A Dutch fleet finally gained control of Olinda on February 16th 1630, after the Dutch had tried unsuccessfully since 1625 to gain a foothold on the Brazilian coast with an eye on the sugarcane production. The Spanish and the Dutch were still engaged in the 80 Years War and since Portugal was in that period occupied by Spain, the Dutch could no longer trade with the Portuguese, hence their interest to establish their own territory.
It was under the governorship of Johan Maurits of Nassau (1636 - 1644) that the colony expanded and flourished. Freedom of worship attracted many from Europe (the first Jewish synagogue in the Americas was established in Mauritsstad) and the representative councils he introduced also had Portuguese settlers quietly accept Dutch rule.
Painters, artists and architects were invited over and soon Mauritsstad had a lively cultural scene was adorned with many splendid public buildings.
It is of the latter, that I hope to find a little bit in present day Recife, now a sprawling conurbation of some 3.7 million people, when my taxi drops me off at the Forte das Cinco Pontas. The fortress is beautifully restored and since it houses the Museo de Cidade I hope to find a little bit on the history of the town and its Dutch origins. But for two information boards at the entrance there is nothing unfortunately and when I walk the streets of the San Antonio area the fort now lies in there is nothing to be seen of the ‘many splendid buildings’ the Haarlem architect Pieter Post built during Maurits’ day. Only when I cross the bridge (already visible in the old paintings of the day) to the Barrio do Recife, I do find the Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue opened in 1636 (abandoned when the Portuguese took control again in 1654) in the otherwise very derelict area.
Maurits’ lavish reign was not appreciated by the parsimonious directors of the WIC and he was effectively recalled in 1644. With his ability gone, the Dutch rule began to crumble, finally ending with the Dutch retreat on January 28 1654. With them many of the settlers left (the Jewish for the most part to Amsterdam, but a smaller part also to New Amsterdam, where again the first synagogue in North America was established) some took the knowledge of the sugarcane production with them to Barbados, which, in a matter of decades only, became the most valuable colony of the British empire because of that (entry #309).