Guia Cultural do Vale do Café

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Cultural Attractions
in Rio de Janeiro’s Vale do Café

The Paraíba River valley’s history is rich and fantastic at the same time. The birthplace of coffee plantations in the 19th century, the valley was the bastion of the country’s wealth for several decades during the Brazilian Empire (1822-1889). In those days, green waves overcame Rio de Janeiro’s highlands and spread out, giving rise to villages and towns around the plantations. Coffee migrated to the fertile purplish soils of the São Paulo highlands, but Rio de Janeiro‘s Vale do Café maintains its pride arising from its history and traditions.

While composing the Vale do Café Cultural Guide, we found that the past has a considerable influence over the inhabitants of Rio de Janeiro’s mountain region. Stories of former coffee plantations, slaves, coffee barons, the wealth and tragedies that affected that region are evident in the colonial architecture, in the baroque churches, in the descendants of slaves, the sleepers in the old railroad tracks and the coffee trees still found in the region‘s woods. Stories of pioneering families, such as the Breves and their “king of coffee”, of Manoel Congo, the “queen of coffee” in Resende, the baron of Guaraciaba and of Eufrásia Teixeira Leite, which survive to this day. We will find here and there fragments of these stories while crossing the region.

From Resende to the foothills of the Serra do Mar in Paracambi, we covered over three thousand kilometers. We visited numerous towns, districts and concealed spots where we visualized the beauty of the lush highland landscape, virgin woods with their intact fauna, mansions and churches and chiefly the human beings who live in the Valley and who are building its future. From the modest salesgirl of honey from the blue ridges of Visconde de Mauá, to the great owners of century-old coffee estates in Rio das Flores, Valença and Vassouras; from the small cultural workshop that encourages music and handicrafts to the Vale do Café Festival; we found a myriad of activities that add value to local wealth and show that it is possible to produce cultural activities, by means of major incentives or of folk wisdom.

Fortunately, the valley’s inhabitants still nurture the idea of disclosing and preserving historical heritage, oral memory, traditions and immaterial heritage. We were rewarded in the several cities that we visited with the joy of the wisdom and actions by devoted persons intent on promoting culture. They explained their contributions, their proposals, concern and above all they expressed their optimism regarding the future of Rio de Janeiro’s Vale do Café.

The revival of folk culture as a transforming force, as in the case of the jongo, which has been salvaged in a number of municipalities and is a good example of the preservation of Rio de Janeiro’s traditions. The Vale do Café Cultural Guide aims chiefly to disclose and emphasize actions intended to promote culture in its most relevant aspect.

To belong or not to belong to the Vale do Café was a frequent issue in the interviews and conversations with project participants in a number of municipalities. There are several official geographical divisions for the Paraíba River valley that will not be debated here. It is our understanding that the Rio de Janeiro Vale do Café is extremely comprehensive. From Piraí to Resende along the Rodovia Presidente Dutra highway with its neighboring towns; from Paraíba do Sul to Vassouras, climbing to Valença and Rio das Flores; where the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais meet, the beginning of the Bocaina and Serra da Mantiqueira mountain ranges; or in the Serra do Mar foothills, starting in Rio Claro, Lídice to Mangaratiba; this vast area in which the coffee mono-culture thrived, as we may assert. Hence, the description does not apply in this Cultural Guide that covers Rio de Janeiro’s Vale do Café.

The Vale do Café is not merely a geographical or a social and economic phenomenon covering a significant percentage of Brazil’s GDP and divided by the winding Paraíba River, as some would have it, but is also expressive in cultural attractions, in wisdom and activities, and an environmental alternative for visitors. Overseas travelers who crossed the region during the 19th century were surprised by the wealth provided by coffee and used to say: “Brazil is the Valley and the Valley is coffee”. The Vale do Café Cultural Guide follows this trail.

The rediscovery of Brazilian History owing to the commemoration of Brazil’s Five Hundred Years gave rise to a new mentality in this highland region, which until then displayed deficient social and economic indicators. The new entrepreneurs discovered that they had a History, which they decided to exploit. Festivals in which the keynote is coffee, church music in historical coffee estates; folk pageants with dances and African sounds; regular cultural events, literary soirees and theaters. All this led to the rebirth of the Vale do Café, and its inhabitants acquired knowledge and took pride in their history.

Encouraging figures on the numbers of visitors show that the region is on the right path, and that the major events scheduled for the state of Rio de Janeiro with the World Cup and the Olympic Games will increase considerably the number of tourists to the state’s rural areas. Tourists, researchers, domestic and overseas visitors will encounter a correct reference in the Vale do Café Cultural Guide, and will be able to enjoy a cuisine influenced by the region’s typical products, with theme restaurants that serve sweets and delicacies found in the Valley: from feijoada (black bean cassoulet) to tilapia and macadamia nuts, or the homemade sweets that recall childhood days. They will also be able to spend nights in historical coffee estates and use the bedrooms that accommodated viscounts or the young ladies of the house, listen to good music during soirees, dance a minuet and witness African dancing in the century-old gardens. Comfort, elegance, tradition and charm! Real and fantastic stories dating back to the age of the coffee barons and naive folk art performances. Caninha verde, maculelê and jongo, or church music and calango in the yard! Handicrafts and works of art with saints sculpted with paper!

Rio de Janeiro’s Vale do Café welcomes you with its surprises, attractions and stories. Enjoy it, visit and come back again to take advantage of a venue where time is marked by the noise of rivers and waterfalls, and the fresh breezes from its hills. Coffee and its history are present, available and permanent. Simply tread their paths guided by their cultural attractions.

Aloysio Clemente Breves Beiler

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