Olinda, Brazil

General Information

Regional secretariat


Administrative status

City on the coast of the state of Pernambuco

Historic Centre of the Town of Olinda

Registration Year


Historical function

Evidence of the sugar cane industry of the 16th and 17th centuries

Location and site

In the coastal plain of Brazil’s Nordeste region, Olinda spreads over a series of hills near the isthmus formed by the Beberibe River. Surrounded by sugar fields, it is about 5 km. from the port city of Recife.

Urban morphology

In this city with its hilly topography, religious monuments were the major landmarks. They were linked by tortuous streets which formed the basis of Olinda’s irregular urban plan. Squares developed around the churches and at the intersection of streets that varied in width. The architecture of Olinda developed in the midst of a profuse tropical vegetation and a comfortable balance was maintained between the two main components of its landscape.

The prominent public buildings include the Cathedral and about 20 Baroque churches, convents and colleges. The residential architecture, which brings together the Portuguese and Brazilian heritage of the city, includes 17th-century dwellings decorated with mashrabiyas, and 18th-century houses covered in tiles, as well as more recent homes. The brightly painted houses create colourful streetscapes.

Registration criteria

Criterion (ii): The historic centre of Olinda contains a number of buildings that are outstanding from the point of view of both their architecture and decoration, including the Catedral Alto da Sé, the church of Nossa Senhora da Graça and examples of civil architecture ranging from the 17th to 19th centuries. The lush vegetation of the roadsides, gardens, hedgerows and convent precincts all form a landscape in which the salient feature is the town nestling in a mass of greenery, bathed in tropical light, with the sandy shore and ocean below. 

Criterion (iv): From the last years of the 16th century onward, Olinda served as one of the most important centres of the sugarcane industry, which for almost two centuries was the mainstay of the Brazilian economy, and became the symbol of sugar and of the wealth it procured. The exceptional ensemble of landscape, urbanism and architecture in Olinda’s historic centre is an eloquent reflection of the prosperity nourished by the sugar economy. 

Historical reference

  • After its foundation in 1535 by the Portuguese explorer Duarte Coelho, Olinda enjoyed rapid prosperity thanks to the sugar trade. Sugar was in high demand on the international market during the 16th and 17th centuries. At the end of the 16th century, when the city was at the peak of its participation in that market, several religious orders, including the Jesuits, settled in Olinda; a number of churches and convents were built.
  • After trying to gain control over the sugar trade in 1631, the troops of the Dutch West Indies Company sacked and then burned the city of Olinda. With the return of the Portuguese in 1654, Olinda resumed its role as the seat of the regional government. Reconstruction was undertaken but progress was slow due to the fact that the governor resided in Recife rather than in Olinda. Nevertheless, Olinda attained new status as the Episcopal See and as a city in 1656.
  • In the 18th century, the essential parts of Olinda’s urban fabric were in place, and the city became a centre for the arts and letters. In 1800, the Diocesan Seminary was constructed; it was here that many of the intellectuals who were to promote the independence of the Nordeste and Republican movements were educated. Olinda maintained its status as the capital city until 1827.



6 November 2007

Conferencia Regional de la OCPM

Olinda, Brazil


Sr. Lupercio Carlos do Nascimento

Prefeitura de Olinda

Rua de São Bento, 160 Varadouro
Olinda, Pernambuco, Brasil

+ 55 (81) 3429.0001 / 3429.0189 / 3429.2879
[email protected]

Sr. Márcio Antony Domingos Botelho

Prefeitura de Olinda

Palacio dos Governadores Rua de São Bento, 123 Varadouro
Olinda, Pernambuco, Brasil

+ 55 (81) 98856-3083 / + 55 (81) 3439-4954
[email protected]

Sr. João Luiz da Silva Júnior

Secretário de Patrimonio e Cultura
Prefeitura de Olinda

Rua de São Bento, 160, Varadouro
Olinda, Pernambuco, Brasil

+ 55 (81) 3439.1988
[email protected]