When the rubber boom transformed northeastern Brazil in the 19th century, Bel?m was the port city through which it flowed. Still the largest port in the Amazon region, Bel?m is the capital of the state of Par and gateway to the Amazon. Hot, humid, and pulsing with the beat of the great river, Bel?m is never dry. The afternoon rains are so predictable that local businessmen often set appointments for before or after the deluge.
The bustling dockside market, Mercado Ver-o-Peso ("watch the weight"), is a remnant of earlier times and stands in the same location where government officials once checked the weight and types of products. Today, the market is filled with the tropical fruits and river fish that form the basis of the regional cuisine, and with a variety of traditional medicines and magic potions, bath salts, and native handicrafts.
As in many Latin American cities, the Catholic churches of Bel?m are its prized architectural landmarks. The most significant are the Baroque Merc?s Church that dates from the late 17th century and Nossa Senhora de Nazar? Basilica, the final frenzied stop of the C¡rio de Nazar? parade each October. The most important religious ceremony in the north, the C¡rio de Nazar? is held in honor of the Virgin Mary and is celebrated with fireworks, music, a procession, and a feast. Another of the city's architectural jewels is the Paz Theater, a sumptuous 19th-century relic adorned with crystal mirrors, marble sculptures, and a frescoed ceiling.
For travelers who want to see the rainforest without actually having to brave the rigors of the trip, the celebrated natural history Goeldi Museum contains an impressive collection of tropical plants and animals in its zoological and botanical gardens.