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UNESCO World Heritage Committee Recognizes São Francisco Square

By Paige, Nicaragua, June 2011

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The city is easily Sergipe State’s loveliest, boasting harmonious baroque buildings cast in gently settling stucco, softly lit in the warm tropical night. The beautifully arcaded Convent of San Francisco Church rises above a sea of terra cotta-tiled roofs, which gracefully protect centuries-old buildings, which line the old cobbled streets.

São Cristóvão, Brazil’s fourth oldest cidade, makes a pleasant base for exploring tiny Sergipe State. Though there are several simple hotels, luxury lovers will enjoy more choices 25 kilometers (15 miles) away, in the new state capital, Aracaju (founded in 1855), known for its festivals, handicrafts market, and beautiful beaches. Other area attractions will tempt wildlife lovers off the beaten track, such as Areia Branca’s Falcon Sanctuary, and Tamar Biological Reserve in Pirambu, which protects sea turtles.

Sergipe’s original capital, unsurprisingly, was pretty São Cristóvão, originally founded in 1591 on the Sergipe River, and moved to its present location in 1599. It is Brazil’s only major city founded during the brief union of the Portuguese and Spanish crowns, and remains a flawless example of Portuguese civil engineering. As such it is wonderfully walkable, and exploring its many historic buildings and excellent museums is São Cristóvão’s consummate attraction. In 1967, the Brazilian government declared the entire city a National Monument, and nominated it as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009.

The 34th Congress of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization met in Brasília, Brazil, last year to select new World Heritage Sites, choosing São Cristóvão’s Praça São Francisco (San Francisco Square) as one of three new Cultural Sites so honored. Upon hearing the news, it seemed the entire city of São Cristóvão came out to celebrate.

Brazil is now home to 18 world heritage sites, which will be promoted as a tourist route during the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, both to be held in Rio de Janeiro.

Visiting all of them, from the fantastic waterfalls of Iguaçu National Park on the southern border, to the Central Amazon Conservation Complex, deep in the northwestern rainforests, would be a challenging proposition, as they are scattered throughout the enormous country. Attendees may not need to miss an event to see at least one UNESCO World Heritage Site, however.

In March 2011, Brazil officially nominated Rioas the nation’s 19th such site. Considering its recent election to the Seven New Wonders of the World, it seems likely that yet another honor will be bestowed on that remarkable city.

Photo by Anderson Schneider/IPHAN

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