Discovering the fortresses of the Island of Santa Catarina

Barracks of the Santa Cruz de Anhatomirim Fortress

razil is a country of continental dimensions. In the region of Florianópolis, in southern Brazil, a group of fortresses helped to build a nation with such a large territory. Part of this set of buildings was recovered from ruin and is under the care of the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC). The buildings are now considered secular historical monuments. Despite being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and construction works in some places, here is the opportunity to learn a little about this history.

More than 500 years ago, Brazil was a colony of Portugal with little definition of its exact dimensions. To the south, the Portuguese vied for control of the region with Spain. The Spaniards had been exploring wealth, such as gold and silver, from their own colonies in America. The estate was transported by boats along the Rio da Prata – the estuary that divides the territories that are today Uruguay and Argentina (countries of Spanish colonization). At the end of the 15th century, Portugal and Spain had already established an imaginary line that divided America in two, through the Treaty of Tordesillas. However, with the discovery of other lands and new wealth in the west of the continent, the Portuguese intended to invade the territory that, by agreement, belonged to Spain.

José da Silva Paes (Lisbon, 25 of October of 1679 – Lisbon, 14 of November of 1760) was a military and engineer who was sent to Brazil by the Portuguese Crown to work in the administration of the Portuguese colony in Southern Brazil. In order to protect the territory from Spain, he designed and built the fortresses that constituted the main defense system of the Island of Santa Catarina. Besides that, he was also responsible for the construction of geopolitical guidelines to guarantee the Portuguese presence in Prata River and Rio Grande do Sul. In 1739, he was designated first governor of the newly created captaincy of Santa Catarina, a position he held for 10 years.

These territorial disputes caused the Portuguese Crown to build fortresses in South America. Some were built in the current state of Rio Grande do Sul. Many of these buildings disappeared over time. In Santa Catarina, a state whose capital is Florianópolis, some fortresses have withstood time and were recovered. The biggest one is the Santa Cruz de Anhatomirim Fortress – an entire fortified island located in the north bay in Florianópolis. This fortification was built in 1739, initiating the region’s defense strategy.

The Santa Cruz de Anhatomirim Fortress

Over time, the Portuguese completed an entire system that came to have almost 30 buildings dedicated to the defense of the island of Santa Catarina. Among the main ones, we can mention, besides Anhatomirim, the São José da Ponta Grossa Fortress, the Santo Antônio de Ratones Fortress, the Nossa Senhora da Conceição de Araçatuba Fortress, the Sant’Anna Fort and the Santa Bárbara Fort.

Three of these buildings (Anhatomirim, Ratones and São José) have been under the care and management of UFSC for over 40 years. They have become tourist and cultural centers that receive around 200,000 people annually. These fortresses, due to their strategic and military position, became known as the North Bay Defensive Triangle.

The North Bay Defensive Triangle: (1) the Santa Cruz de Anhatomirim Fortress; (2) the São José da Ponta Grossa Fortress and (3) the Santo Antônio de Ratones Fortress

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