Select Language:

English (en) Deutsch (de) Español (es) Português (pt)

Brazil Property Group and Market Intelligence - Brazil Real Estate for Sale


State Flag of Pernambuco
  1. Introduction
  2. Capital: Recife
  3. Olinda
  4. Data Table for Pernambuco


The scene of bloody wars against the Dutch who occupied the region for more then two decades, Pernambuco is a state which has witnessed some of the most stirring episodes of Brazilian history. The state still retains traces of the period in which it grew wealthy thanks to sugar cane, and the capital, Recife, is a perfect synthesis between old and new. In its streets and buildings, the colonial past mixes with a modern metropolis.

Near the capital, the picturesque Guararapes National Historic Park provides reminders of great territorial disputes. Vila Velha and the Orange Fort on Itamaracá island are two of the most expressive relics of the Dutch occupation of Pernambuco. There, thirteen cannons pointing out to sea and the colonial architecture of the church and the old houses stand on the scene of seventeenth century battles between Portuguese colonists and the Dutch invaders. In Goiana, churches, monuments and old mills are a reminder of the golden age founded on the sugar growing industry.

Olinda was the first capital of Pernambuco. It was burned down by the Dutch and later rebuilt, and is considered one of the cradles of Brazilian culture. This fact and its architecture, so typical of the colonial period, led Unesco to list it in 1982 as a World Heritage Site. Its imposing churches and monasteries show the modern onlooker something of the rich and dynamic cultural life of the period. The old city is built on seven hills and a walk through its steeply inclined streets is an enchanting experience. Olinda always was and still is synonymous with the avant garde, irreverence and bohemianism. The bars and restaurants, where one can try regional dishes, give the old capital a lively night life and harmonise with the Gregorian chant of the convents, the moonlight serenades and the animation of one of the most enjoyable Carnival celebrations in Brazil.


The modern culture of Pernambuco was formed by a mixture of traditions of African, Indian and European origin. The cultivation of sugar cane, the great mansions and the slave quarters, the fantastic nature, the conquest of the semi-desert regions of the sertão, all these have contributed to form a rich cultural crucible, which is reflected in the literature, music, painting, arts and crafts, dances, beliefs and even the spices of the local cuisine. Traditions are preserved and religious feasts attract huge crowds. The greatest expressions of Pernambucan folklore are the dances and the rhythms of the music, such as the Maracatu (Carnival procession), the Quadrilha, the Ciranda and the Fandango. None of these, however, is as associated with Pernambuco as the Frevo.

The state has popular or religious festivals almost the whole year long. During Lent, Nova Jerusalem, 180 kilometres from the capital, stages a Passion Play in the largest open air theatre in the world. The production calls for no less than 500 actors enacting 60 different scenes in an area of 70,000 m² to an audience of 80,000 people, who become extras in the cast. In June, Forró takes hold of Pernambuco. The centre of the party is the town of Caruaru, where accordionists play, bonfires are lit and a lot of traditional food is eaten.

Pernambuco is a dynamic art centre and has produced many painters, sculptors, designers and craftsmen, such as João Camara, Francisco Brennand, Lula Cardoso Ayres, Cícero Dias, Abelardo da Hora and Vitalino Pereira dos Santos, considered one of the greatest modellers of clay figures and scenes. The state is also the birthplace of the writer Gilberto Freire, author of one of the classics of Brazilian history, "Casa Grande e Senzala", and of poets such as Manuel Bandeira and João Cabral de Melo Neto.

As the second largest economy in the North East region, exceeded only by Bahia, Pernambuco's GDP was around R$ 17 billion, equivalent to that of Chile and higher than countries like Paraguay and Uruguay, Brazil's partners in Mercosul. The sugar industry has been the most important of any state in Brazil from colonial times until the beginning of this century, but Pernambuco is now undergoing rapid changes. Sugar cane still accounts for 40% of the economy of the state, but its share has been shrinking as other agricultural, industrial and service activities become more important.

Recife BeachRecife Beach

The tertiary sector has involved the largest number of people and the greatest production, especially commerce and finance, representing 21% and 25%, respectively, of the state GDP. Manufacturing industry has also grown and accounts for 25% of the state's total production. Diversification has been the keynote in this sector, with traditional activities (textiles and food) losing ground in the Value of Industrial Transformation Index, from almost 60% to 35% between 1960 and 1985, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). This diversification has resulted in the development of industries producing chemicals, electronics, communications, machinery, metallurgy, plastics, drinks, clothing and shoes.

In the 1990s, tourism, irrigated agriculture and the Port Complex of Suape have all contributed to boosting the Pernambucan economy even more. The biggest project for tourism is the Costa Dourada project. The project represents a partnership between private enterprise, the federal government and the state governments of Pernambuco and Alagoas, and aims to provide the necessary infrastructure for the stretch of coastline between Cabo de Santo Agostinho (south of Pernambuco) and Barra de Santo Antonio (north of Alagoas), in order to exploit the natural tourist potential of the region.

In the valley of the São Francisco river, the longest river entirely within Brazilian territory, irrigated agriculture is revolutionising productivity and production of fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes, onions, grapes, mangos and melons produced in the area represent half the value of the traditional sugar - alcohol industry, and grapes grown in Pernambuco are now exported to Europe. The area of irrigated agriculture benefits in terms of infrastructure from the river port of Petrolina, on the banks of the São Francisco river.

With an area of 98,900 km2, Pernambuco is similar in size to countries such as Portugal (92,000) or Hungary (93,000). Its elongated shape means that it possesses markedly different geographical areas, and as such is typical of the North East region. Its zones include arid bush country (sertão), dry outback (agreste) and coastal forest. Nature has excelled itself on the Pernambucan coast. Throughout 180 kilometres of beaches, the green or turquoise-blue sea (the colour changes with the tide) embraces natural pools, reefs, deserted bays, creeks and fishing villages with ancient churches. In some parts, the Atlantic Forest descends almost to the sea and there are beaches which are virtually untouched. In other places, rivers, sea and mangrove glades form a unique landscape.

Amid such picturesque scenes the visitor will find the sea calm and warm, with a south east breeze blowing almost continuously for those who enjoy watersports such as windsurfing. In between swimming bouts, there is nothing better than a coconut juice or a cold beer with fried fish or crab in a bar or restaurant or in the simple but welcoming thatched huts on the beach. Boa Viagem beach, in the capital itself, is one of the most famous. Porto de Galinhas, 53 kilometres from Recife, is captivating - crystalline waters form pools in the shade of the coconut trees, and there are bars and restaurants on the beach. For water sports, Maria Farinha, Igarassu and the island of Itamaracá are some of the many possibilities. For those who like nature in an almost virgin state, there are idyllic beaches at Calhetas and Gaibu. Pernambuco also includes an Atlantic rarity, the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha.

Top of Page

Capital: Recife


The capital of the state of Pernambuco started its existence at the mouth of the Capibaribe and Beberibe rivers in 1548 as a fishing settlement, but it soon grew and became the seat of government during the period when the Dutch occupied the North East region of Brazil. It is known as the "Venice of Brazil" on account of its bridges, canals and rivers - in the centre of the city alone there are 39 bridges crossing more than 50 canals. The capital of Pernambuco is a mixture of past and present. Hidden behind a wall of modern buildings lies the Patio de São Pedro, comprising colonial houses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries around the cathedral of São Pedro. The old prison has been converted into a popular culture centre, with shops selling fabrics, carpets, items of rope and straw, embroidery and pottery.

Recife is also the Frevo capital of Brazil. During Carnival, the Galo da Madrugada group of dancers opens the proceedings and brings over a million people onto the streets - the group has entered the Guinness Book of Records as the largest Carnival group in the world. In the capital of Pernambuco, art and culture permeate life and are reflected in the colonial architecture of the houses, churches and old forts. In the Museum of Man of the North East, an important collection takes the visitor back to the past, to the height of the sugar era and to the best of Pernambucan popular art. On the banks of the Capibaribe river, 16 kilometres from Recife, is the workshop and museum of the artist Francisco Brennand, in an old sugar mill which he has renovated. The museum is also called the "Cathedral of Art", and 2,000 works by the artist are on show there.

Top of Page


Frustrated at not having found in Brazil the precious metals which the Spanish had torn from more civilized peoples in the part of the Americas assigned to them by the Treaty of Tordesillas, the only alternative for the Portuguese was the growing of cane and the production of sugar in order to make economically viable the colonization of their recently discovered virgin territories. During the colonial period most of the sugar mills were concentrated in the North East region of Brazil, where in 1535, in the captaincy of Pernambuco, the town of Olinda was founded and quickly became a shop window for the accumulated wealth of the neighbouring sugar plantation owners.


With its irregular outline, its great buildings erected on the top of hills with their view towards an emerald sea, and the smaller houses winding round the lower slopes, Olinda is a magnificent example of an informally created town, typical of Portuguese colonization in Brazil. The name itself is said to have originated in the exclamation of the hereditary captain Duarte Coelho, on gazing at the magnificent vista which unfolded before him from the spot he had chosen for the foundation of the town.

The wealth of the Brazilian North East had soon stirred the envy of others, particularly the Dutch who invaded Pernambuco in 1630 and captured Olinda in the same year. But from the strategic point of view of the Dutch the town was not easily defensible, and they soon burned and abandoned it, preferring to settle in the neighbouring marshes around the hamlet of Recife, which they proceeded to drain in the way they were accustomed to in Holland. There followed a period of extraordinary development in less than two decades.

With the expulsion of the Dutch in 1654, Olinda was only gradually reconstructed, because it had already begun to suffer increasing competition from Recife, which had established itself as an important commercial centre and would soon be promoted to administrative capital of the Captaincy. What Olinda lost in terms of government buildings was more than made up for by the construction of the monumental monasteries and convents of the religious orders. Carmelites, Franciscans, Benedictines and Jesuits occupied the heights of the city and produced, especially in the interior of the convent buildings, the purest examples of baroque art in colonial Brazil.

Olinda ceased to compete with Recife and thus preserved its original features until the twentieth century, when it came to be considered as a dormitory town. In 1937, when it was officially declared an Historic City, its main attractions were still its unique design, its houses with narrow facades and long, tree-lined gardens, and the high artistic quality of some of its buildings, which stood proudly among the exuberant tropical vegetation.

International recognition of the aesthetic value of Olinda dates from 1982, when it was classified as a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

Top of Page

Data Table for Pernambuco

Capital Recife
Area 98,937.8 km2
Towns 185
Location Centre-east of the North-East Region
Population 7,911,937 inhabitants (2000)
Population in the Capital 1,480,000 inhabitants
Climate Tropical and semi-arid
Mean Annual Temperature (capital) 25º C
Time in Relation to Brasília The same
Density of Population 80.3 inhabitants/km2
Urbanization Index 76.5% (2000)
Infant Mortality 57.5 per thousand live-born (2000)
Illiteracy Rate 24.7% (2000)
Contribution to GDP 2.3%
Representation at National Congress 28 Members of Parliament
Vegetation Swamps along the coastal strip, tropical rain forest and dry scrub with thorn forest


  • IBGE 2000 and Projections for 2002
  • Abril Almanac
  • Gabeira, Gabriel Luiz - "Synthesis of the Brazilian Economy", Rio de Janeiro, National Trade Confederation (CNC), 1999