Ical ting pot
No matter how you arrive in São Paulo, expect to be greeted by a city that's larger than life. This is a city that never sleeps, a city that's ever-changing and constantly in motion, a city whose population of barely 30 thousand back in 1872 has grown to a massive 12 million today. The pedestrianized streets between Largo de São Bento, Largo de São Francisco and Praça da Sé form the historic old town where the now-rare vestiges of the city's colonial past, dating back to the 16th century, rub shoulders with a mismatched selection of imposing art deco buildings, hinting at the district's former vibe. Dotted here and there are the towering skyscrapers that marked the onset of the city's upward expansion, symbolising the ascent of its thriving migrant populations, starting with the Italians: the Martinelli, the Altino Arantes and the Itália... Just a stone's throw away is shopper's paradise, 25 de Março, originally the cradle of the Syro-Lebanese population and now the place to which everyone flocks to snap up bargains from the lively street market. Further north, Luz railway station (1901), built in the architectural style of Westminster (it even boasts its own Big Ben!), bears testament to the downturn in the coffee trade, one of the mainstays of the region's economy until the 1930s. It was here that European workers travelling in from the port of Santos would get their first taste of the city. Bustling and buzzing by day, the area rapidly becomes deserted by night, with the exception of a few prestigious cultural venues such as the Theatro Municipal or the Sala São Paulo, along with a handful of bars and restaurants known only to the select few.
Head further south and experience a radically different vibe on strolling beneath the archway into Rua Galvão Bueno. The Liberdade District is home to São Paulo's Japanese population, estimated to stand at 1.6 million – the largest Japanese community in the world. In April and July, the traditional Flower Festival and Star Festival bring all the asian communities together. Further west, Bixiga and Bela Vista are where the majority of Italian immigrants have set up home, their influence omnipresent in the sing-song Paulista accent echoing the peninsula's many dialects, and in the continued celebration of Catholic festivals, such as the San Gennaro festival in Mooca and the Santa Achiropita festival in Bixiga. Numerous eateries along two of the local streets - Treze de Maio and Rui Barbosa – serve polenta, lasagne and polpettone, not to mention a whole host of other Italian specialities. This working class, bohemian neighbourhood is also home to one of São Paulo's oldest samba schools: the Vai-Vai.
THOUGH THE MIGRANTS OF YESTERYEAR CAME FROM ASIA AND EUROPE, TODAY THEY MAINLY ARRIVE FROM THE CONTINENT.
No cosmopolitan tour of São Paulo would be complete without taking in the Parque Ibirapuera, designed by Niemeyer and Burle Marx. The park is a true celebration of the Paulista cultural melting-pot, with its Afro-Brazilian Museum, Japanese Pavilion and monument to the Bandeiras, a huge sculpture honouring the formidable and intrepid mixed-race settlers whose entrepreneurial spirit recognize in themselves. The park is also home to the city's contemporary and modern art museums.
Though the migrants of yesteryear primarily flocked to São Paulo from the other side of the Atlantic, today they mainly arrive from the continent. The Italians and Jews who traditionally lived in Brás and Bom Retiro are gradually being replaced by Nordeste and Bolivian workers, bringing with them their costumes, celebrations and cuisine. The Immigration Museum in Brás documents all these important cultural shifts that make São Paulo what it is today. Because above and beyond its diversity, what makes São Paulo more special than ever, is its outstanding power of assimilation, ensuring it constantly evolves whilst nonetheless remaining true to its roots.
São Paulo’s Japanese community dates back to the 19th century and is particularly strong in the Liberdade District.