Historic Centre Of The Town Of Olinda: Learn More About Its History

Abhijeet Modi
Nov 03, 2023 By Abhijeet Modi
Originally Published on Apr 05, 2022
street view of olinda near recife pernambuco state brazil

Its basic urban structure, looted and rebuilt by the Dutch, dates back to the 18th century.

Olinda is a historical city in the state of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil. It is located on a hill on the Atlantic coast, just north of Recife's state capital.

The harmonious balance of buildings, gardens, 20 baroque churches, monasteries, and numerous small chapels contribute to Olinda's special charm. It has a population of 393,115 and an area of ​​41,681 sq km (16,093 sq m).


Olinda is located on Brazil's northeast coast in Pernambuco, six kilometers north of the historic center of Recife. It is on the Atlantic Ocean's border to the east, Recife to the south, and north of the municipality of Paulista.

It is part of the Recife Metropolitan Area (RMR). The town of Olinda was discovered in the 16th century by the Portuguese.

The history of Olinda is closely linked with the sugar industry. After being looted by the Dutch, its basic urban fabric dates back to the 18th Century. The harmonious balance of buildings, gardens, baroque churches, minarets, and numerous small chapels (Passos) all contribute to Olinda's history and its distinctive charm.

Olinda was the former capital of the state and one of the most important colonies in the Brazilian economy at the time. Several local museums offer in-depth education about the city's past, from the widespread slave trade to the rise of political power.

Olinda's charms have been dominated by the old Jesuit church and college, the Palácio Episcopal, the Misericórdia church, the Franciscan, Carmelites, and Benedictines monasteries. Public buildings varied from the 17th to the 19th centuries.

Many local tribes occupied the northeastern coast of Brazil for thousands of years. The hills that once functioned under the municipality of Olinda were now inhabited by territory belonging to the Tupinambá and Caetés tribes, who were often at war.

It is believed that French mercenaries were the first ones to arrive in the area.

Still, the Portuguese were the ones who exploited the rivalry between the tribes and were able to build a strong base on the ancient village of Caeté, which was located on the highest hill. Olinda, the capital, was burned down by the Dutch invaders.

The Portuguese had built their city on the hill to make it easy to defend. The Portuguese kingdom was united with Spain in the 17th century (the period of the Iberian Union, from 1580 to 1640).

Taking advantage of Portuguese decline, the areas surrounding Recife and Olinda were occupied by the Dutch. These Dutch people also gained access to the sugarcane plantations belonging to the Portuguese. The prince of Nassau-Siegen was appointed governor of Dutch possessions in Brazil in 1637.

Olinda, the historic city, lost its importance after the Dutch invasion. Recife became the capital of Pernambuco in 1827.

In addition to its beauty, Olinda is also one of Brazil's main cultural centers. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, Olinda relives the splendor of the past each year during a Rio-style carnival, to the rhythms of frevo, maracatu, and other rhythms.

Tourist Attractions

Olinda was founded in 1537 by Duarte Coelho Pereira of Portugal as the colonial capital of the captain of Pernambuco. After the Dutch invasion, Olinda lost its importance, and Recife became the capital of Pernambuco in 1827.

The city is now functioning as a suburb of Greater Recife. Due to the city's historic location, its cathedral is a World Heritage Site. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese headquarters of Recife, San Salvador Domundo, has a communal cathedral in Recife.

Dotted with monuments that reflect cultural, historical, and architectural gems, it is considered the city's artistic centre. The thoughtful sophistication of the decoration of these architectural works contrasts with the fascinating simplicity of the nearby homes.

Many homes are painted in bright colors or are covered with ceramic tiles, and these are good examples of civil architecture in the 17th and 19th centuries.

The highlight of northern Brazil, the new colonial city of Olinda, attracts travelers with its pastel-colored houses and vibrant art scene. With its laid-back atmosphere and many attractions worth exploring, many will want to extend their stay on this fascinating historical excursion.

Lucky travelers in town during the carnival will find their money to be well spent, as the Olinda Recife celebration is one of the most exciting in Brazil.

Forget the expensive admission (we're looking at you, Rio) and join in the celebration on a street filled with a sea of ​​colorful delights and enchanting giant dolls. There are many whitewashed colonial churches in this quaint little town, from pretty little neighborhood shrines to magnificent cathedrals towering in the sky.


Olinda's main economic activities are based on tourism, trade, transportation, and handicrafts.

The tourism sector has boomed during its carnivals, with thousands of people coming together in the old town of Olinda that once functioned as one of the main centers of the sugarcane industry. It has been the center of the Brazilian economy for almost two centuries, thanks to its sugar economy and the wealth that accompanied it.

An extraordinary ensemble of landscapes, urbanism, and architecture in Olinda's historic center eloquently reflect the prosperity that was once supported by the sugarcane industry.

By 1600, its town's history was based on the sugar economy, and imported African slave labor became a feudal and church-like hub. Slavery was abolished in 1888. In 1630, the Dutch conquered the city and occupied it until 1654. By this time, it had declined, and its leadership had moved to Recife's capital.

Olinda's main economic activities are based on tourism, trade, transportation, and handicrafts. The city is home to large colonies of wood carvings and potters. The historic center now features gardens, hedges, a series of architecturally stunning buildings surrounded by lush vegetation on the monastery's grounds, tropical lumps of greenery, sandy beaches, and the sea.

Colorful Olinda sign in the beginning of the historic center


Q. When was Olinda founded?

A. Olinda was founded in 1535, which is the 16th century.

Q. What is the historic center of the town of Olinda known for?

A. The historic center of the town of Olinda is known for its architecture and artistic heritage.

Q. How do you get to the historic center of the town of Olinda?

A. You can get to Olinda either by catching a bus or by booking an uber. If you are not a local, the latter option is better. The journey won't take more than 30 mins.

Q. How did it get its name?

A. Legend says that when Portuguese Duarte Coelho Pereira first saw this place, he exclaimed, 'oh Linda!', which translates to, 'oh, beautiful!' This led to its name as Olinda.

Editorial credit: Helissa Grundemann / Shutterstock.com

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Written by Abhijeet Modi

Master of Computer Science

Abhijeet Modi picture

Abhijeet ModiMaster of Computer Science

An experienced and innovative entrepreneur and creative writer, Abhijeet holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Computer Application from Birla Institute of Technology, Jaipur. He co-founded an e-commerce website while developing his skills in content writing, making him an expert in creating blog posts, website content, product descriptions, landing pages, and editing articles. Passionate about pushing his limits, Abhijeet brings both technical expertise and creative flair to his work.

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