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The colonization of the Brazilian territory and the conquest of its backlands are reflected in the routes of Parati. In its explicit destiny, Parati became the first benchmark for trade along the Atlantic Forest's trails. Parati was a turning point and an interface between sea and land, a temporary or permanent point for extinct, absorbed or excluded races.
Ever since the Europeans first caught sight of Brazil in 1500, and especially of Parati's coast in 1502, the slopes of the so-called Serra do Mar – covered by the Atlantic Forest, which lies along with the Atlantic coast between the Brazilian plateau and the coastal plains – have been playing a critical role in Brazilian history.
Before the Portuguese arrived, the trails outlined by tapirs 10,000 through 5,000 b.C. to cross the virtually insurmountable wall in Serra do Mar were used by tupinambás and guaianás. After discovery, the Paulista bandeirantes renewed the sense of those trails during their expeditions into the backlands for wealth. The route started out in Parati bay and became the shortest link between the Piratininga plateau, in the State of Sao Paulo, and the State of Rio de Janeiro, seat of the General Eastern and Southern Government. As gold was discovered in the State of Minas Gerais, they became part of the gold route. First made into a path and later into a road, it was used by the early colonizers of Brazil's backlands in the 18th century, to coffee troopers in the 19th century and today it serves the local population and historical and environmental tourism.
Its sheltered bay with protected waters provided optimal port infrastructure to the discoverers' vessels. The Portuguese maritime expansion fueled by mercantilism provided extensive experience with urbanization. In Brazil, two urban models were used. Parati's urban structure reflects the vernacular heritage as shown in the close relationship between the urban design and the topography of the location.
The village's character was perfectly expressed in the extraordinary impression of density caused by the aligned constructions that made up a homogeneous mass of buildings, which involves the blocks entirely and infuses them with a sense of monumentality, despite the limited dimensions, where ground or terraced houses prevail. The typical pace of warehouse pillaring is lessened by walls that envelope the houses' backyards; the urban composition has a simple geometry. Two side squares stand out in the landscape.
Differently from all other coastal colonial cities, Parati is still paved with stones, as well as the streets' drainage system. The urban language interfaces with the landscape seamlessly, framed between the mountain background and the wide and alternate pace of tide. Under a full moon, it takes hold of the historical site.
The architectural ensemble stages religious traditions that take place along the streets connecting the churches and the oratories called squares. The religious ceremonies that have been held every year since the colonial period include Festa do Divino Espírito Santo (a celebration of the Holy Ghost), Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (a celebration of Our Lady of Cures), Procissão do Encontro, which builds on Passos da Paixão (the Stations of the Cross) and Festa do Fogaréu (Bonfire Procession).
Traditional technologies applied both to activities and development of instruments associated to these activities have been preserved in the locals' memory.
Its landscape is comprised by zeniths, valleys and slopes, which spread into the sea as sudden promontories or smooth hillsides. The waterfalls lead to jagged beaches or mangroves where a significant portion of sea life abounds. Over sixty islands make up a real garden. The mere contact with this small universe is enough to behold the wealth of its biodiversity, which comprises plant and animal species that dwell in holes deep in the sea and peaks that are nearly 2 thousand meters high. Sea environments, especially the estuary systems in Parati Bay, Saco do Mamanguá and Parati-Mirim, are natural breeding areas for countless sea species.
Nowadays, the Atlantic Forest is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the planet, and the Parati area was deemed extremely important for the preservation of flora, mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians, as well as climatic, hydrological and geomorphological factors that support these forms of life.
These attributes were a justification for the area involving the whole municipality of Parati to be deemed by Unesco's MAB program as an integral part of the Atlantic Forest Biosphere Reserve in 1992.