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Edition 149 - Battling to save a historic fort

A restoration project is underway at Morro de São Paulo’s 17th-century fortress

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Written by: Gabriela Vasconcellos
Photos by: Almir Bindilatti

The fortress at Morro de São Paulo is located on Tinharé, part of the chain of islands in Cairu county. It is an important tourist destination on the Costa do Dendê (Palm-Oil Coast) in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia. Its construction began in 1630, but the fortress was only completed in the following century. The scene of many battles during Brazil’s colonial period, it defended the entrance to Todos os Santos and Tinharé bays, as well as ensuring that supply ships got through to the city of Salvador. Part of one of the largest fort complexes in Brazil, its 678-m wall has been damaged over the years by wave action. As a result, an emergency restoration project got underway on that site in January 2010.

Completed in July, the first stage of this BRL 2.8-million project involved the restoration of a 450-m section of the wall. The partners funding this initiative are the Ministry of Culture, through the Cultural Incentives Law, the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) and the Institute for the Sustainable Development of the Southern Bahia Lowlands (IDES), an organization linked to the Program for the Integrated and Sustainable Development of the Mosaic of Environmental Protection Areas in the Southern Bahia Lowlands, established by the Odebrecht Foundation. The IDES focuses on promoting Ethnodevelopment and Sustainable Tourism in that region. The project’s partners also include the Federal Heritage Department, the Bahia Department of Tourism and the Municipal Government of Cairu. The second stage, which includes the full restoration of the wall, is currently being negotiated.

Eduardo Mendes, the BNDES Manager of Historic Heritage and Collections, observes: “People walk past them and have no idea of how valuable these monuments are. We have to leverage our supply capacity and thereby help ensure a year-round influx of visitors to the site.”

The first phase mobilized about 60 workers from Salvador and the Southern Bahia Lowlands. “The procedure is basically fairly simple, but it is being carried out under difficult conditions because it is subject to sea conditions,” explains architect Marcos Galindo, who is running the project.

Supervised by the Brazilian National Trust (IPHAN), an agency of the Ministry of Culture, the restoration work is being done with a view to preserving the monument’s original structure as much as possible. “If you take into account its length and the fact that the fort has been listed as a federal heritage site twice, you can see how important it is for Brazil,” underscores IPHAN architect Francisco Santana, who is overseeing the project and providing technical advice.

Once it is restored, the monument will be open to the public and used for presentations of quilombola (former maroon community) cultural expressions, with an emphasis on promoting “agriecotourism.” This is a model for green, sustainable agritourism that is being implemented in the Southern Bahia Lowlands through programs supported by the Odebrecht Foundation in partnership with civil society, the government and private enterprise. “The IDES is carrying out a Heritage Education program to strengthen the culture that already exists in this area,” says Liliana Leite, Executive Director of the institute. “Our challenge is to make it more than a tourism program,” she says.

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