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Monumental changes

Keeping a breadmaking business going—and profitable—in the middle of Recife Antigo , (Old Recife, the historic center of the capital of the Brazilian state of Pernambuco) would seem like a high-risk proposition.

But a bakery was the idea that came to Timm Mendes when he arrived in Recife from Germany in 1998 to study in an exchange program at the Federal University of Pernambuco. A year later, he opened Brotfabrik, and he’s never regretted it. Recife Antigo, a district of colonial-era buildings which had been neglected until then, has since attracted investments and undergone exterior renovations, and is today a center for the city’s economic, cultural and social life. “It used to be practically dead there, but now it’s turning into a very interesting commercial area,” Mendes says.

Mendes’s business has benefited from the restoration of one of Recife’s 32 historic districts, a joint project of the Brazilian government and the IDB. Funding has come from the Monumenta Program, which has a total budget of US$125 million, of which the IDB contributed US$62.5 million.

The program goes far beyond simply conserving Brazil’s historic heritage, and Recife Antigo is concrete proof. Monumenta obtained public funds to help restore the 18th-century Madre de Deus (“Mother of God”) church and the Chantecler building, home to a famous brothel in the 1950s. These two projects whetted private-sector interest, and the Shopping Paco Alfandega mall went up next to the church. A huge business for this area, the mall houses 116 shops (including the very exclusive Fause Haten and Alexandre Herchconitch), eight movie theaters and an entire floor of restaurants.

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Uncovering a colonial street in Olinda.

The excavations for the mall’s parking garage constitute a separate and fascinating chapter in the story. After the digging began, a rich trove of historic artififacts came to light, including Portuguese and Dutch antiques dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, these are on display in a museum within the mall. A total of nearly 120,000 fragments were saved, including pieces of fabric, ceramic vessels, bottles, necklaces and even a can of sardines from France.

At Chantecler, once a luxurious spot in bohemian circles, work proceeded very carefully because the building was in serious danger of collapse. Its framework had almost disintegrated, requiring a tremendous effort to keep the façade intact. After the restorations were finished, the building was converted into a cultural center, with a “café concert” and space for theaters and movie houses. “There aren’t enough entertainment venues for tourists,” says project director Fabio Oliveira. The restoration cost 8 million reais (approximately US$2.6 million), of which the IDB contributed 3.5 million reais (approximately US$1.2 million).

More than restoration. In addition to investing in historic areas, the Monumenta program promotes economic and educational activities, as well as training and institutional strengthening. The latter is one of the program’s most outstanding contributions. “The various groups involved in conserving historic heritage worked together very closely,” explains Ana Lucía Dezolt, an IDB specialist who is overseeing the project. “They include the municipalities, the National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN) and the Ministry of Culture.” In addition, Dezolt continues, the municipalities developed a very clear understanding of how important their historic heritage is, which is essential for being able to sustain the investments now being made.

Monumenta has participated in projects in 17 cities throughout Brazil, with another six projects in preparation. Each municipality has a customized training program in order to provide quality technical assistance to the agencies charged with carrying out the projects. In some cases, as in the historic city of Olinda, also located in Pernambuco, the program has even had an environmental impact, thanks to projects to improve sewage systems, clean streets and control hillside erosion. Named a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1982, Olinda has received Monumenta funding for 18 projects, including renewal, restoration of churches, road repairs and lighting.

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