The port city of Belém (which in English means Bethlehem) was founded in 1616 by the Portuguese at the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. (You can see the city marked with a red square on the map below.) The earliest buildings were built in the same style as those in Lisbon, Portugal, and painted the same pastel colours. As you can see in the photo above, there are still some lovely examples of colonial architecture left in the city.
Belém began as a small river port where small boats brought fish, shellfish and all sorts of exotic fruits, nuts, vegetables and herbs gathered from the Amazon forest to sell at the market. Although the city has grown into a giant metropolis full of skyscrapers and highrise apartment blocks, the market at the port continues exactly as it has for hundreds of years.
During Victorian times (about 120 years ago) a complete market building made of cast iron was brought over from Britain. It was sent by boat in pieces and then put together in the port of Belém. As you can see above, it is very distinctive with pointy towers at each corner and decorative arches around all four sides.
The market is called Ver-o-Peso, which means “see the weight.” This name comes from the tradition of selling goods by weight in balancing scales. That way the customer could check to make sure there was no cheating!
The day we visited Ver-o-Peso was very hot. We wandered around looking at many different types of fish inside that cast iron building. It was as smelly as you’d expect a giant fish shop to be!
Outside the market building there were hundreds of other stalls where people were selling fruit, vegetables, crafts, jewellery, and even live animals! My son was particularly taken by the ducklings, but sadly there was no way we could get one of those on a plane home.
In the port we looked at all the fishing boats, and Anna spotted a beautiful heron standing on the dockside. Another type of bird we saw at the market was not so pretty – it was a vulture. There were quite a number of vultures hovering around, just waiting to snatch up a fish or two.
If you want to read more about the city of Belém and see more pictures, click HERE.
Anna has just reminded me of a fantastic book by Eva Ibbotson which is set in the Amazon. It’s called Journey to the River Sea, and it’s all about a 13-year-old orphan girl called Maia who has to go and live with some distant relatives who live in Manaus. (That is a city just a few hundred miles along the Amazon River from Belém.) If you’d like to read an excellent story all about life in the Amazon jungle, that is one I can recommend. I loved it!
Another book about a journey up the Amazon River is called Lizzie: A Victorian Lady’s Amazon Adventure. This one is for older readers, and is made up of letters written by a young woman who went with her husband to run a rubber plantation in Bolivia in the 1890s. She describes her long journey along the river from Belém, during which floods and rapids nearly capsized her boat. The book is full of photographs, including one that shows the Ver-o-Peso market in 1898! It’s fascinating to read a true account of someone who travelled in the Amazon jungle over 100 years ago with none of the conveniences we have today. They didn’t even have mosquito repellent! Imagine!