Praça da Alfândega
From the Mercado Público and Praça XV, a labyrinth of pedestrian streets running parallel to Rua Sete de Setembro lead uphill towards the Praça da Alfândega, where you’ll immediately notice a trio of very handsome neoclassical buildings.
Built in the late 1920s, Santander Cultural (Rua Sete de Setembro 1028, tel. 51/3287-5500, www.santandercultural.com.br, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–7 p.m. Sat.–Sun.) is a former bank headquarters that was purchased by the Spanish Banco de Santander and converted into a great cultural center. Aside from a main-floor gallery that hosts important exhibits of national art and features a cinema, the Café do Cofre is a charming café located inside the former safe.
The palatial turn-of-the-20th-century Correios (post office) building now houses the Memorial do Rio Grande do Sul (Rua Sete de Setembro 1020, Centro, tel. 51/3225-8490, www.memorial.rs.gov.br, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun., free). If you want to bone up on Rio Grande do Sul’s history, this is the place to peruse illustrated timelines and learn about famous Gaúchos (among them President Getúlio Vargas and beloved diva Elis Regina) via videos, photos, and documents.
Occupying the former customs house is the Museu de Arte do Rio Grande do Sul (MARGS) (Av. Sete de Setembro 1010, Centro, tel. 51/3227-2311, www.margs.rs.gov.br, 10 a.m.–7 p.m. Tues.–Sun., free), with a mildly interesting collection of works by Brazilian and Gaúcho artists as well as frequent temporary exhibits and a rooftop café with great views of the city.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition