Arts & Entertainment

Brazil Amazon River gateway city’s centuries-old market to get overhaul

By Carlos A. Moreno

Belem, Brazil, Apr 10 (EFE).- This northern city’s nearly 400-year-old Ver-o-Peso (See the Weight) market, Latin America’s largest open-air fair and the main showcase of products from Brazil’s Amazon region, is getting a makeover aimed at shedding its image as a dirty, smelly and crime-ridden section of town.

The extensive overhaul of the colorful, 25,000-square-meter (270,000-square-foot) market – located on the shores of Guajara Bay, thereby providing easy access to the mouth of the Amazon River – comes as part of Belem’s bid to host the 2030 edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-30).

Belem Mayor Edmilson Rodrigues said the city received a 100 million reais ($20 million) loan for the modernization project, which will be the first renovation work the 396-year-old market has undergone in two decades.

“It will be a great (400-year-birthday) gift for Ver-o-Peso and for Belem because this place is the most significant space of the city and the Amazon region,” Rodrigues said in announcing the project.

He acknowledged the different problems the market faces, particularly grimy conditions, a lack of security and drainage problems that cause a concentrated smell of urine to fill the air.

Among the complaints leveled by tourists are the piling up of garbage, the stench in the air and a high number of vultures that pick at fish lying exposed in buckets, as well as a large amount of drug addicts who sleep on the ground on adjacent streets.

“We’ve been in a struggle for many years to get the mayor’s office to revitalize and clean up the market. There’s really a lot of crime,” Ver-o-Peso Institute Director Manoel Rendeiro, popularly known as “Didi de Ver-o-Peso,” told Efe.

The main spokesperson for the market’s retailers hailed the efforts by the their workers to pick up trash and even recycle it, but he added that the complex is “very big and the problems are very complex.”

“Unfortunately, we depend on solutions offered by the public sector,” Rendeiro said.

The modernization effort is of vital importance for a market that provides work to nearly 5,000 people and receives some 30,000 customers daily, and where around 15,000 tons of fish, nearly 50,000 baskets of acai berries, one of the most in-demand Amazon fruit, and 3,000 tons of other fruit and vegetables are sold per day.

Regarded as one of the seven wonders of Brazil and included on the government’s list of national historical heritage and artistic sites in 1977, it has 1,193 officially registered vendors, although other unlicensed sellers set up shop in open areas to sell fish and acai berries.

The complex comprises 16 different sectors and several buildings, some of which are of historical significance and feature architecture typical of the Belle Epoque, including the Meat Market and the Clock Tower’s Square.

Amid that amalgam of smells, aromas, tastes, colors and even music (carimbo wafts though the air in all parts of the market), Ver-o-Peso is especially known for its selection of typical products from Brazil’s Amazon region: acai berries, abricos (a fruit similar to the mango), manivas (cassava or manioc, a plant whose leaves are an important component of indigenous diets), guanabanas and cupuacus (the national fruit of Brazil).

And being a showcase for products from the Amazon region, herbal medicine stores also are found in abundance, offering cures for an array of ailments.

Other important items for sale are Brazil nuts, a wide variety of cassava flour products, dried shrimp, Amazon fish such as the pirarucu (arapaima), cachaca de jambu (a distilled spirit produced with the jambu flower, an Amazonian plant, that is said to have aphrodisiac properties) and handicrafts associated with the now-extinct Marajoara and Tapajo indigenous cultures. EFE


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