Northeastern architecture marked by typical features of colonial structures

historic center of João Pessoa
Baroque architecture, colony-Brazil

Northeastern Architecture has baroque buildings built by the sugar society, marking the starting point of the long and diversified path covered by northeastern architecture over five centuries.

On the balconies of the two-story houses of old São Salvador there are memories of maidens from the times of the emperor”, sang Do rival Caynmu in the early 1940s.

The houses are still there, full of stories, in the center of the city, and constitute one of the most formidable architectural ensembles in the country.

Salvador's houses are not isolated: they belong to a vast heritage built over the centuries in northeastern Brazil.

This heritage includes a large number of forts, built to defend the colony's extensive coastline from the harassment of invaders and pirates (only in the Baía de Todos os Santos, in Salvador, there were fifteen forts).

Baroque architecture in Brazil

The great architectural heritage of the Northeast, however, is the countless churches that spread out mainly along its coastline.

Most were erected by the religious orders that accompanied the colonizers, especially by the Jesuits: the Society of Jesus worked intensively in the region until 1759, when it was expelled from Brazil – therefore, it had the time and influence to imprint what is called style in the colony. Jesuit, marked by “more Renaissance, more moderate, regular and cold compositions, still imbued with the harsh spirit of the Counter-Reformation”, according to Lucia Costa.

The churches from the XNUMXth to the beginning of the XNUMXth century have simple, generally rectangular, floor plans and sober and uncluttered facades.

In its interior, however, there are elaborate ornamental solutions typical of the Baroque – as if, echoing the ideals of the Society of Jesus, they valued the virtues of spirit and not of appearance.


The Europeans, with their architectural style, dominated the Tupinikim lands, mainly in sacred architecture, with the luxury and richness of details in the decoration of the churches. Housing, in turn, was initially simpler. Even the big house on the farms had few decorative elements, despite the huge interior space and the beautiful verandas. 

That's because a good part of the wealth generated in Brazil went to Europe. Luxury in residences began to become more evident, however, with the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in the country, who disembarked in Salvador in 1808 and soon after went to Rio de Janeiro. 

With the advance of urbanization in cities in the 17th century and the need to protect houses against pirate attacks on the coast, semi-detached houses appeared, following a more compact model.

The facades practically formed a large “wall”. The open area, in turn, was behind. On the ground floor, commercial activity was carried out – which is why the predominance of large doors. The house was on the upper floor. 

Rua de João Pessoa with the strong presence of colors in the decoration of the houses
Rua de João Pessoa with the strong presence of colors in the decoration of the houses

Revitalized from the end of the 20th century, many buildings in northeastern Brazil received colored paint on their facades, making the streets more cheerful and becoming a tourist attraction.

See also other features Colors of houses and buildings in the colonial architecture of the northeast


Also in northeastern churches, the tile began to gain space at the end of the 17th century. At that time, the material used in churches of Bahia it was ordered and brought directly from Lisbon, Portugal.

In fact, it was from the Portuguese that the Brazilians adopted the taste for tiles, used to form panels that depicted customs from the colonial era and also traditions of Christianity.  

In houses, this decorative element began to conquer the facades around the 19th century, as in São Luís and Belém. It is also worth mentioning Maranhão, which began to cover its houses with tiles thanks to the evolution registered with the exploration of cotton in the region .


Although retaining the external layout as a central feature, the religious architecture of the Northeast underwent transformations over time: the simple pediment without towers from the XNUMXth century evolved to the facades flanked by belfries of the XNUMXth century churches.

Altarpieces have also become more profuse and finely ornamented over the centuries, boasting rich gilt carving – hardwood carvings covered in gold leaf.

Often, the same construction has different styles, the result of constant reforms, expansions and reconstructions that the works underwent as the sugar society prospered. A fundamental element in the ornamentation of colonial churches is the teat painting.

Illusionist perspective techniques developed by seventeenth-century Italian artists began to be used in Brazil in the second quarter of the XNUMXth century, with greater evidence in Recife and Salvador with his strong e churches.

church of São Pedro dos Clérigos
Church of São Pedro dos Clérigos PE

Such feature can be seen on the roof of the nave of the church of São Pedro dos Clérigos, in the capital of Pernambuco, and in the church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição da Praia, in Salvador, this one painted by José Joaquim da Rocha, one of the great names of Brazilian baroque.

Finally, it is worth highlighting the wide use of tiling, which since the XNUMXth century have come from the Metropolis to beautify the exterior of the buildings, the domes of the towers (such as the Franciscan Convent of João Pessoa), the cloisters and sacristies - interestingly, these places of private use by priests received decoration in northeastern churches luxurious, possibly because the members of the local aristocracy also gathered there.

The magnificent sacristy of the cathedral basilica of savior, where the large wooden chest inlaid with tortoise and ivory stands out, is an example of this sumptuousness.


Interior of the church of San Francisco de Assis in Salvador
Interior of the church of San Francisco de Assis in Salvador

Built by the sugar society, the baroque buildings are a kind of starting point for northeastern architecture, reflecting a cultural trend that began in Europe in the 16th century, but with a Brazilian touch.

Phases of Religious Architecture and Baroque Architecture

Very present in northeastern churches, baroque architecture is characterized by curves and richness of detail in buildings and monuments, as well as the magnificence of its buildings, in order to exalt the principles and customs of Christianity, spreading its ideas through art .

The construction of most churches in Bahia, in particular, is due to the action of the religious orders that accompanied the colonizers, especially the Jesuits.

Initially, parishes had sober and uncluttered facades. At the beginning of the 17th century, elaborate Baroque solutions emerged, giving a unique touch to these places.

Convex or concave facades, which reinforce the idea of ​​movement, rounded columns, arches, abundant gilding, paintings rich in details and exuberant decorative elements are among the striking features.


sugar culture
sugar culture

A sugar culture determined the development of a particular type of architecture.

The rural properties were true complexes that included the main house, where the masters lived, the slave quarters, where the slaves lived, and the indispensable chapel, in addition to the plantation itself, with its machinery.

As sugar production prospered, buildings became more luxurious.

The initial rammed earth was replaced by masonry, the house low and stripped by the manor.

O Solar do Unhão, built for the residence of judge Pedro Unhão Castelo Branco in the XNUMXth century, is an example of both the refinement and the accumulation of functions of rural properties: it housed the big house, slave quarters, chapel, warehouses and wharf.

In 1962, the set was restored by the architect Lina Bo Bardi and today houses the Museum of Modern Art.

The entire life of the owners took place within the limits of the mill; in the early years of the colony, cities were little more than trading posts and administrative centers, with modest houses.

When, at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, the urbanization process accelerated, the most sumptuous constructions began to appear, the terraced houses that housed the families of the elite.

in the capital of Maranhão São Luís – whose wealth came from cotton, not sugar-, the facades of the manor houses were coated with portuguese tiles, such as those used in Pernambuco and Bahia churches.

In the Northeast, as in the entire colony, the two-story houses also played a double role among small traders, who carried out their activities on the ground floor and lived upstairs.

In the semi-arid region of the Northeast, in turn, properties linked to livestock farming had simple brick houses, devoid of ornaments, but – as in large houses on the coast – with porches or balconies that often serve as living rooms.


The architecture of the northeast region of Brazil is very marked by typical features of colonial structures, inheriting from Portuguese urban traditions the streets in regular layout and the buildings on the alignment of the lot, whose facades border the boundaries of the land.

Architectural Platiband in the Northeast
Architectural Platiband

The colonial houses have about ten meters of facade and great depths. The streets, in turn, are defined by the fronts of the houses. Sidewalks were unusual.

There are two predominant types of housing related to the colonial period, quite common in northeastern Brazilian architecture: the one-story house and the two-storey houses. One-story houses are more popular.

They were also characterized by the unpaved floor. In contrast, the more economically favored classes adopted the manor house, which, in addition to having two floors, has a floor floor.

Both feature gabled roofs, which shed rainwater in front and back of houses. To solve this issue, gutters and overhangs were adopted to lead the water fall to a specific point.

Architectural Platiband
Architectural Platiband

Characterized as the highest part of the façade, the platbands had the function of hiding the roof, preventing rainwater from being thrown into the streets and, more than that, decorating the houses in the center of the city.

The enrichment from northeastern monocultures – such as sugarcane, in Pernambuco – aroused the desire for social affirmation, which boosted the emergence of a variety of ornaments for the platbands, mixing Gothic, neoclassical and even art nouveau styles, classified by Lemos (1989) as “neocolonial”.

The style brings together solutions inspired by the past, which became popular during the 20's and beginning of the following decade.

It is common to find in the cities of Recife, Natal, Salvador and the interior of the northeast, public buildings with platbands adorned with sculptures of women in earthenware, eagles, symbolizing independence and freedom, royal signs, baroque shells, arches, balusters. It is also common to find the year in which construction was completed on platbands.

A rich collection of platbands can be enjoyed in historic centers in the capitals and historic cities of the Northeast.

Architectural Platiband
Architectural Platiband

It is important to mention that the revitalization of houses in historic centers in the Northeast has boosted tourism and, consequently, the economy of these cities, such as João Pessoa, Salvador and inland cities such as Ilhéus and Canavieiras.

The lime-based paintings in each house, created on irregular façades and platbands, are the result of centuries-old whitewashing craft practices – a technique that has gradually been replaced by new materials and processes without the same characteristics.

Later, the platbands were no longer an item in the codes of municipal postures. However, its use remained common in some regions of the northeast, although the southeast of Brazil has been modernized in industrial terms, reflected in architecture.

The memory of the heydays of monocultures in the northeast is alive in the houses of reference cities. However, in the interior, the platbands are usual not only because of their history, but also because of cultural bonds related to identity.


The architectural term Platibanda designates a horizontal strip (wall or grid) that frames the upper part of a building and has the function of hiding the roof.

House facade with platbands
House facade with platbands

It can be used in various types of construction, such as houses and churches, it became a characteristic ornament during the Gothic style.

Modernly, it is common to use platbands in houses that were residential and now house some kind of commerce.

To hide the old vocation of the property, the facade is modernized and a platband (which can be a higher wall than the roof, in order to hide it and take away the appearance of a house) is placed.

In addition to this utility, the platbands were also designed to enhance the construction and decorate the building.

Among the most common elements in this type of structure are the record of the year of construction, baroque shells, eagles and sculptures of women, among others.

In capitals such as Salvador, Recife and Natal, it is possible to find many houses and public buildings in which the platbands stand out. In addition to being a reference to the times of monocultures, they are linked to the Northeastern cultural identity.

Lime-based painting of platbands and facades is a craft practice that has been practiced for a long time and is very characteristic of the region. 


O serido is a micro-region of the semiarid region of Rio Grande do Norte, characterized by caatinga vegetation and heavily eroded land due to the scarcity regime and uneven rainfall distribution.

Video Rural architecture of the Sertão do Seridó

Rural architecture of the Sertão do Seridó

The settlement began in the 300th century and today around 42 thousand people live in the region, of which XNUMX% live in rural areas.

Cattle raising was the activity that led to the settlement of families in the Sertão Potiguar and the cultivation of cotton, which later appeared as a very profitable economic activity, was the expansion and strengthening of the settlement of the population in the Seridó.

The cattle farms existing in the region are examples of great relevance to the architectural heritage of Brazil.

Although built with modest forms, without the signature of architects, its constructions were based on vernacular knowledge (both in making and in appreciating), containing an intrinsic logic linked to its function.

Unfortunately, this collection, essential for the region's identity and for Rio Grande do Norte, has been dilapidated, so this research aims to contribute to the preservation and dissemination of culture, tradition and rural built heritage in Seridó-RN.

Veja Rural architecture of the Sertão do Seridó

Veja Inventory of Rural Buildings in Seridó


In the mid-XNUMXth century, the newly independent Brazil was building its new face, turning its back on the colonial and baroque past.

Palace of Campo das Princesas PE
Palace of Campo das Princesas PE

Thus, in 1840, Recife was planted with trees and gained a public transport network with stagecoaches and running water; rose at that time the Campo das Princesas Palace, from 1840, the Teatro Santa Isabel, from 1850, and the Liceu de Artes e Oficis, from 1880.

Other cities were remodeled, and many capitals transferred from the old colonial cities: the capital of Piauí passed from Oeiras for Teresina, in 1852, and that of Sergipe, of São Cristóvão for AracajuIn 1855.

The transformative impulse continued in the early years of the XNUMXth century, when a major urban reform similar to the one undertaken in Rio de Janeiro instituted urban sanitation measures and remodeled the city, demolishing a large part of the old Bairro do Recife.

The same occurred in other capitals, such as João Pessoa e Salvador.

Forum of Teresina (1972), Acácio Gil Borsoi
Teresina Forum, Acácio Gil Borsoi

The modern architecture that flourished in Brazil between the 1930s and 1960s arrived in the capital of Pernambuco at the hands of professionals such as Rio de Janeiro Acácio Gil Borsoi and Portuguese Delfim Amorim, two of the creators of the so-called Recife School, which would spread throughout the Northeast .

Among the architects who introduced new elements to the landscape. from the region appear the names of Luís Nunes, Mário Russo, Mário Láscio, Carlos Alberto Carneiro da Cunha, Liberal de Castro.

From the 1970s onwards, revitalization projects recovered the historic center of several colonial cities, such as São Luís and Savior.

At the same time, in the hinterlands and outskirts, there are popular houses with unique features, small and very colorful, with ornate platbands – a complement to Jesuit austerity, baroque excess and modern rationality, a spontaneous, cheerful and solar architecture like itself Northeastern culture.

Northeastern architecture


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