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Porto Alegre: Neoclassic French elegance in the heart of the city

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C. De Melo is a Renaissance Art Historian & Author specializing in historical novels set in Italy. Please visit cdemelo (dot) com

Dazzling chandelier of Teatro Sao Pedro

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Serendipitous encounter

I've been residing in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul since September 2020 with my Gaucho husband, who was born in this city. The decision to spend some time with his family came after a difficult lockdown in Italy.

Aside from the delicious food and amazing wines produced in Brazil's most southern state, I've fallen in love with the Neoclassic architecture of bygone days. Given that France and Italy eagerly adopted this style in the 19th century, it's no surprise that French and Italian immigrants replicated it here. I post many beautiful photos and videos of my Brazilian adventures on Instagram and Facebook (you can also find plenty of photos of Italy and Europe too).

Gauchos are friendly and hospitable people. I've been well-received here in Porto Alegre, and many serendipitous encounters have led to amazing friendships and experiences Example: I had the pleasure of meeting the State Congressman (Frederico Antunes), who kindly put me in touch with the State Secretary of Culture (Beatriz Araujo), who connected me with the Theater Treasurer (Luiz Capra). Result: two guided visits in two of the cities most historically significant sites: Teatro Sao Pedro and Palacio Piratini.

19th c. painting of Teatro Sao Pedro (LEFT)

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Teatro Sao Pedro

Accompanied by Luiz Capra and Joao Antonio Porto (Director of the theater for 35 years), I was kindly treated to an in-depth "behind the scenes" tour.

Initial construction began in 1833, but due to several interruptions it didn't get inaugurated until 27 June, 1858. As with most buildings, it underwent a series of modifications throughout the decades. There once existed a twin building across the street, but it was destroyed (see photo of painting). Thankfully, the theater remains intact and in excellent condition.

The most recent restoration began in 1975, which shut down the theater for several years. Joao informed me that one of the projects involved removing the plaster from the balustrades to reveal the lovely original ironworks beneath. The ironworks on the chairs are also original. I should mention that Porto Alegre has many examples of fancy wrought iron, which can be appreciated on gates, windows, doorways, and as decorative elements on buidings.

After a long and arduous renovation, the theater was finally completed in 1984, with its grand opening on 28 June. Joao mentioned that the furriers of the city had sold out of coats because so many people purchased new ones to show off on that special evening.

Teatro Sao Pedro has a 650 person capacity with a well-equipped stage, orchestra pit, and excellent acoustics. What really caught my eye was the enormous chandelier. In the 19th century, it took six men to raise and lower it in order to replace candles. Personally, I think this chandelier would be perfect for the opening scene and crash (fake, of course) of The Phantom of the Opera. For those of who haven't seen this musical performance, I've provided a video for you at the end of the article.

Today, the Teatro Sao Pedro stands as a national historic monument as well as a vibrant cultural center. It turns 163 years old in June 2021.

Teatro Sao Pedro photo of 1970's restoration

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The elegant Teatro Sao Pedro today

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Reaching out to the community

To my surprise, there are eight levels to this massive theater even though only two are visible from street level. New additions host spaces for concerts, dance classes, and lecture rooms. The administration team (headed by the president, Antonio Carlos Hohlfeldt) works in conjuction with local non-profit organizations to offer music and dance classes to inner city kids who may not have the chance to study these arts in a formal setting.

Although I didn't get the pleasure of meeting Eva Sopher because she passed away two years before my arrival to this city, I cannot write about Teatro Sao Pedro without mentioning her name. Born in Germany in 1923, she came to Brazil in 1936 with her parents to escape the rise of Nazism. Renovation of the theater was thanks to her, and she ran it for 41 years prior to her death. You can read about Eva Sopher on Wikipedia HERE.


Teatro Sao Pedro (view from presidential box)

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Palacio Piratini

Designed by architect Affonso Hebert, the foundation stone of the governer's palace was laid on October 27, 1896. Construction was slow and eventually suspended altogether. Over a decade later, the city wanted to create the most beautiful and majestic public building in the country, so in 1908 the Brazilian government sent a delegation to Paris.

French architect, Maurice Gras, traveled to Rio Grande do Sul and met President Carlos Barbosa. On September 20, 1909 the second cornerstone was laid after his proposal was approved. Work on the palace continued until 1903, then slowed for several years. In 1961, the government decreed the bombing of the palace.

Thankfully, that didn't happen.

Palacio Piratini main staircase

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Palacio Piratini inner courtyard

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Neoclassic opulence

The gorgeous sweeping French marble staircase leading up to the governor's office immediately commanded my attention upon entering. My knowledgable guide, Lorenzo Augusto, explained that the palace was inspired by La Petit Trianon, the private "getaway" gifted to Marie Antoinette by her husband, King Louis XVI, located within the opulent estate of Versailles. The French style can be glimpsed in the Palacio Piratini's impressive chandeliers, beveled mirrors, high ceilings, and elegant lines.

Upstairs, the grand ballroom decorative panels are dedicated to the Negrinho do Pastoreio, the young protagonist of an Afro-Christian legend that is very popular in Rio Grande do Sul. The story revolves around a slave boy who is wronged and ultimately vindicated by the Virgin Mary. You can read about him HERE.

In the next room, Italian painter Aldo Locatelli illustrates episodes from the history of Rio Grande do Sul through vivid murals. Immigrants from Portugal, Italy, and Germany are portrayed alongside indigenous people of Brazil.

Outside, there is a splendid inner courtyard leading to the governor's private quarters and formal garden boasting a central fountain. From the courtyard, one can view the magnificent cupola of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Nossa Senhora Mae de Deus (Our Lady Mother of God) located next door and the monumental scultpure entitled, Primavera (Spring). The latter was created by Paul Landowski in 1914. This is the same sculptor who fashioned the iconic Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) in Rio de Janeiro.

Palacio Piratini formal garden

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Contact Info

If you ever find yourself in Porto Alegre, do not miss the opportunity to see these two beautiful buildings. Museums and cultural centers abound in the historical city center, as well as impressive architecture. You can easily devote a couple of days to explore the area. Below is the contact information so you can schedule your visit.

Teatro Sao Pedro: click HERE

Palacio Piratini: click HERE

As always, thank you for reading.
C. De Melo

The Phantom of the Opera

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