São José (Neighbourhood, Recife)

Lúcia Gaspar
Joaquim Nabuco Foundation Librarian
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         “Sovereign Republic of São José, intimate with the Capibaribe and the ocean-sea,
                    vertical in the towers and its churches which reflect the sky of the ages.”

                     Amílcar Dória Matos
The neighbourhood of São José (St Joseph), one of the oldest and most traditional neighbourhoods in Recife, has an area of 178 hectares and a population of 8,653 inhabitants (Census 2000, from the IBGE – Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics).
In its early days, the area and the Santo Antônio neighbourhood together made up André de Albuquerque Island.
The neighbourhood was separated from the parish of The Holy Sacrament of St Anthony through Provincial Law nº 132, on 2 May 1844.  For a while it was called Campina do Taborda (Taborda’s Field).
In the beginning, it was inhabited by fishermen and there were the famous “Cacimbas de Ambrósio Machado” (Ambrósio Machado’s Wells), next to which the Dutch built Frederick Hendrick Fort in 1630, today called Forte das Cinco Pontas (Fort of the Five Points).
Situated in the central and most urban part of the city, its landmarks include the  São José Market; the Pina estuary; the former jailhouse, which today has been converted to the Casa da Cultura (Culture House); the Central Station, where the Museum of Trains can be found; Sergio Loreto Park and, its backbone, Concórdia and  Imperial Streets.
            Where today the São José Square and Market are, in 1787 there was a small place that traded fruit and vegetables known as Ribeira de São José (São José Riverside).
It was in the São José neighbourhood that Antonio José de Miranda Falcão set up a printing press, in 1825, and founded the Diario de Pernambuco, the oldest newspaper still in circulation in Latin America.

In the 1930s, it was inhabited by traders, public employees, businessmen, dockworkers and other representatives of Recife’s middle class. However, a long time ago, the neighbourhood stopped being a mainly residential zone. There are few families who live there, and there are no longer yards and gardens like there used to be. Calçadas St has become a very busy shopping area in the city.
The Recife Carnival has many traditions linked to the neighbourhood. Besides the Carnival groups Batutas de São José, Donzelos, Traquinas de São José, Prato Misterioso, Pão Duro, and others, it was the headquarters of important Carnival clubs like Clube das Pás Douradas, Vasculhadores and Clube Vassourinhas, lovingly called “Camelo de São José (São José’s Camel)”, as well as the samba school Estudantes de São José, which as the name suggest, was created by students from the neighbourhood.
These congregations’ pre-Carnival street practices draw crowds to the neighbourhood, dancing frevo and singing the period’s songs with enthusiasm.
Also from the neighbourhood, since 1977, on Zé Pereira Saturday, is “the largest Carnival block in the world”, Galo da Madrugada, announcing the arrival of Momo.
Throughout the neighbourhood, churches can be found, such as the Basilica da Penha, built by French capuchins in 1656; São José Church, constructed in 1864 and whose patrons gives his name to the neighbourhood; Nossa Senhora do Terço (Our Lady of the Rosary); São José de Ribamar, located next to Santa Rita Quay and, formerly, the Church of the Martyrs, demolished in the name of urban progress.
The neighbourhood used to have four cinemas, Moderno, at Joaquim Nabuco Square, São José, on Calçadas St, Ideal, on Vidal de Negreiros and Glória, on the Market Square, the only one that still remains, but where only porn films are shown.
Where today is Engenheiro José Estelita Ave, in front of the Pina estuary, there used to be only an earth or sand path where cars and horse-drawn carriages and hay transports were driven – and sometimes got stuck.
Also in the area, football was played, parrots were raised, and when the tide was out, a good part of the area became a mangrove where people would go with their hooks and cans to catch crustaceans.
Through the neighbourhood’s streets, the Corrida da Fogueira (Bonfire Race) used to be held. It began at Largo da Paz, in Afogados, running the whole length of Imperial St, turning left at Sérgio Loreto Park, following Concórdia St, Sol St and finishing in Rosa e Silva Ave, at the grounds of Clube Náutico Capibaribe, the event’s promoter. During the race, a large number of curious spectators and supporters lined the pavements applauding, joking and cursing the competitors.
Today, the old neighbourhood of São José is disfigured, with some properties in ruins, and has social, problems and traffic problems. As a patrimony of Recife city and its residents, it deserves to be restored and preserved.
Recife, 29 June 2004.
(Updated on 31 August 2009).

Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2012.


CAVALCANTI, Carlos Bezerra. O Recife e seus bairros. Recife: Câmara Municipal, 1998. 166p.

IBGE. Censo demográfico 2000. Brasília, DF, 2000.    

MATOS, Almícar Dória. Bairro de São José: um itinerário de saudade. Recife: Comunigraf; Prefeitura da Cidade do Recife, 1997.

RECIFE. Prefeitura. Perfil municipal: histórico e evolução urbana. Recife, 1989.

SILVA, Leonardo Dantas. Carnaval Do Recife. Recife: Fundação de Cultura da Cidade do Recife, 2000. 321p.


Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. São José (Neighbourhood, Recife). 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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