6 Apr

Forte do Presépio as a center of origin of the city Belém do Pará

The process of colonization Amazon has a direct influence by constant disputes over the territories by the European monarchies. The Brazilian colony belonging to Portugal was the target of greed of nations like France, England and Holland. In this context, the construction of fortifications made in the vast Brazilian coast were crucial to protect the factories and the newly discovered territory. What led the Portuguese to build a fort at the mouth of the Amazon River in Pará state, thus giving the first steps towards the formation of the city of Belém do Pará.

What happens first is the sending of the expedition of Francisco Caldeira Castelo Branco (then Captain General of the Captaincy of Rio Grande do Norte) with his entourage, who left the Bay of São Marcos landing on the Amazon river mouth, in the Bay of Guajará. Settle there and build a small fort of cob wall in 1616, with the purpose of defending the Amazon from any kind of intrusions.

Drawing made by Jacy Correa Neto

The layout of the fort  is accomplished by Captain Francisco Farias da Mesquita, chief engineer of Brazil and built with the help of manpower indigenous Tupinambá. The construction materials used were the double line of palisades (a type of seal made of wood and filled with sand) were employed and covered in palm leaves.

The fort that gave the name of St. Jorge, which was later changed to Forte do Presépio de Belém and this housed inside a chapel for the worship of Nossa Senhora das Graças. It was located in one of the highest points of the place, a factor closely related to notions strategic military as being at a higher level visibility became so broad when it was directed to land, the river turned to the dimensions.

Between the years 1621 and 1626 this type of fortification was deteriorating, being rebuilt at the command of Captain Mor Lord of the captaincy of Pará, Bento Maciel and replaced by more solid construction methods: wattle-and-daub (wall made of clay or lime and sand with sticks and planks of wood). During this time the fort was built a chapel dedicated to Santo Cristo also made with wattle-and-daub. It is noteworthy to rebuilding the fortification takes shape having square with ninety fathoms of the land by the wall, seven feet thick, seventeen feet high and three ramparts.

Years passed and the fort again becomes damaged and only on May 30, 1721 have been the order of the King for possible repairs in the Forte de Belém and in other provinces. The changes are delimited on structural aspects, but also in the name of fort, which is now called the Castelo do Senhor Santo Cristo. And technicians are hired in 1728 to restore and repair the fort, among them: the chief of operations, the engineer of fortifications Carlos Rolim and the mason sent  from Lisbon  Francisco Martins hired in Lisbon.

Although it has succeeded in making the repairs, they did not exhibit long-term, because the construction methods used were unable to with stand the weather variables. Becoming increasingly vulnerable to enemy attacks, the Castelo do Senhor Santo Cristo, it departed from the concept of fortress, or something like that.

From that time until 1848 there were changes in strong as some repairs to the structure with wattle-and-daub, the castle served as a shelter in some instances of sick, because there was no hospital in the region. Another factor was the invasion of the fort during the revolutionary movement Cabanagem.

In 1848 there was a significant authorization for repairs at the fort through the Imperial Charter, among these repairs and additions were: the construction of the bridge over the moat, houses and barracks for soldiers, a basement and walls of stones toward the sea. In the years that followed from 1905 to 1920 works were carried out to improve the dock at the port of Belém, and the Fort at the perimeter of these changes, which were made by private enterprise “Port of Pará” amendments were eventually made by the company, as for example, several buildings were added as two brick cottages in the courtyard of the fort, in a lodge room with two floors, a small bathroom, a toilet in the dimensions 2.5 x 3.5 m, a shed that was in the gulf region. Also changes were made in relation to sewerage facilities and water pipelines and construction of a cemented area reserved for the military to practice tennis.

Drawing made by Jacy Correa Neto

On November 20, 1920 when the term ends in surrender of the fort by the company, the civilians who lived in the buildings of the fort had to withdraw within three days. There is a gap in the history of the fort, its chronology is to be resumed only when enacted in 1962 is the registration of the Forte do Castelo as cultural heritage of IPHAN (Institute of National Historical and Artistic Heritage).

The building goes through military reforms in 2002 and integrated into the design of tourist attraction in Pará called the “Feliz Lusitânia”,  in excavations were found during restoration utensils and Indians. Another important factor is again changing the name of the fort, with the design that incorporates one of their first names: Forte do Presépio. Currently it operates as a museum where the history of colonization of Belém is mentioned and which are also displayed archaeological pieces of indigenous people.

The fort is steeped in history and rich as it is the embryo of all development areas of the city of Pará, from it to weave its urban city, could be built up and establish their social relations, currently being considered one of the largest cities of Brazil.


Current pictures of the Forte do Presépio by Karen Bechara


COSTA, Dayseane Ferraz da. Além da Pedra e Cal: A (Re)Construção do Forte do Presépio (Belém do Pará, 2000-2004). Tese de Mestrado em História Social da Amazônia. 2007.

ARAÚJO, Renata Malcher de.  As Cidades da Amazônia no Século XVIII:Belém, Macapá;Mazagão.Porto,Faup,1998.

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