Currently the best place in the historic center of Manaus, and one of the best in the entire city, Largo de São Sebastião is a space where you will find great monuments of the city's history, including the Church of St. Sebastian (Igreja de São Sebastião), the Palace of Justice and the famous Amazonas Opera House.
Important historic monuments make the Largo an indispensable spot to visit for anyone who's in Manaus. The Monument to the Opening of Ports, located right in the middle of the square and surrounded by trees, was erected in honor of the opening of Brazil's ports to trade with countries other than Portugal. Built in marble with an incredible number of details, it has at the top a female figure, representing the Amazon, being courted by Hermes, the Greek god of commerce. At the base, four caravans point in opposite directions, each carrying a name of a continent. The floor of the square around the monument has wavy lines in black and white that refer to the Meeting of Waters. The same pattern is displayed on the sidewalk of Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, but ours was built decades before.
At the right side, we find the monument that gives the square its name, the Church of St. Sebastian. Built of stone in medieval style, it has a beautiful night lighting and the interior impresses with its ceiling paintings. A curious fact is that it has only one tower built, and the design of the Church clearly indicates the intention of raising a second tower as well. There are many legends to explain the lack of construction (like the one that says that the second tower was being transported on a ship from Europe, which sank en route), but apparently the real reason is that at that time, the churches paid taxes depending on their size, including the number of towers. Thus, the priests never finished building the second tower to avoid additional expenses.
Shortly after the Church, dominating the landscape, we have the Amazonas Opera House. Located on a small hill, its beauty can be noticed right in the stairway and in its exterior gardens, which exhibit four female figures made of marble. The dome that displays the colors of the Brazilian flag makes this Theatre not only impressive, but unique in the world. Although the number of seats is limited, only 701 spots, the luxury of its interior details makes the experience of watching a show there pretty nice. The guided visits can be made from 10am to 17h at a price of R$10. However, the best way to enjoy the Theatre is watching one of the several concerts and shows that take place inside the Opera House on a regular basis and free of charge. Check out our calendar to see the cultural programming of the month.
Behind the Theatre, we have the Palace of Justice. Currently functioning as a cultural center, it open to guided visits and also displays periodic exhibitions of local artists. Besides having one of the most beautiful facades of the entire historic center of Manaus, the interior of its lobby is the most imposing of the entire city (even more than that of the Opera House). Admission is free.
Although not exactly built on the Largo de São Sebastião, the Museum House of Eduardo Ribeiro is located very close to its vicinity. The restored house was once the residence of the governor Eduardo Ribeiro, responsible for the transformation of Manaus into the "Paris of the Tropics" during the rubber boom. The museum recreates perfectly the atmosphere of a home in the late nineteenth century, with all its furniture. In addition, copies of the drawings shows the construction of the Amazonas Theatre, and through touch-screen TVs scattered in various rooms of the house, it presents the history and projects of the former governor, including those that were never completed, like the imposing Government Palace, which would be the greatest building in Brazil at the time. The Museum also hosts classical music evenings during the weekends, with free entry.
Small museums and cultural centers make the visit to the Largo even more interesting. The House of Music Ivete Ibiapina honors an important local pianist and hosts regular concerts and musical performances. The House of Arts, a nice house in colorful shades of red, orange and blue, periodically displays collections of local artists, mostly painters and photographers.
However, the most notable center of all is definitely the Gallery of the Largo. Installed in a historic mansion, it houses a permanent exhibition of Santa Anita, a large model of an imaginary city that was built by the late journalist Mario Ypiranga Monteiro in honor of his wife. The whole history of the model (and the love story that prompted its construction) is exposed in several panels in the exhibition hall. The model then is a sideshow. One can spend hours looking at it and observing the many details of that world in motion: a train that runs throughout the city, fountains spouting water and even a fire being contained by firefighters are some of several events happening simultaneously. Admission is free and opening hours are from 6pm to 9pm every day.
Dining options available in Largo are simple but sufficient for a nice meal, and are not expensive. At Splash, you can find many types of pizza (formerly, they offered a delicious pizza of tambaqui, an Amazonian fish, and God knows why they took it off the menu), while at the African House (or Mundo dos Sucos) and the Casa do Pensador, two restored historic houses next to each other, you will find a variety of sandwiches, juices and simple dishes made from beef, chicken or fish. Meanwhile, at Cafe do Largo, another historic house, you can enjoy a menu with a bit more elaborate dishes which are named after rivers, cities and legends of the Amazon. At any one of those you can admire the grandeur of the Amazon Theater sitting in one of several tables set on the street. In addition, the Opera House and the Palace of Justice have their own internal coffee shops.
For those who just want an ice cold beer, the traditional Bar do Armando is the best option. The bar has the almost daily presence of its namesake owner, a friendly man who's over 70 years old and loves to talk to customers of his small but always busy historic house.
And the dining options continue to expand. In 2011, two new ventures were opened. Right beside Cafe do Largo, now we have the Glacial Ice Cream Parlor, the city's most famous ice cream chain. Be sure to request a free sample of any of the regional flavors before making your final request (try taperebá). Nearby, the Bar Estação Cultural Arte & Fato is a beautiful pub in the best British style. Lowered ceiling, dim light and retro décor give charm to the area (that used to work as a brothel), which features live music from Wednesday to Sunday. A variety of drinks abound, but to eat only some snacks.
Soon the Largo will also be home to the charming Juma Opera Hotel. The project includes the restoration of a beautiful historic mansion and the construction of a glass dome with a privileged view of the Amazonas Theatre, which is to house a sophisticated restaurant open to the public. The works have already started and you can see panels showing how the entire complex will be like.
Finally, a main aspect that makes the Largo de São Sebastião such a nice place is its functioning as an outdoor concert house. There are dance performances, music concerts, film screenings, plays and various children's activities happening every week, all outdoors.
Moreover, every year, Amazonas State Government organizes several festivals: opera, dance, film, theater, jazz, and the celebrations of Christmas. All these events use the Largo at some time in their schedules, especially in its opening and closing ceremonies. The Opera Festival, for example, which completes 15 years in 2011, always uses the entire length of the Largo, and the Opera House itself, as a showcase for its closing night, a grand spectacle that gathers more than 10,000 people. Check out our calendar to see the cultural festivals of this year.