thrown onto the streets, making them absolutely dirty.
crossing roads, the empty lands and, mainly, the margins of the lagoon are
filled up with dirt; the inhabitants drink water from this lagoon and we can
observe that the black people fill in their jars in the same location where
others have just washed their dirty basins.
Porto Alegre population, I have already said that it is composed, mainly, of
white people, generally tall and well-built, with a nice cutis and I can add
that the women are very white and blushed, and several of them are very pretty.
They do not escape from talking with men, and have delicate and distinguished
manners. Here there is not so much social life as in European cities, but there
is much more than in other Brazilian cities.
gatherings in the houses are frequent and some ladies expertly play the guitar
and the piano, being the latter unknown in the interior due to its
transportation difficulties. It is on Rua da Praia, next to the docks that the
market is located; in it there are sold oranges, peanuts, dry meat, wood and
vegetables, especially cabbage. As in Rio de Janeiro, the saleswomen are black,
and some sell the goods sat and others have tents, disorderly placed. In Porto
Alegre, one can also see the black people selling fabrics around the streets.
Nowadays, they are selling a lot of Pinhão, a fruit from araucaria known in
Europe as a pine seed. They boil or bake it and have them with tea or between
the meals, and frequently they give as a present to the friends.
Alegre, the 26th of July – It seems that tomorrow I will
depart with the Count for Rio Grande. I will take with me just José Mariano;
Firmiano and Laruotte will go by the lagoon with my luggage. Concerning the
black Manoel, whom I have been paying since Curitiba, and that had no any use
and from whom I have been bearing, with a lot of patience, the excessive
susceptibility has decided to leave me in the exact moment, where he could
render any service, because he should take two she-mules loaded with suitcases.
The reason alleged was that he wanted to return to his hometown. Thus, I reduced
my luggage to two suitcases that may be taken by one of the Count’s animals,
guided by an employee of his field assessor. This journey is disgusting me more
than I can express. We shall go very fast; we will arrive late and depart early;
I will not have any freedom and nothing shall be left to do besides this
the useless José Mariano, I will be at the mercy of all the people and will not
know what will happen with my luggage. Also, it is required that I leave almost
all my luggage with Laroutte and Firmiano, employees without any experience. I
do not know when they will be able to embark, and it is possible that I stay
longer in Rio Grande, waiting for them, unaware of everything and not knowing
what decision to take.
Alegre, the 27th of July
- We shall not depart today as it has been expected, because it has been
raining all day long; the time goes, I do nothing and this trip is becoming
longer than I wished.