The history of Olinda, Brazil, goes back to XVI century (1535), when it was founded by the Portuguese Duarte Coelho Pereira.
It was elevated to a town in 1537.
Originally inhabited by Caetés and Tupinambás aboriginal tribes, it is believed that French explorers were the first ones to set foot in the region.
Olinda grew in importance and became the captaincy of the present State of Pernambuco (1614), mainly for two reasons.
First, the massive exploitation of pau-brasil (brazilwood), also known as Ibirapitanga or Pau de Pernambuco amongst other names, a tree used for dying fabrics in the XVII century. A red dye called brazilin from the tree was converted into a powder and used in the manufacture of expensive textiles, such as velvet, which was in high demand during the period of Renaissance.
Pau-brasil - Caesalpinia echinata - was so abundant in Brazil a the time, that it eventually gave name to the country, to a State (Pernambuco) and became the wood of choice for bow-making in the late XVII century. In fact, the pernambuco bows are used by almost all serious orchestral and chamber musicians in the world.
In the words of Günter Seifert, violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra..."some people think a bow is only wood and hair, but the bow can be more essential to expressing the soul of the music than the violin is. It’s better to have a fine bow and a mediocre violin than a fine violin and a mediocre bow."
The second reason was the introduction of sugar cane plantations by Duarte Coelho. From 1530s to 1630s, many cane farms were established all over Pernambuco. Paradoxically, the sugar cane, cause of Olinda fortune, was also cause of misfortune.
Its importance faded away in the following centuries due to a various reasons. It wasn't until the mid XIX century that Olinda regained prestige, recommended by doctors as a healthy summer destination.
During the time of Dutch domination - 1630 to 1654 - Olinda was sacked and burnt to the ground with all its Catholic churches, by the Calvinist Dutch, in 1631. They were buiding present day Recife, which was called Mauritsstad at the time. The flat, delta islands of Recife were easier to defend to them than the hills of Olinda. Besides, it had similarities to Holland's topography.
Eventually, the Portuguese regained control of the region, most definitive after the two battles of Guararapes. On January 27, 1654, under the Treaty of Taborda, the Dutch surrendered unconditionally.
The name "Olinda" comes from the Greek "Olyntha" , meaning green fig, and also "linda" or "bela" - beauty. According to legend, it comes from "ó linda", an expression by a Galician explorer when faced the beauty of the place.
Olinda, Brazil, is at present days one of the best-preserved and prettiest colonial towns in the country and South America, perhaps only rivaled by Ouro Preto, in the State of Minas Gerais. Although many Olinda buildings were originally constructed in the XVI century, most of what you see today dates from the XVIII century and after. In 1982, the Historic Centre of Olinda was declared Historical and Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Today it’s an artist colony full of creative types, brimming with galleries, artisans’ workshops, museums, lovely colonial churches and music in the streets, home to one of the most famous carnivals in Brazil, when people dance (at no cost - they are proud to host a free carnival) in the streets at the rhythm of frevo, maracatu and others rhythms.
No Carnival in Olinda is complete without a costume that range from the most exotic to the most outrageous. It's all about having fun, with the first party beginning two Sundays before it.
The show is inaugurated by the New Virgens do Bairro Novo de Olinda, a group that sets the Carnival fires alight. The giant papier-mâché puppets or Bonecos are equally popular and can be seen marching all through the Carnival week.
Another cultural events happens every year in late November/early decembre for a week long, known as Arte em Toda Parte (Art Everywhere). Art studios open up their doors to offer a great variety of arts and crafts - paintings, sculptures, patchwork, and ceramics.
So when you're ready to explore "ó linda", make sure to include at least some of the following attractions...
Olinda, Brazil, is located on the Northeastern Altantic coast in the State of Pernambuco, 6km North of Recife. Find it on the map. Closest airport is Recife's Guararapes - Gilberto Freyre - Intl Airport located 12km (7 1/2 miles) South of the city, 1.5km away from Boa Viagem beach. If you're staying at Boa Viagem, the airport bus, no. 33 or 42 leaves every 15 minutes and costs around 2 Reais per ride.
While a taxi from downtown Recife to Olinda costs around 15 or 20 Reais, you could also take a bus. From outside Recife's metro station, buses Rio Doce e Pau Amarelo will take to Olinda’s main bus stop on Praça do Carmo. There is also the Amparo bus shuttle service between Av Dantas Barreto in central Recife and the street below the Igreja NS do Amparo in Olinda.
Olinda has a good number of pousadas (guest houses) with a limited number of rooms. Several are within old historic houses and are very charming. There are also some upscale hotels such as the 7 colinas. If you intend to travel by Carnival time, make sure to book several month in advance as the city gets completely crowded. Review and book your hotel in Recife, Boa Viagem beachfront neighborhood and Olinda.
Alternatively, for budget accommodation, Book Recife, Brazil with Hostelbookers.com.