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Caruaru, PE

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St. John's Festival in Caruaru, Pernambuco.
Roberto Silva/Prefeitura Municipal de Caruaru

Caruaru Overview:

Located about 82 miles from Recife, the capital of Pernambuco, Caruaru is one of the most famous and best-loved cities in the Brazilian Northeast. The city, which has less than 30,000 inhabitants, receives thousands of visitors in June, when it hosts a month-long Festa Junina, or June Festival, Brazil's folk tradition celebrating St. Anthony (June 13), St. John (June 24) and St. Peter (June 29). In Caruaru, as in most of the Northeast, the festival is referred to simply as São João.

Caruaru is also famous for its permanent open-air market and its ceramists, who specialize in figurative pieces depicting local folk and customs.

São João in Caruaru:

Two cities in Brazil vie for the title of greatest St. John Festival in the world: Caruaru and Campina Grande, in Paraíba, also in the Northeast. Traditional June Festival customs, such as square dancing, accordion music and seasonal foods have taken on mega proportions in Caruaru, with nightly shows for thousands of people and 114-foot long curau.

Of the northeastern rhythms played at the Caruaru São João, some of the most engaging are baião and related forró pé-de-serra - lively dance music usually played by a trio with an accordion, a triangle and a zabumba, a kind of bass drum.

São João shows take place at Parque de Eventos Luiz “Lua” Gonzaga, large enough for 150,000 people. The venue is named after Luiz Gonzaga, the King of Baião.

Bacamarteiros (Arquebus Fighters) and Banda de Pífanos (Fife Bands)

From arquebus fighters in the Paraguay War (1864-1870), Caruaru and other northeastern cities inherited a St. John's tradition. Dressed in uniform, groups of men carrying arquebuses parade during the festivities, followed by fife bands, shooting dry powder in honor of June saints. Both groups are often represented in Caruaru's figurative ceramics.

The Caruaru Fair:

In Central Caruaru, Parque 18 de Maio is a must-see in Caruaru, since that’s where you will find three open-air markets. The most traditional of them is the Caruaru Fair (Feira Livre de Caruaru Compositor Onildo Almeida), which is part of the city’s history and sells an amazing array of products, from sun-dried meat and produce to shoes and imports. The fair is open Mon-Sat, 7a-5p.

At the Craft Fair (Feira de Artesanato), visitors find stalls selling textiles, toys, straw, leather and wood objects, among other local products. The fair is open Mon-Sat, 9a-5p.

Feira da Sulanca, on Tuesdays, is a popular market that sells mainly clothing. It opens at 5am.

Alto do Moura

No matter what time of the year, if finding authentic clay crafts is one of your reasons to visit Caruaru, head straight to the district of Alto do Moura, acknowledged by Unesco as the largest center of figurative arts in the Americas. A taxi from the downtown area to Alto do Moura costs about R$ 20 one way (see taxi company phones below).

Save at least a whole morning to see all that’s available at the district's many shops. One of the best things about Caruaru ceramics as a souvenir is that a lot of it consists of featherweight miniatures of people. For example, a reproduction of a fife band might be made up of about twenty clay musicians no taller than a match. Wrap each one carefully in paper and tuck them into the clothes in your suitcase so they make it safely home.

Mestre Vitalino's House:

When you’re browsing ceramics in Alto do Moura, don’t miss the museum which once was the home of Master Vitalino, Caruaru’s best-known ceramist. Mestre Vitalino, who died in 1963, is considered one of the most important folk artists in Brazilian history. His adobe house is now a museum which showcases his personal objects.

Address: Rua Mestre Vitalino s/n (not numbered)
Alto do Moura
Phone: 81-3701-1533
Hours: Mon-Sat, 8a-5p; Sun 8a-1p.

Memorial Mestre Galdino:

Master Galdino, poet and artist, differed from other Alto do Moura ceramists in the sense that his work took a surrealist path. At the Memorial, visitors find some of his original pieces and poems.

Address: Rua São Sebastião 181
Alto do Moura
Phone: 81-3701-1533
Hours: Tue-Sat 8a-12p, 2p-5p; Sun 9a-1p.

Other Caruaru Museums:

Located in a restored factory, Espaço Cultural Tancredo Neves houses the Caruaru Cultural Foundation and some of the city’s best museums.

Museu da Fábrica de Caroá, or the Caroá Factory Museum, tells the story of the pioneer industry which operated in the historic building until 1978. Caroá (N. variegate is a native northeastern Brazil plant similar to a bromelia from whose fiber the factory made string, whiplashes, packing bags and other products.

The Clay Museum (Museu do Barro – Espaço Zé Caboclo), created in 1988, has more than 2,300 clay pieces from all over the northeast. The collection’s highlights are pieces by Mestre Vitalino. The collection also includes pieces made by the artisans in Alto do Moura, Caruaru’s craft district.

Also in Espaço Cultural Tancredo Neves, Museu do Forró Luiz Gonzaga pays homage to the musician who brought northeastern music to international attention and helps tell the story of St. John's celebrations in Caruaru.

Caruaru Churches

The Main Church (Igreja da Matriz) and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, both in the downtown area, have a modern design.

If you like old churches, go to Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Conceição, next to Parque 18 de Maio, a chapel built in 1782. Caruaru and its fair developed around it.

At the top of a hill, Church of Good Jesus (Igreja do Bom Jesus), northeast of downtown, dates back to 1902. It affords visitors the best view of Caruaru.

Every June 28 – the eve of St. Peter’s Day – a large bonfire is lit in front of the Capuchin Convent, further northeast, with wood from the trimming of the city’s trees.

How to Get to Caruaru

From Recife, about 83 miles away, the best bus company with service to Caruaru is Rodoviária Caruarense (phone: 81-3721-2331). Take it at TIP (Terminal Integrado de Passageiros), Recife's bus terminal. There are several buses to Caruaru every day.

You can easily get to Caruaru from Maceió, the capital of neighboring Alagoas State and the next closest capital to Caruaru (about 150 miles). Viação Progresso (55-81-3721-2219) runs the line. The Maceió Bus Terminal phone number is 82-3221-4615.

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