The port itself is an unforgettable spectacle. A constant throng of activity stretches along the riverfront, while the ships tied up at the docks bob serenely up and down. Boats are getting ready to leave, or having just arrived are busy unloading. People cook fish at stalls to sell to the hungry sailors and their passengers, or to the workers once they've finished their shift of carrying cargo from the boats to the distribution market.
Hectic and impossibly complex and anarchic as it appears to the unaccustomed eye, the port of Manaus is in fact very well organized. During the day there's no problem wandering around, and it's easy enough to find out which boats are going where just by asking around. At night, however, this can be a dangerous area and is best avoided: many of the river men carry guns.
This building stands near the floating docks. Erected in 1906, the building was shipped over from Britain in prefabricated blocks. The floating docks, too, were built by a British company, at the beginning of the twentieth century. To cope with the river rising over a 14 m range, the concrete pier is supported on pontoons which rise and fall to allow even the largest ships to dock here all year round (the highest recorded level of the river so far was in 1953, when it rose some 30 m above sea level).
Rio Negro Palace:
This is a gorgeous colonial-period mansion which houses the archives (manuscripts, drawings and plans) of the 19th century Portuguese naturalist and scientist, Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira. The center also hosts a wide range of exhibitions, drama and events, and has a good bookstore.
Mercado Municipal Aldofo Lisboa:
This is a covered market from which the elegant Art Nouveau roof was designed by Eiffel during the rubber boom and is a copy of the former Les Halles market in Paris. Here tropical fruit and vegetables, jungle herbs, scores of different fresh fishes and Indian craft goods are jumbled together on sale.
The elegant interior of this 1896 opera house, completed after 15 years, boasts crystal chandeliers, wrought-iron banisters, and Italian frescoes. Built with the aid of materials and artists brought from Europe, its central area, in the shape of a harp, can seat 640 people in the stalls. In 1965 it was declared part of the Brazilian national heritage and was reopened in 1996 after complete restoration. Operas and other events fill the stage regularly.
Its main feature, the fantastic cupola, was created from 36,000 tiles imported from Alsace in France. The theatre's main curtain, painted in Paris by Brazilian artist Crispim do Amaral, represents the theme of the meeting of the waters and the local Indian water goddess Iara.
The 4 painted pillars on the ceiling depict the Eiffel tower in Paris, giving visitors the impression, as they look upwards, that they are actually underneath the tower itself. The chandeliers are of Italian crystal and French bronze, and the theatre's 700 seats and its main columns and the balconies are made of English cast iron. If you include the dome, into which the original curtain is pulled up in its entirety, the stage is a vertical 75 m high. Major restorations have taken place in 1929, 1960, and 1974 and, most recently, in 1990, when the outside was returned from blue to its original pink.
Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Conceição:
Commonly known as the Igreja Matriz, this is a relatively plain building, surprisingly untouched by the orgy of adornment that struck the rest of the city. The original 18th century cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1850, and the present building dates from the mid-19th century. Around the cathedral is the Praça da Matriz, a shady park popular with local courting couples, hustlers and sleeping drunks. There are a number of outdoor bars here, open in the daytime only.
Instituto Geografico e Historico do Amazonas:
Founded in 1917 on one of the city's oldest streets, the building is now a heritage site and has been recently restored. The institute's small museum includes a collection of ceramics from various tribes, a range of insect displays and indigenous tools like stone axes and hunting equipment.
Museu do Homem do Norte:
This museum has a collection of objects illustrating the way of life, customs and culture of the local people.
Museu do Indio:
The museum is run by the Salesian Sisters, who have long-established missions along the Rio Negro, especially with the Tukano tribe. There are excellent, carefully presented displays, with exhibits ranging from sacred ritual masks and inter-village communication drums to fine ceramics, superb palm-frond weavings and even replicas of Indian dwellings.
Museu Amazonico da Universidade do Amazonas:
This museum houses a small collection of 16th century documents and engravings relating to the first explorations of the interior.
Praça São Sebastião:
The wavy black-and-white mosaic designs of the square are home to the "Monument to the Opening of the Ports", a marble and granite creation with 4 ships that represent 4 continents; America, Europe, Africa and Asia/Australasia and children who symbolize the people of those continents.