29 December 2008

In Country: Missed the Museum But Caught the Train

On Monday, 29 December 2008, Jocelyn and I went on the hunt for two museums. Over the weekend we had poured over locations and descriptions for some of the cultural sites listed on the Campinas city website. Although many of them sounded interesting, we had identified two of them to visit first: the City Museum and the Museum of Sound and Image. Unfortunately they were both closed on Monday. Even though our search for museums was thwarted, we did discover another important historical monument.

Our gem of the day was the Railway Station of the Paulista Company of Railroads at the corner of Andrade Neves Avenue and Rodovia Lidgerwood on the southernmost edge of the center of town. As Sao Paulo state was moving into industrialization in the mid 19th century, many plantations that had been growing sugarcane switched to coffee. Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais states were at the center of this agricultural transition and soon came to dominate the rest of the country in coffee cultivation. Because coffee is a perishable crop, it needs access to ports for speedy shipment to markets. The port at Santos (outside Sao Paulo) came to be the main port for coffee exports. At its peak, about 80% of Brasil's coffee exports were shipped to the United States, with most of it transported through Campinas and the port at Santos.

Thus was born the Campinas Train Station. The first station was built in the 1860s but was later replaced in 1884 with a more modern one. Over time, the train station went through seven important phases of development, until it was finally abandoned in 1961. Because of its importance in the economic development of Brasil in the 19th century, one of the trains that traveled the tracks of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais states earned the nickname Maria Fuma├ža, or Smokey Mary.

Today the train station is part of a federal reserve, and is considered a valuable heritage site for the city of Campinas. When Jocelyn and I arrived we inquired about the history of the station and were fortunate enough to get an interview with Luiz Antonio Aquino, the chief architect working on its preservation.

Educated at the University in Sao Paulo, he has been working with a consortium of architects on heritage sites in Campinas since 1989.

The woodwork depicted here is restored original, and shows colonial influence in the high, narrow doors and hand carved detail. Note the geometric zigzag pattern of the ceiling. That ceiling is in the main hall of the train station. With a little imagination one can almost hear the train wheezing to a stop on the platform and the station master yelling: All aboard! Okay, you're right. The call would have been tudo a bordo! But you get the idea.

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