This post is about one of the coolest areas in São Paulo, the downtown, or how we Brazilians call it: Centro.
The History of São Paulo Downtown
São Paulo – A place that speaks for itself. Hard to put in words so many facts about it. In the heart of São Paulo, we have its core. The center of the biggest city of Latin America, a place where 12 million people lives, a chaotic city, irrational, alive, full, metropolitan, cosmopolitan.
The main financial center, corporate and mercantile of South America. But even a city that big, that modern, that contemporary, has its old side, and the Centro of São Paulo, meaning the ‘downtown’, it’s as old as the birth of the city. It’s where everything began.
You can say that the past features the style of the center of São Paulo. The architecture mixes with the history.
São Paulo was established in January 25, 1554 by the Jesuit priests José de Anchieta and Manoel da Nóbrega. They built a school on a little hill and there, with the intention to teach and catechize the Indians who lived on this plateau, they celebrate the first mass in the city that was first known as the city of Piratininga (which means dry fish). And that is the date that mark São Paulo‘s anniversary. Over that hill we find today what’s is the main central line of buses and metro of São Paulo, the Terminal Anhangabaú.
São Paulo downtown is also known due to its huge immigration from people all over the world. In this city, you can find all kind, from Jews to Italians, Dutch to Germans, Russian to South Koreans, and right besides downtown, we have the biggest Japanese community outside Japan, the Liberdade Neighborhood.
What to do in Sao Paulo’s Downtown
Centro offers so many places to see, attractions and options of what to do that I’d say you have to be here at least 2 weeks to see all of it. Below you will find a few ones that I really like.
Visit Catedral da Sé
Established there, we have the first buildings that made São Paulo what the city became today. We can see the Catedral da Sé, one of the 5 biggest neo gothic temples in the world. Its measures makes it not only one of the biggest in the world, but of the São Paulo. Around it happened one of the most important manifestation in Brazil’s history, the Diretas Já, a civil movement claiming for direct presidential elections occurred between 1983-1984.
Famous for its impressive architecture, Belgium and Italian marble, along with its 51 kit of stained glasses window, holy images, Catedral da Sé is a must see for anyone.
Along with its important historical facts in Brazil’s history, you can find there daily masses, and guiding tours within its crypt, where shelters 30 mortuary chambers, whereas the most searched is the one of Chieftain Tibiriça, an important name in São Paulo downtown history.
Visit Theatro Municipal
Emerged as a great symbol of the sophisticated and cosmopolitan high society of São Paulo in the 20’s, the ‘paulistanos’, originating money from the coffee cycle, wanted each day more a place that reflected Europe, and that could afford all the great artists and musician from that golden age. In 1911 the Theatro Municipal had its opening before a crowd with more than 20.000 people, all to see the arrival of the famous and distinguished guests.
Under the influence of the Paris Opera, the Theatro Municipal was considered daring for its time, with Baroque and Renaissance features outside and inside, lot of decoration, adornments and artwork: medallions, busts, bronzes, crystals, neoclassical columns, frescoes, stained glass, mosaics and marble. Sao Paulo integrated, finally, the international route of the great spectacles.
Through its stage, passed the most important artistic companies of the first half of the 20th century, and also names like Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Villa-Lobos, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Baryshnikov, etc. The Theatro Municipal was also the scene of one of the most important events in Brazilian arts, the birth of Brazilian Modernist Movement in the year of 1922, brought up by young artists and changing the development of current standard.
Theatro Municipal is today one of the most important and cultural establishments in São Paulo. During the entire year you can see amazing spectacles with a great variety of artists, ballets, national and international concerts, and if you want just to pass by, be sure to take your camera to memorize its amazing architecture, or just seat at their brand new restaurant, the lovely Santinho (Capim Santo), to enjoy a marvelous brazilian gastronomy.
São Paulo from above at Edificio Martinelli
The Martinelli Building. If you want to see São Paulo from the top, this is surely one of the best places in the city. Right in the middle of downtown, comes a construction that began to be built in 1924. Giuseppe Martinelli landed in Brazil in 1889 and after 2 decades, had a considerable patrimony.
Apart his patrimony, he had something else. A dream. To build the biggest skyscraper of Latin America. And he did. He wanted to leave his legacy. It took a long time to be done, and lots of problems to overcome.
By that time, São Paulo didn’t have buildings with more than 5 floors. At first Giuseppe wanted a 12 floor building, but in the end, he managed to do 30 floors, and the last top 5, he made as his residence, just like Gustave Eiffel did with the tower. To achieve this goal, he had 600 workers, from which 90 were Italian and Spanish artisans, and himself.
Yes, Giuseppe joined his crew to achieve his goal. By that time, the building impressed not only for its luxurious architecture, Carrara marble, Belgian wallpaper, English chinaware, Swiss elevators, etc., but also because it was already a mark in the city. It became sua an icon that in 1933, the Zeppelin flew over São Paulo, and also around the Martinelli Building.
In the 50’s the building suffered a phase of extreme decadence, serving as a backdrop for some of the most hideous crimes of the time. So in the 70’s, it was opened again by the Municipal Housing and other several public entities. Today with lots of commercial shops, you can also take tour guides and get to know the marvelous skyline view from all São Paulo.
Go Shopping at 25 de Março
Considered the biggest shopping mall in Latin America and being one of the busiest retail of São Paulo, the ‘25th March Street‘ it’s a patience exercise for everyone who wants to set foot there. More than 400.00 persons cross it every day. Open from Monday to Saturday from 8am until 6pm (Saturdays from 8am until 12pm) with 1.400 stores within it, the 25th march street is the place where everything you want to buy, you can find.
Carnival costumes, sheets, bijoux, fabrics, Brazilian stones, house things, food, flowers, accessories, fashion, sportswear, adornments, gifts, bride clothes, bags, everything is there. The 25th March Street is also known also for its affordable prices and popular commerce, so, if you have the chance, pay a visit in the middle of the week, ‘because Saturday is crazy’.
Before it became the famous retail that it’s today, the ’25th March Street’ was a river! It’s hard to imagine a river there where today all you can see is: buildings, traffic and a sea of people. And part of the history of ’25th March Street’ is due to the Arabian people that immigrate to Brazil long ago.
Famous people due to its commercial ability, the Arabian were the responsible for turning ’25th March Street’ in what it’s today. As much as, today the gran via is called ‘Arabian Street’. Truth is, these immigrants came here around 1887 and since them, left their legacy in ’25th March Street’ and today, along with them, they gained the company of another’s ethnic groups: Portuguese, Greeks and mainly Korean and Chinese.
Where to eat in Sao Paulo’s Downtown
Mercado Municipal is a must go to every person that not only visits downtown but also São Paulo. With 12.000 meters, this huge storage is a delight for everyone’s eyes.
The place, also known as Mercadão it’s a mix of everything: smoked fishes, icecreams of the most typical and different Brazilian fruits, fine food, grains, cheese, spices, sauces, sweets, shops of wines and, their bars seling the typical ‘mortadella sandwich’, a big fat sandwich with 200 grams of thin sliced mortadella, delicious (only to think about it makes me want to go back there immediately); the freezing chop (also lots of different brazilian beers); the ‘bolinho de bacalhau’, a kind of codfish cake; the famous pitaia vermelha, also know as fruta do dragão, a fruit that resembles the kiwi; raw ham, the famous ‘pata negra’; and attached to all this, also a wine space, with labels for every palate.
If you go visit on weekends, be patience about it: always completely crowded. What is a simple thing, like seating in a bar, can be a tough task, but it’s worth it! It’s a must try especially to foreign people who are not aware of the variety that the brazilian gastronomy has to offer.
How it’s to live in downtown? What I love and don’t love about it
Probably the best thing about living in downtown is to be near everywhere, everything, all the time. The access is quite easy. Metro and buses lines which connects to the whole city are there. Cabs all over.
Of course that the amount of people is another aspect that we must pay attention (always have in mind that the rush times can be stressful as any other big city), but apart from that, it’s easy and nice to live in downtown. You can go walking to theaters, malls, parks, museums, markets, shops, restaurants, bars, etc. because in downtown we have pretty much everything.
The worse part of it: the noise. The noise it’s a thing that you can’t change. It’s there all the time, 24 hours a day. I live right in the middle of downtown, and to be more specific, in front of the Municipal Chamber and I can say that sometimes it’s really stressful. Everything that happens in São Paulo city, from strikes to revolutions, from voting to shows, everything is there. In downtown.
Plus, the noise from avenues, cars, horns, ambulances, people. It’s there and if you don’t like big cities, just don’t even think about visiting a place like this. But, if you enjoy all that craziness, all that crowd, that energy, life, people, the smells, all that electric disturbance, São Paulo is a city that must be on your list.
And, make sure to spend a lot of time within downtown São Paulo, because if you don’t, you will never really actually get to know this city.