By Marilyn Diggs
June 6, 2009

In the 1960s Embu das Artes became a tourist magnet, especially on the weekends. Located only 27 km from São Paulo, the drive can vary from 30 to 60 minutes, depending upon the traffic. Today it is mostly known as a mecca for handicrafts, both Brazilian and otherwise, as well as rustic furniture and antiques. But, Embu das Artes is more than stores. On a recent trip, I arrived early enough to enjoy the day and accomplish what Id set out to do: tour the Jesuit church, peruse the Indian Museum, eat well and, of course, shop.

Early History
Long before the tourists came, explorers invaded this Indian country in the 16th century. Trailblazers (bandeirantes) in search of emeralds and gold made their way into the interior of Brazil using river systems and by cutting their way through dense forests. Some settled; the original village of Embu was founded between 1555 and 1559 with the name M’Boy, which is Tupi-Guarani for big snake.” Fernão Dias Pais and his wife Catarina Camacho owned a sizeable homestead (fazenda) in the hills. Their son wanted to become a priest, so in 1624 they donated part of their land to the Jesuit order.
Wasting no time, the Jesuits led by Father Belchior de Pontes built a church and relocated the Tupi-Guarani Indians around it to protect them from slave raids. Agriculture took precedence; manioc, wheat, vegetables and cotton thrived, permitting the order to export to Rio de Janeiro and Bahia in 1757. In the 18th century, the village had 261 Indians and boasted a Jesuit residence next to the church. In 1759, the Jesuits, who had become too rich and powerful for Portugal’s taste, were expelled from the country. The Indian population dispersed and by 1873, only 75 Indians and mestizos inhabited the place.

Two Museums Tell the Story
The Museum of Sacred Art, in the former Jesuit residence, connects to the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary (Nossa Senhora do Rosrio) constructed in the 17th century. (See photo to left) The architecture has thick adobe walls and shows the simple Baroque style from São Paulo state. The red oriental, ceiling paintings with gold pagodas reveal the well-traveled Jesuit influence. (See photo below) Two side altars come from the original chapel on the donor’s fazenda.

The museum possesses saint statues with real hair, processional images, furniture, priest robes and relics dating from the 17th to 19th centuries. Visitors see one of the first organs (early 18th C.) in São Paulo and the third in all Brazil, which looks like a box with a keyboard and was pumped by nuns in turn. It is no wonder that in 1939 -1940 this complex earned historical landmark status.

The Indian Museum opened in 2005 and is a short walk from the Jesuit church. Its founder, Walde-Mar de Andrade e Silva, is a local who has lived among the Indians in the National Park of Xingu in the Amazon region. More than just a museum, it is the hub for research and lectures on the Indian culture. Walde-Mar portrays Indian legends in his colorful naãve paintings and reproduces their body art on paper. One section in the museum shows drawings made by the Indians themselves when they were given paper and crayons for the first time. Headdresses, weapons, adornments, dolls, baskets and ceremonial attire give viewers an insight into Indian art and their way of life. This private museum, situated inside a two-story house, has just the right variety of artifacts, beautifully displayed to give the visitor a good orientation to the Brazilian Indian culture.

Art on Every Corner
Embu became an art colony in the 1920s, and today boasts of over 35 studios and galleries for painters, sculptors, metalworkers, woodcarvers and jewelers. On weekends, over 700 exhibitors fill the streets with arts and crafts, often draping their goods inside and outside charming colonial houses around the plaza area. The nearby Cultural Center holds exhibits, dance performances, plays and recitals.

Personally, I prefer going to Embu on weekdays when I can lazily stroll down historic cobblestone streets, admire colonial houses and alleys, and calmly shop. Embu’s dining choices range from top-notch restaurants to snack booths on weekends. Youll be kept busy in the historic center itself, but dont forget attractions further out, like the Sakai Memorial containing ceramics by one of the leading terra-cotta sculptors in Brazil.

Whether on weekends or weekdays, Embu das Artes offers tourists trinkets, treasures and tales of colonial days gone by. With my newly purchased wire tree and its 50 tin birds tucked safely in the seat, I headed back to São Paulo, remembering a time when traffic wasnt an issue.

Museu de Arte Sacra: Largo dos Jesutas, 67. Centro. Tel: (11)4704-2654

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Previous articles by Marilyn:

Full Steam Ahead! Chilean Vineyards by Train
A Trip to Easter Island: Beyond the Obvious
Atacama Desert, Chile – I Came, I Saw, I Explored
Journey through the Fjords of Patagonia
Around Brazil: Jap Mountains, When Nature Calls
Around Brazil: Living the Amazon
Brazil: A Spa that Takes Care of Body and Soul
Around South America: Puyuhuapi – Chile’s Patagonian Secret
Around South America: Looking for Adventure in Chile’s Patagonia
Around South America: Road Trip through a Forgotten Land – Aisn, Chile
Conquering Cape Horn
Around Brazil: Hang-Gliding Over Rio
Around Brazil: Sailing in Paraty
Santiago: Gateway to the Chilean Experience
The Enchanting Easter Island
Nature and Nurturing in Chile’s Lake Region
Chilean Patagonia: Going to the Ends of the Earth
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 2
Around Brazil: Adventure in the Pantanal and Bonito Part 1
Spending the Night in the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu
Brazil: Happy Moonlit Trails To You
Brazil: Paradise Found – Fernando de Noronha

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