A Gruta – the origins

As a local myself, I have decided to immerse in far corners of the gruta (grotto) formerly known as Parque das Monções, a landmark based in Porto Feliz, my hometown. The gruta has been on my top list for a certain time and this year it has finally happened. Capturing the vegetation and also the very peculiar geological formation mostly known as Saliferous Wall. From a personal perspective, this trip to Brazil has led me deeply into a realm when sensing the ambience and acknowledging the authentic significance of this spot. From early years, the people from Porto Feliz tend to visit Parque das Monções as it offers a lot of space for reflection but also socialising. Since this is our mostly eminent landmark and asset in the city, local schools often bring their students for daily trips as the place promotes educational knowledge covering topics such as history, archaeology, geology, and biology. 

Following from the Fazenda Capoava’s project in 2012, a photographic ode to the powerful lifestyle of the citizens of Capoava’s Farm (a village founded in the late 1800s by immigrants that worked in the sugar cane local factory). Thus, this project is also something that deeply entailed in memories from my childhood. Walking in this place has always been part of everyone’s life; either in exploring or making this place known by attracting visitors from other parts of Brazil to admire our most valuable gem. 

Lastly but not least, I should concede that, specifically, presenting these photos to the world is unbelievably fulfilling and delightful especially because Parque das Monções has just turned 101 years old. A hundred and one years of reminiscences that persistently yet lightly exists in the heart and mind of all its visitors. 

Hope you enjoy! 

1 – The OriginO Parque das Monções

Located on the left bank of the Tietê River, a river conceived approximately 15 million years ago. Parque das Monções was created around the old Port of Arararitaguaba, the exact location from which, in the 18th and 19th centuries, was made around the old Port of Arararitaguaba; a specific spot from which, in the eighteenth and nineteenth hundreds of years, the scouts endeavoured to the newfound gold-bearing districts in Mato Grosso and Goiás departed. It is a location built to celebrate the memory of a glorious chapter of São Paulo’s flag movement, which is the primary, origin spot which expanded the boundaries of Brazil.

Parque das Monções was inaugurated on April 26, 1920. Today, Parque das Monções comprises a large green area and also features the Bandeirantes’s monument, right before the saliferous wall. It also has the Nossa Senhora de Lourdes’s cave, half of an original barge once used in the navigations and by a long staircase that gives access to the park. Parque das Monções is acknowledged as a historical, archaeological, artistic and tourist heritage.

2 – Setting off for an adventure

The set of stairs follows the way to the Port of Arararitaguaba, on the banks of the Tietê River, a spot that offers a more extensive perspective on nature beginning around 1920. The set of stairs is the way that joins the regular idea while entering it, to the most profound memorable, Parque of the Monções.

3 – The point of historical and artistic reference

The Bandeirantes’s monument is also a landmark which originated in 1920. This monument was planned by history specialist Afonso de Escragnolle Taunay, director and overseer of the Museu Paulista at the University of São Paulo. The landmark was made by the Italian stone carver Amadeu Zani. The landmark is in rock, in its lower part there are 3 boards (presented in a semicircle form) which depict the bronze multiplication of three significant iconographic records. The first being the Blessing of the Canoes by Hércules Florence, the second being a well known painting by Almeida Junior A Departure of the Monções, and the third Largada de Porto Feliz by Adrian Taunay. Furthermore, in the upper piece of the landmark, it features a pink marble rostral section highlighting an armillary circle representing the Great Portuguese Navigations.

4 – An indigenous observation, the saliferous wall

The paredão da gruta (big saliferous wall) is a saliferous rock formation composed of limestone and sandstone. The incredible thing about the wall is the intrusive sedimentary layers that geologists and historians still research. Some scientific and geological studies concluded by Unimonte University students claim that this archaeological site was submerged (sea or salt water) more than 400 million years ago, in the Permo-caboniferous period as per geological written accounts. Facing the submerged circumstances, it is also believed that the region of Porto Feliz faced temperatures below 0 degrees Celsius. This forced the deposited sediments from thousands of years prior to freeze on the seabed and, with time, travel to the succeeding continent. Following such transition, the sediments deposited became unstable and collapsed, generating turbidities, which are the rocks that form the saliferous wall of Parque das Monções. This gives rise to the archaic, indigenous name of the city, Arararitaguaba, meaning: “a place where macaws or (curved beak birds) land to eat the stone.’’

Here is the morphological breakdown of this indigenous word as follows:
ARAR – Macaw or curved beak birds,
ITA – Rock,
GU – to eat,
ABA – place.

5 – The French influence over Faith 

Excavated in the Saliferous Wall with loads of dynamite, the Grotto of Nossa Senhora de Lourdes was built by French priests Alexandre Hourdeau and Vitor Maria Cavron who noticed the similarity between the site and the French grotto in the city of Lourdes, France and made a faithful replica. The original. Since its inauguration, on August 15, 1924, the patron saint Nossa Senhora Mães dos Homens is commended consistently in a conventional festival in the city which happens every August, for the whole month.

6 – The sugar cane industry ascension and its revolution

From this viewpoint, which is paralleled to the Nossa Senhora Mães dos Homens’s cave is the first central sugar mill (Engenho Central de Usina de Açúcar). This sugar mill was the biggest in the State of São Paulo and the third in the country. The construction of such revolutionised sugar production throughout the region and contributed to the consolidation of an important interval in the economy of Porto Feliz. The sugar mill was inaugurated on October 28, 1878 and operated for more than a century as a production unit of Companhia União São Paulo. The Engenho underwent several transformations and was deactivated in 1991. During late 1970, the Brazilian government instated the pro-alcohol program, which aimed to stimulate a strong alternative of oil energy related products. As the Brazilian soil worked positively to the cultivation of sugar cane while the coffee, rice, corn, and cotton cultivation experienced a huge decline in the market, the sugar cane and coffee were benefitted by an increase of 270% per annum. For years, Brazil has been the number 1 exporter of sugarcane, exporting up to 25 million tons to countries around the globe.

7 – The barges

It was the type of vessel/canoe used in dozens of expeditions, handcrafted from a single trunk of Peroba Rosa or Ximbiúva tree wood (indigenous name), a very resistant wood that enabled the presence of up to 105 people in it. Its size was approximately 12 meters long. In a monção, the larger canoe (barge) also served as safety device and guide, carrying its Portuguese flag at the stern.

8 – Flowing against the odds

It is the longest river in the state of São Paulo, its name comes from the indigenous language (Tupi) meaning: voluminous river, caudal form. The Tietê River is born in Salesópolis, close to the sea hills and unlike other rivers, it goes against the course of the sea waters and enters the interior of Brazil. It was used as a viable and practical way by monçoeiros to explore the very deep interior of the states in the country.

9 – Flora & Fauna: One being ends, another begins.

It is assessed that Brazil has with the greatest number of endemic species on a global scale; between 15-20% of the world’s biological diversity, meaning over 46,000 species of plants, algae, and fungi – a higher number of plant species registered than any other country in the world. This Gruta, specifically, it hosts loads of species of many sorts which makes a great home for insects, fungi, plants and other sort of animals, including the big wild capybara. The massive and old trees meeting at the very top is likewise present in the whole spot, permitting sun beams to break through, feeding each and every corner it touches. As for woody plants, there are very few inoculations encountered over there however, the most striking perception one may have while gazing upward the endless connected trees is admitting that, when one being ends, another begins. This way, this place is perceived: making history and captivating the eyes of its visitors, unceasingly. Below you will see some species captured during my visit, which surely is documented amongst the 46,000 ones.

Monção: any of the expeditions that, going down and up the rivers of the captaincies of São Paulo and Mato Grosso, in the 18th and 19th centuries, maintained communications between the various points of these captaincies. ETIM > Origin > Arc PT ‘appropriate season for navigation’.

Monçoeiros: scouts, travellers that boarded on the barges up and down the Tietê river across the states of São Paulo and Mato Grosso.

Priscila Soares, B.Sc. Zoology, Termitologist. Universidade Federal do Paraíba.