A brief history of Pelotas


A French painter, Jean-Baptiste Debret, depicted the ‘small rounded leather boats”, known as ‘pelotas’ in one of his paintings in the early XIX century in his visit to southern Brazil. The city of Pelotas was founded in the 1780’s with the establishment of the first charqueadas, or livestock ranches, where cattle were killed and their meat dried in the sun, which turned the town into a jerked meat industrial hub in Rio Grande do Sul. One of the first charqueadores or cattle ranchers was Domingos de Almeida, an intellectual leader of the Farroupilha Revolution (1835 – 1845). The rapid economic growth of the town not only made its name known on the world map, but also enabled many of its inhabitants to be educated in Europe, where they would bring back a strong cultural and architectural influence from, thus allowing the town dwellers of the time to dub it as “The Athens of Rio Grande do Sul” and “Southern Princess”.

Pelotas attracted distinguished travelers and chroniclers, such as Saint-Hillaire and Arsène-Isabelle in its early days. The town became a freguesia, with an independent parish from its mother county, in 1812 to quickly reach a population similar to that of Porto Alegre and São Paulo by the end of the nineteenth century. Its economy allowed the construction of the first steamboat in Brazil. If on the one hand its growth was essentially due to slave labor, on the other hand some it its sons were eminent political personalities, such as Ferreira Viana – the author of the slavery abolition bill in Brazil – and  Álvaro Chaves, who reorganized the Republican Party in Rio de Janeiro and founded the Republican Club of Rio Grande do Sul. In fact, Pelotas is the only Brazilian city to have erected a pro-Republic obelisk during the monarchy. The slavery past of the city and its Public Library, built in 1875, have also attracted many researchers, among whom the sociologist Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who sought subsidies for his thesis Capitalism and Slavery in Southern Brazil in the local library.

The economic and cultural growth of the past is reflected not only in the fontes d’art or fountains imported from France – landmarks of the town to this day, but above all in literature and art, from the poet Lobo da Costa to the intellectual and the writer João Simões Lopes Neto, who wrote Contos Gauchescos (Tales of the Gaucho) and Lendas do Sul (Southern Legends); both works would influence Guimarães Rosa to write Grande Sertão: Veredas (English version titled ‘The Devil to Pay in the Backlands’). This was also the homeland of Hipólito José da Costa, the ‘Father of the Brazilian Press’, and well as the first female doctors in the country. In painting, it is worth mentioning Leopoldo Gotuzzo, and in sculpture, Antonio Caringi – one of the greatest sculptors in Rio Grande do Sul. Pelotas also hosts 7 de Abril, one of the oldest theaters in the country, and the Music Conservatory, the second music-teaching institution opened in the state and the sixth in Brazil, operating non-stop to this day. It is therefore no accident that the town also gave the music scene the lyrical soprano Zola Amaro. Mário Ferreira dos Santos, often considered a prominent name in the Brazilian philosophical scene, also lived here during his childhood and adolescence.

The Philosophy Graduate Program, as well as the Philosophy Department, are pleased to welcome its guests to this ‘culture capital’ of southern Brazil where the Federal University of Pelotas, with its 101 undergraduate, 39 Master’s and 14 PhD programs, plays an important role in a city which houses over 30,000 college students.

Prof. Luís Rubira