Fernando De Noronha

Elizabeth Dobbin
Psychologist, servant of Joaquim Nabucco Foundation
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The Fernando de Noronha Archipelago, designated as an ecological sanctuary, is located 500km from the Recife coast and is made up of 21 islands and islets, including Fernando de Noronha (15 km²), Rata, Lucena, Meio, Rasa, São José, Cuscus andCabeluda, home to various animal and plant species, including some endangered.It is formed from volcanic rocks, has a rugged coastline, as well as smaller rocks, occupies a total area of 26km², and has a mild climate and fertile soil.

The archipelago was discovered in 1503 by the Américo Vespúcio armada, commanded by Gonçalo Coelho, which had one of its ships wrecked during an exploratory expedition of the Brazilian coaston 10 August of that year.

On 16 January 1505, KingManoelgave the island to Fernan de Loronha, the nobleman who had financed the expedition that had discovered it, as the first Hereditary Captaincy of Brazil, but the island remained totally deserted as its owner had no interest in it.

From 1505 to 1630, the archipelago was visited by sailors, chroniclers, missionaries and adventurers who were undoubtedly the foreign travellers that recorded the island’s life and beauty at the time, as much through written reports as through graphic forms by the hands of artists of the age.
From 1635 to 1654, the island was occupied by the Dutchwhen the first changes occurred, such as attempts at agriculture, rearing animals and building. The Dutch fortified the island, using it as a prison. It was they who built a small redoubt, which today is Fort dos Remédios.

After they were expelled, the island was once again abandoned, and only in 1736 did it fall into the hands of the French, who extended the fortifications that today are in ruins.

In 1737, the Portuguese, through the Capitancy of Pernambuco, not only expelled the French, but built fortifications, the towns of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, with two prisons, and Quixaba, which had accommodation for badly-behaved prisoners. This was when the Correctional Colony for common prisoners began, lasting until 1938.

It is worth noting that during the Empire, Fernando de Noronha was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of War (1823 to 1877) and the Ministry of

Justice (1877 to 1891), andas a civil prison received the illustrious Barbosa Lima and Abreu e Lima as inmates.
In 1938, the Federal Government, faced with the need for a place to hold the political prisoners from the attempted coups of 1935 and 1937, asked the Pernambuco Interventor, Agamenon Magalhães, to concede the island that served as a prison for the State of Pernambuco in exchange for a grant to build a new farm prison on Itamaracá Island and a bridge connecting it to the continent. It should be pointed out that at the time, the Fernando de Noronha prison was a burden for the Government of Pernambuco, due to its distance and difficulties with communication.

In the New State of the 1930s it became a political prison, remaining this way until 1942, when it was then declared a Federal Territory by Law-Decree nº 4,102 on 9 January 1942, because of its strategic location in the Atlantic due to the threat of the Second World War. Noronha then became an advanced war base where over three thousand men from the Mixed Detachment lived, alongside an American company, posted to build the new airport.

From 1942 to 1988, the archipelago was under military command, undergoing various changes in the urban layout, such as hier archical villas, or in other words, houses varying in size depending on military rank.

During this period, some important political prisoners in Brazilian history can be referred to, such as Gregório Bezerra, Miguel Arraes and Agildo Barata Ribeiro.

Effectively, the military had the control over practically all of the civilian population’s lives during its period in command of the island, positioning itself as the supplier of material goods and provider of most services. The islanders didn’t need to buy anything besides food. In compensation, they were the last to get anything, and were also forbidden to go to Southeast Bay (baía do Sueste)and Boldró Beach, reserved for the leisure of the military, as well as being prevented from living outside established standards: single mothers or homosexuals, for example, could not live there under any circumstances.

In September 1986, the first civilian government commenced, that of Fernando César Mesquita, and with him was an intense influx of migration, generating important changes as much in spatial boundaries as in other aspects of social life

Shortly afterwards, due to the 1988 Constitution, the archipelago was once more annexed by the State of Pernambuco.
The island’s administrator is appointed by the Pernambuco State Governor, with their offices in São Miguel Palace, and there is also a district council elected by residents.
Today, the archipelago is visited by hundreds of people in search of its natural beauty, its history and to surf and free-dive, with visitation strictly controlled to preserve the environment.

Must-see excursions include the sunset, which according to visitors is its own spectacle; Conceição Beach, one of the most beautiful and extensive beaches in the archipelago, greatly frequented by islanders and visitors; and Sancho Bay, another sought-after place, enclosed by a natural breakwater and accessed through a ladder affixed to the rock, by a small trail or by sea.

Continuing with stunning places, Leão (Lion) Bay, the longest, has one of the most stunning landscapes in the archipelago and is the principal locations where marine turtles lay their eggs. The formation of natural pools and blowholes, resembling geysers, are the results of water entering with tidal pressure and filling underneath the coral.

At Caieira Beach, the largest natural aquarium in the country can be found. Its tidal pools are extremely shallow, with an average depth of 80cm, allowing for the observation of a variety of the region’s marine fauna. To care for and preserve this vast treasure, the beach is located in the National Marine Park, whose purpose is ecological preservation.

As Col. Olegário Marcondes put it best,

“The island is enchanting, a small and true oasis floating on the waves of the deep sea, bordered by beautiful and winding beaches, where the whiteness of the sand mixes with the excessive brightness of the sun, eased here and there by the shade of the coconut trees... Fernando de Noronha is to be experienced and not described.”

Recife, 25 march 2004.
(updated on 18 august 2009)

Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012



DICIONÁRIO enciclopédico brasileiro ilustrado. 6.ed. Porto Alegre: Globo, 1958.

FERNANDO de Noronha. Revista Fácil, Recife, ano 7, n.8, p.38, 40, ago. 2002.

FERNANDO de Noronha: muita história para contar. Revista Fácil, Recife, ano 3, n.11, p.52-53 maio/jun. 1999.

IMBIRIBA, Beatriz de Lalor. História de Fernando de Noronha. Recife: Imprensa Industrial, 1951.

LIMA, Janirza Cavalcante da Rocha. Nas águas do arquipélago de Fernando de Noronha. 2000. Tese (doutorado)-Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo, 2000.


Source: DOBBIN, Elizabeth. Fernando de Noronha.Pesquisa Escolar Online, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at:  <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009

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