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A 600-million-year old São Paulo

Itinerary includes monuments and buildings in the historic center of São Paulo adorned with stone from a distant past

Pátio do Colégio, pavement in gray Mauá granite

LÉO RAMOSPátio do Colégio, pavement in gray Mauá graniteLÉO RAMOS

Geologist Eliane Del Lama wants to show visitors interested in knowing a little more about the origins of the city of São Paulo, more than just the buildings and monuments that depict parts of the 461-year-history of South America’s biggest metropolis. Working with four other researchers, she laid out a walking tour of the old center of the city in which she calls attention to the types of stone most frequently used in the construction and ornamentation of buildings and works of art that make up what Del Lama calls the constructed Paulistano geological heritage. Her purpose in telling a little about the history of the materials that helped write the story of São Paulo is to show people that geology is closer to their daily lives than they think. “Geology is usually associated with prospecting for oil and minerals, but a geologist’s work goes well beyond that,” says Del Lama, a professor at the Geosciences Institute of the University of São Paulo (USP).

The geotourism tour of the old center of São Paulo plotted by Del Lama and her collaborators was published in June 2015 in the journal Geoheritage. It identifies 19 points of interest on a 6.5-kilometer trail that can be traveled on foot or accessed from the Metro system. Most of these buildings and monuments were erected at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th when a São Paulo built of lath and plaster (packed mud supported with wooden elements), gave way to a city of masonry, embryo of the future metropolis. “We selected the well-known buildings and monuments that featured the widest variety of stone,” Del Lama recalls.

The trail starts at Pátio do Colégio, the point from which the city grew. It was there, in 1554 on a high flat mound encircled by the Tamanduateí River and the Anhangabaú Creek, that Jesuit priests Manoel da Nóbrega and José de Anchieta established the site of the Colégio São Paulo de Piratininga with the consent of Chief Tibiriçá of the Guaianá Indian tribe who were living in the region. Practically nothing is left of the first shed, which was replaced a century later by a colonial style building that was destroyed following the expulsion of the Jesuits from Brazil in 1759. Anyone passing the site today will see a replica of the old school building, built of masonry in 1954-1979. A remnant of the Jesuit era is an internal wall of lath-and-plaster, the same material used to erect, in the same neighborhood, the city’s first house and the mansion owned by the Marquesa de Santos, later occupied in 1834-1867 by Domitila de Castro Canto e Melo, lover of Emperor Pedro I.

078-081_Geoturismo_233The foundation of the mansion was formed of blocks of a light gray granitic rock known as Itaquera granite, taken from a quarry that operated for more than a century in the district of Itaquera, on the East Side of São Paulo. Easy access to that rock—before than, ornamental stone was imported—made possible its use in various structures in the historic center. The oldest of the city’s works of art, sculptured in Itaquera granite in 1814, is the Obelisco da Memória. Also known as the Pirâmide do Piques, it stands next to the Anhangabaú Metro station, where thousands of people pass every day without noticing it. It was designed by engineer Daniel Müller and built by master sculptor Vicente Pereira. It was situated beyond the Anhangabaú Creek on the edge of the city from which ran the road laid out by Müller to connect the state capital with the interior regions.

The São Paulo-gray
Near the Pátio de Colégio, one of the two buildings of the São Paulo State Department of Justice and Defense of Citizen Empowerment, designed by architect Ramos de Azevedo and inaugurated in 1896, was built on a foundation of Itaquera granite. “That granite built the São Paulo of the early 20th century,” Del Lama observes. The light shades of this stone are not the only ones that can be observed in the vicinity. The square is entirely paved in a darker granite, the Mauá gray granite from Mauá and Ribeirão Pires, municipalities in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region. The walls of the Tribunal da Alçada Civil building across from the Pátio de Colégio exhibit the rosy hues typical of pink Itupeva granite. This may be the same stone seen on the façade of the Bank of Brazil Cultural Center, which dates from the late 1920s and combines the neoclassical and Art Nouveau styles. It is the second stop on the trail.

The route crosses the historic center, a triangle bounded by Boa Vista and Líbero Badaró streets and João Mendes Square and extending northeastward as far as the Mercado Municipal, which was built on a Itupeva pink granite foundation, and northwestward as far as Largo do Paissandu, where we find the Monumento à Mãe Preta, a 1955 work erected in homage to blacks. Its granite base has been painted and is covered by graffiti. The trail continues around the center of the city, passing the Mário de Andrade Library, decorated with gray Mauá marble; the Municipal Theatre, built on an Itaquera granite foundation with a façade of Itararé sandstone quarried in the region of Iperó; and by City Hall, situated in the Matarazzo Building that is decorated with travertine marble imported from Italy. The last stop is Praça da Sé, site of the neogothic cathedral that features different types of granite. Nearby is the marker for Kilometer Zero, a hexagonal marble structure carved in 1934 by French artist Jean Gabriel Villin.

São Bento Monastery: current façade, from 1922, a combination of gray Itaquera and pink Itupeva granite

LÉO RAMOSSão Bento Monastery: current façade, from 1922, a combination of gray Itaquera and pink Itupeva graniteLÉO RAMOS

Granites from different regions of the state are the most common kinds of stone seen on buildings, monuments, and statues on the tour. Their colors range from black and shades of gray to dark green and the pinkish and reddish tones. All are of similar mineralogical composition: they are formed our of crystals of quartz, mica, feldspar and other minerals in very low concentrations—it is feldspar that determines the color. São Paulo granites were formed between 600 and 580 million years ago by movements in the earth’s crust that occurred more than 35 kilometers below the surface under high temperatures and pressures that were 6,000 times greater than atmospheric pressure, and formed the mountain ranges of Southeast Brazil. Those rocks can be seen in many parts of the state, such as in the Itu granitic formation—a band 60 kilometers wide and 350 kilometers long in the interior of São Paulo State—from which the Itupeva, Capão Bonito and Piracaia granites are quarried.

The itinerary that Del Lama produced with Denise Bacci, Lucelene Martins, and Maria Motta Garcia from USP, and Lauro Dehiro from the São Paulo Institute for Technological Research (IPT) is not the first one ever devised. In 2006 André Stern and colleagues from USP and the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE) proposed a walking tour through the streets of the old center of São Paulo that had fewer stops. Almost nonexistent in Brazil, such itineraries were inspired by the geology walks developed for London by geologist Eric Robinson in the 1980s. Prior to its introduction in São Paulo, walking tours were proposed for Curitiba and Rio de Janeiro. For Eliane Del Lama, development of the route reflects a change of course in her research. Having specialized in analyzing the chemical composition and geological evolution of rocks formed deep in the earth’s crust, she decided to “do something different” after being hired to teach at USP in 2004. It was a time when she did not have the equipment needed to conduct mineralogical analyses. She started walking around the center, taking pictures of historic monuments and assessing their state of conservation. That activity, initially unpretentious, led her to make more thorough analyses of the physical soundness of works that are part of the Paulistano imagery—the best known being the Monumento às Bandeiras in Ibirapuera. This work led her to conclude that the public needs to be informed about the geology of the state capital to help curb the vandalism committed against its monuments. “The best way to preserve them,” states Del Lama, “is to teach people to like them, because people only preserve what they are familiar with.”

Mineralogy Applied to the Study of Cultural Heritage (nº 2009/02519-8); Grant Mechanism Regular Research Grant; Principal Investigator Eliane Aparecida Del Lama (IGc-USP); Investment R$ 94.400,40 (FAPESP).

Scientific article
DEL LAMA, E.A. et al. Urban geotourism and the old centre of São Paulo City, Brazil. Geoheritage. V. 7, No. 2, pp. 147-64. June 2015.