Ministry of Culture - IPHAN
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Category: Cultural property; cultural landscape, organically evolved and continuing.
An architectural and landscape ensemble, listed by IPHAN as a heritage site in 1977, comprising its urban layout, monumental buildings, rows of houses, iron markets and urban furniture, squares and docks for boats. Its spatial configuration was established and consolidated between the 17th and the first decades of the 20th century. Its origins are attributed to the implementation, in the mid-17th century, of a tax collection station at the mouth of an igarapé where there was a small natural port now corresponding to the docks.
The Ver-o-Peso is a great open air market of extraction, agricultural and artisanal products brought from the Amazon region. It is formed by small and large fairs, stores selling popular products as well as two markets (one selling meat and the other, fish) extending along the Guajará Bay, in permanent relationship with the neighboring islands and the inland towns from which many of the products sold there are brought. The Ver-o-Peso is, above all, a place of intense social life and cultural exchange, where traditional labor practices take place and a complex web of social relations is woven, involving trade of a commercial but also symbolic nature.
A hub from which the occupation of the Amazon Region and the State of Pará irradiated, the city of Belém concentrated the trade of extraction products from the inlands destined for the local and international markets, as well as manufactured products coming from Europe to supply the local and regional markets, becoming the region’s greatest trading post. This intense movement and trade of products gave rise to the Ver-o-Peso, originally a tax collection station where merchandise was weighed and taxes were paid.
The Ver-o-Peso is implanted in an old Colonial ensemble, comprised of rows of houses, churches, a fort and palaces, funded, throughout the 19th and the early 20th centuries, by the production and exploitation of rubber from inland plantations. Its urban ensemble presents an European-influenced layout, with great squares of dense vegetation, Eclectic architecture with Art Nouveau elements, particularly in the Meat Market and in the iron clock at Praça do Relógio. The Fish Market building, built near the docks out of pre-molded imported iron plates, also dates from that period, permanently marking the landscape with the iron towers at the four corners of the building.
After the tax collection station was closed, the Ver-o-Peso was expanded as one of the main supply hubs for the city, as well as one of its most sought-after touristic spots.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The Ver-o-Peso, located at the historical centre of Belém, has become an icon of the city and a major expression of the identity of the Amazon region and its cycles of agricultural production, social life and cultural production.
It remains as the heart of the city and a major supplier of fairs and small markets of Belém, along with its outskirts. Ver-o-Peso concentrates a great movement of boats and other vessels bringing extraction products, arts and crafts and agricultural products every day to supply both the fair and the local market.
The site synthesizes, in a unique manner, the culture of the Amazon region in its cultural practices, in its relationship with the river as a pathway, a source of nourishment and of leisure. Its role as a trade post, giving rise to the Ver-o-Peso in 1688, remains alive, even in face of other possibilities for transport and communication between the cities in the state and the region, particularly the capitals and the seat of power, but still distant from the economic and technological reality of many places in inland Amazon.
Its exceptionality is thus expressed in the geographic (Amazônia) and cultural representativeness (interchange of amazonical people),on its antiquity (about 400 years), its location within an ensemble of Colonial buildings, its iron architecture, its vital relationship with the river, supplying the city with agricultural products, but also with traditional knowledge expressed in the preparation of food, in arts and crafts, in speech, in popular medicine, in superstitions, myths and legends from the Amazon.
Criterion (ii): The site witnessed cultural and economic interchange between different peoples and ethnicities over more than three centuries. As the entryway to the Amazon, it plays an important role in this cultural flux from which it also results. An instance of interaction between the Amazon region’s natural environment and the project of a Colonial city, strongly marked by elements of European architecture and urban planning.
Criterion (iii): The Ver-o-Peso has remained, through the centuries, the converging hub of the city and region, as the great supplier of fairs and markets with extraction, agricultural and artisanal products brought by boat, representing, in a unique way, the culture of the Amazon region. The production and trade of food products made out of the manioc root, inherited from the Indians, may be appreciated and enjoyed in the fair, as well as natural perfumes made from essences extracted from the Amazon flora.
The Ver-o-Peso translates the riverside vocation of Amazon towns, with their boats, fairs and markets, where the rivers are means of transportation and locomotion, leisure, livelihood and food for the imagination, giving rise to many myths and legends heard and told over and over in the market. This identity image was reinforced by the arts, through representations of Ver-o-Peso in novels and poetry, visual arts, photography, music, movies and theater.
Criterion (iv): It harmoniously gathers architectural, urban and landscape elements from the 17th to the 20th centuries, reflecting the masterful implementation, development and consolidation of the occupation of the urban area of a city built very close to the level of the sea: 1) The docks that permeate the city and make the market float on the waters of the bay; 2) The boats flowing into the urban fabric, establishing a dialogue with the rows of houses and the Fish Market itself, with its sharp towers mingling in the skyline with the masts of ships and the steeples of churches in the background; 3) the proximity and coexistence of forts, churches, monumental palaces, houses, markets and fairs juxtaposed in the urban layout, forming the geography and taking over the canals through draining and landfills. Once a year, during the “waters of March”, the order of things is reversed and the river invades the city, reaffirming the riverside origins of the great metropolis that is now Belém.
Criterion (vi): In its trade products, daily practices, in the manipulation of herbs, in manioc-based food systems, in the language, gestures and manners of being and doing, the site synthesizes the traditions and beliefs typical of the Amazon Region, perpetuated from generation to generation for more than 300 years.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
In terms of shape, the site preserves its main typological, morphologic and constructive characteristics attained between the 17th and the early 20th centuries, particularly those related to urban design and architecture. The urban layout was enhanced by 19th-century interventions, the construction of the first dock; the European-style arrangement and vegetation of the old largos, turned into squares incorporating promenades, lakes, monuments, benches, lamp posts and public lighting. The architecture is notable for the Eclecticism of buildings raised in this period, such as the two markets and the Solar da Beira. Eclecticism also appears in government palaces and mansions for their decoration, particularly in their Art Nouveau features, funded with the revenue of rubber exports. Later additions and alterations are, generally, harmonious with the concept of the ensemble. Some uncharacteristic and conflicting elements do not compromise the perception of the place and its landscape, or of its relationship with the bay, the islands, the Amazon forest seen at the other bank, across from Ver-o-Peso. An interpretation of the landscape, the monuments and the urban interventions allows the perception of distinct periods in the integrity of its shapes and different scales.
Materials are preserved, especially in monumental constructions from the 18th as well as the 19th and 20th centuries. The fairs, on the other hand, because of their transitory character (although they are, themselves, permanent), receive, from time to time, new equipment and treatment of open areas, but they are always concerned with preserving the setting, the scale relationship and the visibility of the rows of houses.
The uses and functions of the buildings existing there are preserved and maintained also by the social appropriation of the space and the “spirit of the place”, strengthened by the presence of monumental Colonial buildings establishing connections with the past. This past is permanently brought up-to-date by the uses and resignification of the monuments and the meanings attributed to them, but also by the life and the constant dynamics of the dock, the fairs and markets, where material and symbolic exchanges are part of daily life. Social relations and cultural practices are transmitted from generation to generation by the families that trade herbs and natural products, religious products, crafts and food, synthesizing cultural practices and centuries-old customs from the Amazon region, merging the knowledge of Indian and African peoples, appropriated in different manners by Europeans and by Eastern immigrants who came to Brazil in the cycles of foreign labor imports. In Ver-o-Peso, these practices constantly reiterate the ways of life of Paraenses, of riverside populations, of Amazon folks and of Brazilians.
At Ver-o-Peso, tradition and modernity exist side by side, whether in the architecture of the old Colonial buildings and the stretched canvas tents covering the fair, whether in the products traditionally sold in the place coexisting with phone order systems and product delivery. The manual system for loading fish and other products transported in woven straw baskets and wooden boxes, the manipulation of herbs based on traditional knowledge, the beliefs and superstitions permeating the daily life of the fair, side by side with the organization of labor around different activities and its political representation and demands. Protected by Federal legislation since its inclusion in IPHAN’s heritage list, the Ver-o-Peso ensemble is also a part of the area of Belém’s historical center, listed as heritage in the Federal and Municipal levels, with its protection ensured by specific Municipal legislation. In the Federal sphere, specific norms for listed heritage areas in Pará are being developed. Iphan has undertaken a preliminary survey of Ver-o-Peso’s cultural inventory, as well as a record of the fair’s activities and sectors, creating a specific database including a mapping of civil society organizations and public institutions in activity there.
Regarding the surrounding landscape, the Colonial ensemble of Belém’s first site, at the outskirts of Ver-o-Peso, is marked by monumental religious and military buildings, but also by rows of Colonial houses. The Eclectic buildings from the late 19th and 20th centuries, however, have been well assimilated, maintaining a certain unity with the ensemble. After the construction of the docks and the reclaiming of this frontal area of the city from the waters with the implementation of a great boulevard, the area received also the English iron sheds of the Belém Harbor, located at the other end of Ver-o-Peso. These sheds have been requalified by the “Estação das Docas” project to include theaters, galleries, bars, restaurants and small shops of cultural products.
The limits and boundaries of Ver-o-Peso are defined not exactly by physical and spatial landmarks, but rather by the movement of different types of trade and the web of social relations established around the fairs, markets and stores. A notable feature is the landscape, in which nature, the exuberant river and the forests are associated to European-influenced urban planning and architecture. The conception of the docks allows the river to permeate the city, leaving the impression that, in high tide, the Fish Market with its towers floats on the waters of Guajará Bay.
The spirit and character of the place result from its architecture and urban planning and, above all, from their integration to the natural elements and the people that trade, exchange and circulate there. This is a place, in the anthropological sense of the term, marked by the practices and relationships established around them. By the presence of the old preserved buildings, but also by the docks, the fairs and markets, the close relationship with the river and the coming and going of vessels.
The site represents an outstanding conjunction, in the context of the Amazon, of European-style architectural, urban and landscape elements from the 18th to the 20th centuries with the region’s exuberant nature and cultural and symbolic elements that have been present for about three hundred years: the activity at the docks, the flow of people and of extraction, artisanal and agricultural products, social and work relations.
The dimension of the ensemble and its integrity, from the tangible and the intangible point of view, allow us to apprehend and understand the representation hereby proposed, based upon the spatial practices and social relations on the urban fabric, with the pertinent dynamics. The information is based upon an observation of the dynamics of occupation and the changes experienced through time, allowing the conclusion that, even in periods of crisis and abandonment of the place, it retains its spirit and the daily cultural practices that mark the space. It was precisely in one of these moments of crisis that the workers of Ver-o-Peso came together to demand from the Municipality the requalification of the ensemble, undertaken between 1999 and 2004.
Comparison with other similar properties
The Ver-o-Peso is associated to urban typologies of markets and fairs, where the exchange of products and knowledge from different peoples takes place during a certain period. We may identify several European sites in the World Heritage List characterized as fortified market-towns from the Medieval period, such as Provins, France, and Bellinzona, Switzerland. In these sites, one of the main recognized aspects is the fact that they were established as towns where a mercantile character was present in the circulation of products from various origins, as well as the integrity and authenticity of the space in which these activities took place through time. In the Middle East, the town of Aleppo, Syria, bombarded in conflicts over the last few years, is representative of the crossroads of different trade routes between East and West. Still, in all these cases, the use as fair or market has not remained alive, unlike in the case of Ver-o-Peso.
There are several historical towns, some of them port towns, located at the intersection of product routes, such as Bordeaux or Naples, although the market, specifically, is not the focus of their recognition, but rather the historical urban space as a whole.
Similar values can be pointed in some African sites, representative of different historical-cultural periods, or witnesses to routes of products such as gold, such as the old towns of Djenné, Mali, and Kano, Niger (in this country’s Tentative List). In the town of Kano, the Kurmi market consists of one of the greatest and oldest markets in the continent, reaching beyond national boundaries, where North-African and European merchandise were exchanged for domestic products in the Trans-Saharian marketplace. This cultural landscape is still alive, and maintains its prominence in the trade of traditional crafts in leather, textiles and clothes. In both sites, traditional earthen architecture achieves relevance as a value for humanity.
Particularly, in terms of geographic and cultural representativeness, no cultural site related to the people of the Amazon is contemplated in the List. The Ver-o-Peso translates, precisely, the riverside vocation of Amazon towns, with their boats, fairs and markets whose relation with the river is established, above all, as a means of transport and locomotion, leisure, livelihood and food for the imagination, giving rise to many myths and legends that were widespread throughout the region. Its originality is associated to the continuous exchange of knowledge associated to Indigenous traditions, African and European influences, since the 17th century.
In the Brazilian context, the Ver-o-Peso also stands out in comparison with other popular fairs and markets, such as São Joaquim, in Salvador, Bahia; Caruarú, in Caruarú, Pernambuco; and São Cristóvão, in Rio de Janeiro.
It is a place of strong symbolic connotations, with its own count of time, marked by periods of heavy rainfall and drought, by seasonal fruit and fish, by never-ending movement, by important festivities such as the Círio de Nazaré, by the “perfumed baths” periods, such as June festivities and the New Year.