Dubbed the ‘Paris of the South’ during its fifteen minutes of fame in Brazil’s rubber boom of the 19thcentury, Manaus has never really lived up to its reputation. I expected to find a glamorous city, or at least a certain amount of faded grandeur. However, it was not dissimilar to Belem, the port at the opposite end of the Amazon: although interesting, it is noisy and bustling, every street lined with market stalls and, unfortunately, rubbish and broken pavements everywhere.
Every street has its impromptu market stalls
Every inch of space is pressed into service by street traders!
There are a few grand buildings, and some nice parks, but they are far and few between.
An oasis of calm at the centre of Manaus
However, what everyone who comes here wants to see is the Opera House, which is small but rather grand. We were lucky enough to be able to walk round when the orchestra was practising, and we sat and listened to them for a while while admiring the ceiling, which is not a fresco but a painting on canvas that was brought across from Paris.
The nineteenth century Opera House
Boxes, for those who want to be seen
The guided tour took us upstairs to the boxes – ‘for people who are not interested in the opera, but who are interested in being seen, in displaying their clothes and jewellery’ (no change there, since the 19th century) – and the miniscule ballroom where we put on slippers to protect the floor patterned from different types of brazil wood. Around the walls of the ballroom are scenes from the Amazon – with brightly coloured jaguars and birds – and the ceiling has an angel in a yellow dress whose eyes follow you everywhere (apparently modelled on La Gioconda).
Amazon scene on the walls of the Ballroom
We left the Opera House, spirits restored, with thoughts of stopping off in a quiet café. But the quiet café never materialised: we walked back into the noise and the chaos, and then it started to rain.