Fort oranje

History lessons in Igarassu & Itamaracá

Did you know you can find Dutch roots in the North of Brazil? Apparently, before the Portuguese arrived, the Dutch exerted quite some influence in the North-East of Brazil. My ancestors have touched quite some historical sites around here. I also discovered Igarassu is home to one of the oldest churches of Brazil. Ready to learn something new? Put your nerdy glasses on and take this history lesson with me. 


When I first heard of the town of ‘Igarassu’ it immediately reminded me of the waterfalls of Iguazu. You won’t find a world wonder in Igarassu, but you will find a church that was built almost 500 years ago and still stands today: Igreja dos Santos Cosme e Damião.

Our Uber drives up a hill and stops the car. The driver tells us to get off as we have reached our destination. We leave the car and approach a door. No one is around. The door of the church is closed and I ring the bell until a lady opens the door. The floors are grey, the walls white and it smells musty. The sound of pigeons echoes through the church. 

First I enter a hall where it seems as if parties are being held here. There is a stage on one side of the room and the room is decorated. At the other side of the church it appears services are held. Or used to be held… The benches are dusty and the ceiling is falling apart. I honestly don’t know if part of the church is still used for this as just ten metres from this church there is another small church that looked a lot better maintained. 

Opposite Igreja dos Santos Cosme and Damião is Convento de Santo Antônio. This churchis  a lot better maintained on the outside. The inside of the church is absolutely stunning with blue tiles on the walls that reminded me a little of our Dutch Delft blue. 


In Igarassu I had my first taste of Dutch history here in Brazil. But I could truly connect to my Dutch heritage when I arrived at Fort Orange on the island of Itamaracá. This fort was built by Dutch people around the year 1500 because they wanted to take advantage of the fertile soil of Itatamaracá. Sugar and tobacco were produced here for example. The fort used to be on an island, but now it is connected to Itamaracá.

For over 100 years the Dutch fought of the Portuguese and cultivated the fertile land of Itamaracá. When the Portuguese finally chased the Dutch away, they called the fort ‘Fortaleza de Santa Cruz’. After the Brazilians had reclaimed their country, they decided to keep the name ‘Fort Orange’. 

The orange glow from the fort fits perfectly with the name of the fort. There is also a small chapel in the fort. From Fort Orange you look out on a small island that lies opposite Itamaracá: Praia Coroa do Avião, a very beautiful sight. You can reach this island by speedboat from Praia Fort Orange.


Itamaracá is an island where many Brazilians come to celebrate holidays. Besides the two gringas I was with I didn’t spot any foreigners. The beaches are covered in sun-baking Brazilians and catering is provided solely by typical Brazilian ‘beach clubs’. 

To give you an impression: a Brazilian beach club is often furnished with plastic tables and chairs accompanied by very loud music in the background, a menu with only deep-fried meat and fish and a natural toilet. And believe me, you don’t want to know what a natural toilet is. However, there is always a cozy atmosphere and the cervejas are nice and cold.

Brazil has a rich history and it is very interesting to learn about all the influences that made Brazil what it is today. Of course as a Dutchie I take a personal interest in the heritage related to The Netherlands. During your visit to Igarassu you encounter rich history and in Itamaracá you experience how Brazilians celebrate their holidays. Did you learn a little about the North-East of Brazil today? 

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