1 Apr

Ver-o-Peso Market in Belém do Pará: 384 years of history and urban transformation

Ver-o-Peso Market(Drawing made by Luiz Porto)

“A canoa traz o homem

a canoa traz o peixe

a canoa tem um nome

no mercado deixa o peixe

no mercado encontra a fome”

(The canoe brings the man

The canoe brings the fish

The canoe has a name

It leaves the fish on the market

On the market it finds hunger)

The poetic words above by Max Martins refer to life in the Ver-o-Peso (Check the Weight) Market in the city of Belém do Pará, a large metropolis in the Amazon region. The poet has portrayed the difficulty of riparian people to overcome poverty in the city. For a long time, in spite of its great regional economic importance, the Ver-o-Peso Market attracted attention for its spatial disorganization, reflected in the irregular distribution of tents piled with no ventilation and no proper illumination. It was a true commercial slum (favela). About 12 years ago, an urban revitalization process was started in the State of Pará: The Ver-o-Peso Market was remodeled. The project was conducted with the support of the community, and the space became a reason of pride for the Pará people. On March 27, 2011, the largest outdoors market in Latin America Latina celebrated its 384 anniversary: a symbol of diversity, a link between the metropolis and the riparian people’s life.

Recent images of Ver-o-Peso Market

The Market was created in 1627 to inspect the merchandise and charge taxes for the Portuguese crown. Those were the so-called “Ver-o-Peso” Houses, which led the place to be popularly known as “Check-the-Weight Market”. However, the configuration known today in the urban landscape is a result of the investments made in the famous rubber cycle, because Brazil was the world’s largest rubber producer in the mid-nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Those profits resulted in investments in the construction of public buildings; in addition to the city’s urbanization, the Ver-o-Peso Market that was the entry door to Belém, and was soon benefited by that process: “The main streets were paved with concrete and the paving of other streets was made with granite paving stones, imported from Portugal; there was a requirement, through urban codes, to align the constructions that now gained a balcony opposite to the pavements; ornamentation of old marshy squares and recently-planted with almond trees and lime stones; construction of the Municipal Market, close to Ver-o-Peso” (Penteado, Rocha 1968).

For several decades, the wealth of the city and the “Belle-Époque” constructions of Belém, was transformed into luxury and extravagance of the elite, and lived together with generalized poverty. However, as Brazil did not have any strategy for sustained development to take advantage of the sudden rubber extraction, it lost space to Malaysia around 1912, and lost activity. Those times resulted in significant architectural and urban wealth, heritage of the Amazon region.

Today the location is a Landscape and Architectural Set, consisting of constructions of the golden rubber period and flexible contemporary structures: Meat Market, Fish Market, Solar da Beira, the old morgue at the Açaí Square, the clock square and the fishermen square, and the fantastic street market with approximately 1,800 sellers.

The Meat Market and the Fish Market are two buildings constructed in 1899, according to the standards of the time: an industrial and eclectic architecture where iron is the main element. The first has an external masonry area and a courtyard with a majestic “art-nouveau” style metal structure, with details reminding tree branches and leaves, whose structure was totally brought from Europe.

In the first image you can see the Fish Market,in the second the Meat Market, an in the third the fantastic street market with approximately 1,800 sellers

The Fish Market was opened in the same year as the Meat Market. It is still working and is crowded with people and merchandise. Even with the existence of large supermarket chains in the city, the fish market is very crowded. The Fish Market was built on a metal structure on the outside and inside “It had its whole iron structure brought from Europe and the main roof is of the Marseille type and all the towers are ‘art-nouveau’. They are covered with zinc scales, in the ‘Vieille-Montagne’ system” (Documents provided by the Belém Foundation).

The big attraction of that Complex is the permanent street market that had been present in the city for a long time, however in a negative way, because it had the appearance of a slum, where peddlers worked in extremely bad conditions. However, in 1998, the administration of Belém do Pará established a national contest to revitalize the Ver-o-Peso area. The Flávio Ferreira Architecture and Urbanism Office from Rio of Janeiro was the winner, and in 2001 the Ver-o-Peso Market was reopened.

Several years ago I attended a lecture by Flávio Ferreira at the Architectural Association in London. He explained that to carry out the project several historical studies were conducted in the city of Belém for them to get acquainted with the local culture. Before the project implementation, the market was almost collapsing; there was no soil stability and no view to the Guajará Bay, located opposite to Ver-o-Peso. Permeability was required. It was necessary to study the movement of waters that periodically invaded the market destroying the sellers’ merchandize and causing serious public health problems. Another important factor for the project was to talk with fair marketers, something that had never been done in previous projects.

The whole previous infrastructure was very bad: the historical buildings were devalued; electricity, for example, represented a fire risk. New urban facilities were implemented, including the floors: the whole Ver-o-Peso area received coating and new electrical installations, all of them underground. The old wooden tents were demolished and new tensioned canvas structures were built to shelter the marketers.

That experience was something that worked out fine; so far, the new structures are suitably erected and work well, in spite of the heavy rains in the region that will always be a challenge to builders; some tents had to be customized by the marketers themselves; that was explained by flour seller Mr. José Serrão, who has been working at the market for 40 years, and actually praised the project made 10 years ago. “The tent material is synthetic, white and translucent, and lasts for six years. They were projected in 8 m x 8 m modules, totaling 77 units, providing for a covered area of almost 5,000 square meters. The center of the module is uncovered, and includes a pole that lightens and provides support to the tent. Modulated spaces were left outdoors to provide for better vertical circulation of air. The tent’s height, in turn, enables horizontal circulation of air” (Revista Arquitetura e Urbanismo).

Interior area of the Ver-o-Peso market, flour seller Mr. José Serrão.

The street market area is divided as follows: clothing fair, eating area, fruit market, shrimp and flour fair, and medicinal products. The most exotic area is that of medicinal products. The products are kept in bottles and, according to sellers, amidst tropical plants is the cure for all problems against envy, “evil eyes” and “evil spirits”. “Buy it, my dear, Raíz do Sol”, shouted the seller. Another seller then said that the best was the “banho de descarrego” (bath to free from evil spirits). When I informed that I had gastritis soon there came a witch doctor that said: “sucuba milk”. The fruit section is rare and very rich: bacuri, cupuaçu, taperebá, murucí, pupunha. Colors and smells that excite our senses and take our stomach to a sublime state.

Above: “Raíz do Sol”, bottles with magic portions, Brazil nut and my picture with a seller.

That large commercial complex is undergoing public security problems, because you have to be careful when you visit the place: thefts of cameras and handbags are quite common. The situation gets worse at night, because in the absence of commercial activity, robbers take the space and assault drivers and the rare pedestrians. That terrible problem could be avoided with the incentive to create multi-use spaces, including the reuse of old buildings for housing purposes. However, the importance of that market goes far beyond the encounter of riparian people with urban life: it is an architectural work in permanent transformation that has been getting changed throughout 384 years by the force of many generations, a symbol of diversity and numerous possibilities in the Amazon region.

Bibliographical References

Biblioteca da Fundação Belém. Conjunto Arquitetônico Paisagístico Ver-o-Peso. Accessed on March 30, 2011.

Secretaria de Estado e Cultura do Pará. Belém da Saudade: A memória da Belém do início do século em cartões postais. Belém, Secult, 2004.

Vicentini, Yara. Cidade e História da Amazônia. Paraná, Editora UFPR, 2004.

Penteado, A.R. Belém do Pará- estudo da geografia urbana. Belém, UFP, 1968.

Web References

http://www.revistaau.com.br/arquitetura-urbanismo> Accessed on March 30, 2011

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