Piauí in Brazil

But for a sliver of coast Piauí is dry sertão, pocked with jagged hills cut by canyons and dotted with weather-worn ancient mounds of rock. Few tourists stop here, but those that do seldom regret it. Torrid Teresina is a friendly and well-planned capital where foreigners are a curiosity, Parnaíba is a pretty colonial river port, and the dry interior is broken by a number of stunning and intriguing state and national parks. These include the enigmatic Serra da Capivara, Sete Cidades and the almost inaccessible Serra dos Confusões, beehive mounds sticking up out of the desert whose canyon walls are daubed with some of the oldest rock art in the Americas. And while Piauí's coast is tiny it includes the magnificent Delta do Parnaíba: one of the largest river deltas in the world, replete with mangrove swamps and tiny islands fringed with golden beaches and home to traditional communities who seldom see tourists. After neighbouring Maranhão, Piauí is the poorest state in Brazil. Its population is about 2.7 million, but many leave to seek work elsewhere. The economy is almost completely dependent upon agriculture and livestock, both of which in turn depend on how much rain, if any, falls.

Background

The state's long, thin, wineskin shape derives from its history and the course of the Parnaíba river, which winds 1480 km through the arid
sertão
to the Piauí coast. Piauí is the only state to have been founded from the interior rather than as a coastal port. It was initially explored from the Bahia and Pernambuco through the sertão by 18th-century ranchers looking for fresh pasture land. Long forgotten colonial towns such as Oerias date from this period. Other towns sprung up along the Parnaíba river, like Floriano, Amarante and, in 1852, Teresina. The latter remains the only northeastern capital to lie inland. The river's delta eventually became the coastal frontier of the state.

Until the early 19th century Piauí was under the control of neighbouring Maranhão. At Independence, there was bitter, bloodthirsty fighting between supporters of the Portuguese colony and the Brazilians who sought their freedom. And well into the 20th century Piauí maintained a strong tradition of Portuguese-inspired
Coronelismo
.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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