It was winter, yet light clothing was adequate, and the sun was shining.
I first visited São Luiz do Paraitinga in June 2008 en route to the beach in Ubatuba. Although São Luiz has the feel of a small town it has the status of ‘city’. Whilst the square is the obvious focus of the city, I found the ‘ladeiras’ (very steep streets) more intriguing. One of my favourite photographs is of the two young boys playing, obviously enjoying themselves, in their simple surroundings (I’ve entitled the photograph ‘Três’). Perhaps the game they’re playing is called ‘Three’.
The ladeiras are mostly cobbled, narrow, and lined with terraces of modest dwellings. It is a different world; it is where I found the young boys.
São Luiz do Paraitinga is in the State of São Paulo. It was founded in 1769 by Portuguese and Spanish explorers mainly because it provided an ideal control point for the gold route from Minas Gerais. It sits in a small basin in the Serra do Mar mountain range between the Port of Paraty and the city of Taubaté. Cultivation of coffee during the nineteenth century resulted in ‘city’ status.
The city’s central square, Praça Oswaldo Cruz, is dominated by the main church. Built in 1840, the church is named after São Luiz de Tolosa (Saint Louis of Toulouse; a thirteenth century bishop). Around the square evidence of the city’s colonial past is in the architecture of its buildings, mostly ‘casarões’, the mansions of the coffee barons.
All was well the day I was there. But the New Year of 2010 brought disaster. In a single day the rainfall exceeded the expected for the month of December. The Paraitinga River rose by over twelve metres causing the greatest tragedy in the history of the municipality. The square suffered the most; the church was completely destroyed.
Funding for reconstruction and flood prevention works was provided by the State Government and the Ministry of National Integration. The historic centre, now a ‘National Heritage Site’ has been rebuilt. The church has been painstakingly reconstructed; it was completed and dedicated in May 2014, four years after the flood. One day I hope to revisit the city. It won’t be the same; then again neither will I.
Portrait of St Louis of Toulouse (detail), circa 1450. Antonio Vivarini (1420-1484). Louvre Museum
Sources: IPHAN (National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage)
São Luis do Paraitinga São Paulo – SP Histórico; biblioteca.ibge.gov.br
Images: Photographs, Gerard F Kennedy