The waterfalls, paradise beaches, and 65 idyllic islands near the colonial town of Paraty in Rio de Janeiro state have become tourist attractions in the past decades. But if you’re planning to visit this coastal town and expect to find only picturesque landscapes, prepare yourself to be surprised by the mysticism and symbolism of Paraty’s 18th-century architecture, and what it unravels.
Paraty was built by Freemasons when Brazil was under Portuguese rule, and the colonial Masonic architecture and colorful symbols can be found all over the historic center. There are iconic geometric ciphers, vertical bands of Freemasons’ geometric panels, and street corners with three pillars in stone and one in whitewash (symbolizing a triangle standing for liberty, equality, and fraternity). Many of the buildings are painted blue and white, the ancient Masonic colors.
Freemasons established Paraty after fleeing persecution in Europe. While the group had to exist discreetly in the Old World, in Brazil they were free to paint the town with overt Masonic language and signs. The old city was designed with 33 blocks (the Freemasons’ sacred number); the houses were built in 1: 33.33 scale; and the town was once governed by 33 councilmen. A huge monument of the Masonic Square and Compasses symbol was even found, mysteriously, by a diver deep underwater off the Island of Meros.
The Masons had a huge influence on the architecture of the Paraty, which has a unique feeling of being trapped in time. In this tranquil setting we can find, for example, the church of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, dating from 1667, a time when the city was one of the main commercial sea ports in the world, or even centenary forts and warehouses, a reminiscence of Portuguese architecture in Brazil.
Paraty’s mystic past, as well as the natural beauty of the Atlantic rain forest, make this UNESCO site a unique travel destination. The town’s cobbled streets, the little shops, the adorned windows and narrow doorways are a tempting invitation for a pleasant stroll or a quest to find the city’s surviving Masonic stores.
Know Before You Go
The map coordinates above are for the Casa de Cultura (House of Culture), located in the historic center of Paraty.