quinta-feira, 24 de março de 2011

The History of Fortaleza dos Reis Magos

photo: Ianê Heusi
(The Touros cornerstone)

April, 1600 - Navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral sets anchor in Porto Seguro, Bahia.
August, 1501- Navigator Gaspar de Lemos, during a reconnaissance trip, lays the first Cornerstone to mark the Portuguese possession of lands that would become the future state of Rio Grande do Norte.

The landmark, carved out of a block of Pedra Lioz (Lioz Stone), depicts in tierced pallwise, the Cross of the Order of Christ, in relief, completed by the Coat of Arms of the King of Portugal underneath: five surtouts in cross shape, with five bezants over gold, without castle girding. The Landmark is popularly known as "Marco de Touros", and was classed by the Patrimonio Historico e Artistico National (National Historic and Artistic Patrimony).

Historic Background

In the last decades of the XV Century, Portugal and Spain were searching for a route to what was then called "As Indias" (Eastem Indies).

In 1492, Columbus discovers America, an event that leads Portugal and Spain to sign what is known as "Tratado de Tordesilhas" (The Tordesilhas Treaty). From an imaginary line, set one hundred leagues west from the Azores and Cape Verde, the world would be parted in two: ali points East belonged to Portugal; ali West, to Spain.

The sovereign of Portugal, D. Joao III, decided then to slice the Brazilian land in layers that starting from the shores would reach that imaginary line created by the Tordesilhas Treaty.

That is what was known as the "Capitanias Hereditarias" (Something that could be understood as "Hereditary Outposts").

To the North of the Baia da Traição (Treason Bay), João de Barros, Fernão Álvares de Andrade e Aires da Cunha joined forces to colonize the larger of the "Capitanias", which included what is now the State of Rio Grande do Norte. Ali attempts to make land and settle were doomed to failure due to shipwrecks, attacks from the French corsairs and the native indigenous population, the "potiguaras".

The Tupis

The shores of the new Portuguese possession were occupied by an agriculture prone indigenous population, sprung off the Tupi linguistic trunk. It is believed that they established in the area circa 500 to 1000 AO.
Sedentary, socially well organized, skillful rowers, anthropophagi, proud and fearless warriors, the Indians were well trained in archery arts, as well as in the use of the "Borduna", a heavy wooden bashing mace, also called "Tacape".

The Tupis dominated the entire coast of the state and part of the coast of what today is Ceará state.
They established villages in Igapó, Macaiba, on the rims of the Lagoa de Guarairas (Guaraíras Lagoon), in the area of Georgino Avelino, and the Curimataú river.

Ingenious and versatile warriors, they were part of the ancillary forces that played an active role in the process of the European conquest and expansion in the area.

The Tapuias

The Tapuia nation was one of the most feared by all other tribes. They were different; their demeanor was uniquely different from the others. Tireless and speedy runners, only wild animals, they say, could compete with them. Clever and astute, were known for their ambushes and traps. Their physical fitness added to a daring nature, and earned respect and fear from their enemies. In war were cautions, cunning, charging with intensity at first sight of the enemy, and the noise they made while charging was deafeningly scary, according to testimonials, especially when heard amid the foliage of the dense Atlantic Forest.
First-class archers, their arrows were always lethal. Excellent trackers, were able to follow, scout and pursue their enemies whatever terrain they chose to thread, no matter how hard and rough. They knew the hills and ranges, accidents and topography, by heart, what allowed them to make blitz attacks against the European forces, with devastating consequences.

A Fortress is built

The French tried to colonize Rio de Janeiro. Defeated, they invested in the eastern point of Brazil, (the Nordeste) wherein they mingle with natives and try to live in their milieu. The main objective behind this good-neighbor policy was to use the calm waters of estuaries like the Potengy river, or low beaches like Buzios, Tabatinga and Pititinga to extract the valuable Pau Brazil, and shuttle it away to Europe.

The relationship between Frenchmen and locals started to bother bordering Paraíba and Olinda. The French, associated with the Potiguaras, used to invade, loot and slaughter in farms and villages.

King Felipe II, of Portugal and Spain , decided to heed to the Portuguese appeal for assistance, and engages in defending the lands granted to Portugal by the Tordesilhas Treaty.

It is decided that a Fortress should be built in the estuary of the Potengy River, the Rio Grande (the Big River), and a city should be founded to consolidate the defense and the control of the Eastern points.
In December 25, 1597 a fleet of twelve ships, commanded by the Capitão-mor (a title similar to that of Commander in Chief) of Pernambuco, one Manuel Mascarenhas Homem, sets anchor at the Potengy bay.
By land, three companies (one infantry and two cavalry groups) march under the command of Paraiba's Capitão-mor, one Feliciano Coelho.

With this group came along the Jesuit Gaspar de Samperes, a master builder and engineer, to whom fell the task of designing the first palisades that originated the Fortress we see today.

On January 6 the building of a provisional barracks started, and was finished months later, on Saint John the Baptist's day.
The Command of the fort was given to Jeronimo de Albuquerque, and later, to João Rodrigues Colaço.
The Fortress only came to the current design and shape, of stone and plaster, with the work of the Engenheiro-mor do Brasil ( Brasi/'s Chief Engineer) Francisco Frias de Mesquita, amid 1614 and 1628.
Between those two dates one will note the foundation of the city of Natal, on December 25, 1599 - after the signature of an agreement between the natives and the Portuguese, also known as the Perpetual Peace and Alliance Treaty.

To mark the foundation a chapel was erected at the site where nowadays we see the Church of Nossa Senhora da Apresentação (The Church of Our Lady of Presentation), which signals the concretization of Filipe's dream city.

The Dutch Domination

After the fall of the city of Olinda in 1630 to the Dutch forces, the Fortaleza dos Reis Magos became a target for Dutch incursions, which on December 8, 1633 dispatched 16 ships and two thousand men to invade the region. Eight hundred Dutch soldiers disembark in Ponta Negra to help conquest the fort by sea and land.
For four long days, under the brave leadership of Capitão-mor Pero Mendes de Gouveia, seriously wounded, the locals resisted. But finally the Fort fell under Dutch hands.

In 1654 it was re-named Castelo Keulen (Keulen Castle) was reformed, remodeled and visited by The Count João Mauricio de Nassau, representative of the Company of the Eastern Indies, who brought along the artists Franz Post and Albert Eckhout.

However, a brave and daring Portuguese reaction was being articulated against the Dutch occupation in the interior of the state. Felipe Camarão, his wife Clara and several Potiguara warriors were among the fist line of defense established against the Dutch. During the final conflict, also known as the Batalha dos Guararapes (The Guararapes Battle), Camarão was considered a heroe, and put forward as the general governor of all Brazilian natives.

Without firing one single shot the Dutch had lost the batlle and its prize. They swiftly abandoned the Fortress.

Historical and Cultural Patrimony

After all this, what we see is: slumbering, slow years; a small population at the Limpa, the Potengy beach near the fort. More people on higher ground, the dunes, where there still was, resilient, the small chapel that signaled the existence of a city that, so it seemed, insisted in not becoming a city: one main street, the Rua Grande (Broad Street), and another one, to the South, named Rua do Caminho de Beber (Quenching Way Road). Both streets have new names nowadays: Rua Santo Antonio, and Rua da Conceição (on the way to the Tissuru river).

The fortress was used as a prison. In its dungeons Jaguarari, a prestigious native leader, was arrested. And also a poet, Lourival Açucena, first poet of Rio Grande do Norte.

In 1817 the Northeast of Brazil was conspiring against the Portuguese Crown. In Natal, Andre de Albuquerque Maranhão headed a Republican upheaval. He was the governor, but opposing forces invaded the palace, mortally wound him, drag him to the dungeons where he dies due to lack of medical attention. His body was hurried to the Church of Nossa Senhora da Apresentação and hastily buried.

The Fortaleza dos Reis Magos is the guardian symbol of the Potiguar people. From its gates, Jeronimo de Albuquerque left to conquer Maranhão; Martins Soares Moreno to conquer Ceará and Francisco Castelo Branco, to found the city of Belém, aiming to conquer the Amazon - always with the strong support of the native troops.

More than a resistance rampart, the building served as abode, navigation beacon, jail, artillery bunker during World War I, and now it is a major stage for Cultural activities.


Eduardo Alexandre
Walner Spencer (Tupis e Tapuias)
Versão para o Inglês: Marcílio Farias

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