Monday, May 30, 2011

MARKETS OF BRAZIL - Ver-o-Peso Market, Belém

Brazil, just like the rest of the world, is full of supermarkets. They can be everywhere - on downtown main streets, in the suburbs of the big cities, and anchoring giant Brazilian shopping centers. Fortunately, in many cities the Brazilian supermarket chains have not yet succeeded in totally eliminating central markets, which offer shelter to small individual vendors, each selling a limited range of products. Maybe fruits and vegetables, perhaps dairy, cheese and eggs, or possibly fish, poultry or meat. A Brazilian central market is an impressive place. Usually loud, invariably very colorful, and always aromatic.

Flavors of Brazil has posted articles and photos of some of Brazil's major markets, like São Paulo's Mercado Municipal, Fortaleza's Mercado São Sebastião and Mercado dos Pinhões, and the São Pedro Fish Market in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro. These are all important municipal monuments. There's only one city in Brazil, however, where the public market has become the prime symbol of the city itself - what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, or the Opera House is to Sydney - and that's in Belém, capital of the state of Pará and located near the mouth of the Amazon River system in northern Brazil. Belém's market, the Mercado Ver-o-Peso, with it's distinctive steeples, and sky-blue color is emblazoned on souvenir T-shirts, pictured on postcards (to the extent they still exist), captured daily by thousands of digital cameras in the hands of Brazilian and foreign tourists alike, and held in the heart of Belenses (natives of Belém) whether they live one block from the market or thousands of miles away.

The unusual name of the Ver-o-Peso Market dates back to colonial times, when the market housed the offices of the Portuguese colonial tax collector. Ver-o-Peso is a shortened form of the Portuguese phrase "Haver-o-Peso" meaning "possess or obtain the weight." The tax collector was charged with collecting a tariff on all goods coming down the river and this tariff was based not on monetary value of goods but on their weight. Hence, "Ver-o-Peso."

The market is located directly on Belém's riverside waterfront, where the giagantic Amazon forms the Bay of Guajará, and has its own docks for receiving goods from upriver. Although the market complex dates back to the 17th Century, the present-day building themselves are a product of a late 19th-Century renovation, and display the Belle Époque architectural stylings of much of Brazil's municipal architecture of that time. The market's cast-iron clock tower was fabricated in England, disassembled, shipped to Belém and reassembled on site.

Ver-o-Peso today covers over almost 35,000 square meters (9 acres) of land, and is divided into subsections selling meat, fish, fruits (including a specialized market selling only açaí), arts and crafts, and prepared food.
Ver-o-Peso in 1935

In 1997, the market was given national heritage status and cannot be significantly changed, or modified in any way that would alter its historic characteristics. Even if there were no such governmental protection, it's inconceivable that the citizens of Belém would permit any alteration to their beloved market. The future of Ver-o-Peso appears to to be well assured.

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