With the weekend here, my wife and I decided to get out of the apartment and do a little exploring. My wife was interested in seeing Mercado São José (St. Joseph Market), which I described to her from my previous trip in 2007. We decided to walk from our apartment in the Bairro de Graças (Grace Neighborhood) to the market, which took about 45 minutes.
Established in 1875, Mercado São José is one of the oldest markets still functioning in Brazil, and the building is a masterpiece of cast iron construction. Around the market and inside the building is a wide variety of traditional crafts, food, and goods. It is a lively place full of people, activity, sights, smells, and sounds.
The Bairro de São José (St. Joseph Neighborhood) lies in the heart of Recife and is one of the older areas of the city. It is where the downtown of Recife begins and, like the mercado, is full of people and activity. There are lots of interesting buildings and urban places from the 19th century here as well, mixed with 20th century interventions. Overall, however, the neighborhood largely retains its urban feel and pedestrian orientation. I was particularly impressed with Praça da Independência (Independence Square), a pleasant urban plaza in a 19th century setting. I’m always interested in public spaces that are actually used, and the Praça da Independência seems like a popular place for people to gather, as far as I could tell. Designers of public spaces today can learn a lot from these traditional spaces, which incorporate many of the elements that were explored much later by William H. Whyte, such as food, comfort (e.g., shade), and sitting spaces. The historic buildings and plants give this space a positive sense of place.
After exploring the Mercado São José, we decided to take a short walk to the Paço Alfândega, a rehabilitated customs house that was built in 1732 as the centerpiece of a revitalized center of Recife. We took a break here, had a bit to eat, fed our girls some gelato and, being rather tired at this point, took a taxi back home. All in all, a good day for exploring a bit of Recife.