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Day 58: Parati

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With Dom João and Brazil's old royal family. Behind us the two princesses, Isabella and Leopoldina.
Michael Palin - BrazilAs the nineteenth century opened Brazil was firmly ensconced as a part of the Portuguese empire. Twenty-two years later, everything had changed. It all began with Napoleon. After his invasion of Portugal in 1807, the royal family, escorted by the British Navy, fled Europe and set up court in Rio de Janeiro. The Portuguese king, João VI, ruled his empire from Brazil for twelve years. In 1821 he returned home to Lisbon, leaving his son Dom Pedro behind as Prince Regent.

'That was my great-great-grandfather.'

I'm standing in front of a portrait embodying all the grandeur of European royalty. Beside me is a good-looking man with neatly trimmed beard and moustache, and more than a touch of an ageing Brad Pitt about him. He nods to the painting.

'He had a vision. A national vision, not a colonial vision. A vision that independence was the only way to keep this country together.'

On 7 September 1822, Dom Pedro declared himself Emperor of an independent Brazil and, as far as his great-great-grandson is concerned, saved it from the fragmentation and political instabilities that blighted the Spanish, the other empire in South America. He argues that the shape, size and stability of modern Brazil is due to the enlightened foresight of the stern-jawed figure who stands before us in an elaborate gold-leaf frame, Emperor Dom Pedro I.

A partisan view perhaps, coming as it does from Dom João de Orléans e Bragança, who still calls himself 'Prince', but the man I'm talking to is a thoroughly modern Brazilian. A staunch republican who writes political articles for the newspapers, he is a noted conservationist, anthropologist, photographer and entrepreneur. And he seems on the best of terms with everybody.

He also has one of the most beautiful houses I've seen in Brazil. It dates from the 1820s and looks out onto the sea in the old colonial town of Parati, some 300 kilometres (186 miles) south-west of Rio. When gold was discovered up in the mountains of Minas Gerais, Parati became one of the boom towns of Brazil, the nearest port to which the gold could be carried, by slaves under armed escort, before being shipped to Europe. When this lucrative traffic switched to Rio de Janeiro, Parati began a stately decline before being rediscovered as a tourist destination, conveniently situated midway between Rio and São Paulo. It's been carefully restored and is now one of Brazil's most favoured cultural venues, home to all sorts of events including an International Literary Festival.
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Dom João flanked by his relatives, Leopoldina, sister-in- law of Napoleon, and Dom Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 58: Parati
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Parati
  • Book page no: 246

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