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São Cristóvão

São Francisco Square, in the town of São Cristovão, is a quadrilateral open space surrounded by substantial early buildings such as São Francisco Church and convent, the Church and Santa Casa da Misericórdia, the Provincial Palace and the associated houses of different historical periods surrounding the Square. This monumental ensemble, together with the surrounding 18th- and 19th- century houses, creates an urban landscape which reflects the history of the town since its origin. The Franciscan complex is an example of the typical architecture of the religious order developed in north-eastern Brazil.

São Cristóvão was the old capital of Sergipe del Rey; it demonstrates the occupation processes of the region and the development of towns founded during the reign of King Philip II, during the 60-year period when Portugal was under Spanish domain.

The modes of territorial occupation and settlement used by Spain and Portugal in their American colonies between the 15th and the 17th centuries were distinctive. Portugal established a maritime trade network, and was able to occupy coastal territories in Africa and Asia prior to establishing trade and colonial settlements in Brazil. Portugal occupied the Brazilian coast, founding port cities as connection points with Portugal and its other colonies. The urban plans of these settlements respected the topography by adapting the layouts to local conditions.

The history of São Cristóvão is related to the colonisation of Sergipe, when due to the strong resistance of the indigenous people, it was vital to establish a constant communication between Salvador and Olinda, the two most important urban centres of the colony. It was also crucial to secure free access to the main rivers, often blocked by French smugglers.

In order to strengthen the colony in its conflicts with the Brazilian Amerindians and the French smugglers, Cristóvão de Barros founded the city of São Cristóvão, on the isthmus formed by the Poxim River, in the present-day Aracajú region. The land was granted to him by King Philip II with the expectation that it would be divided among the colonists, encouraging the settlement process. The town was moved in 1594-95 and again in 1607 to its present location. São Cristóvão became the capital of Sergipe, the administrative and commercial centre between Salvador and Recife, and the departure point for the colonisation of the hinterland up to the mid-19th century.

In 1855, the state capital was transferred to the city of Aracajú. São Cristóvão, with its churches, convents and secular mansions, remains as a testimony to the past of Sergipe and Brazil.
In 1938, São Cristóvão was declared an Historic Monument by the State government. Between 1941 and 1962 many monuments were individually protected, and in 1967 the Architectural, Urban and Landscape Ensemble of São Cristóvão was registered at the federal level in the Archaeological, Ethnographic and Landscape Protection Book
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