However, as at the Architectural Review in England, SPHAN served up a highly idiosyncratic version of the past. SPHAN, much influenced by Costa, has always emphasized the architecture of the Portuguese colonial period, representing it as the one true historical architecture. Its principal sites of the Baroque, now protected under the aegis of IPHAN (Instituto do Patrimonio Historico e Artistico Nacional, the successor to SPHAN) or UNESCO, or both, include the colonial hutches of Rio de Janeiro; most of the former capital of Minas Gerais, Ouro Preto; the historic centre of Salvador da Bahia in the north-east; the eighteenth-century centre of Olinda in the state of Pernambuco; and the missionary towns of the far south-east of Brazil.

Among these, Ouro Preto is probably pre-eminent in that it represents the most intact, and therefore immersive, colonial environment in Brazil. Its hilly landscape is dominated by churches, which are variations on the same theme: they are stone-built with (normally) twin facade towers and an elongated plan; they have highly sculptural stone doorways and occasional blue azulejos, but are otherwise unadorned; they have small window openings; and they are well adapted to a climate with both strong sun and high rainfall.
Domestic colonial Brazilian architecture is similarly plain, with intermittent decoration to give relief. Stone is the most common building material; walls are thick and ceilings are high. Brazilian colonial urbanism follows the Portuguese pattern, and is notably less formal and more picturesque than that found in Spain or Spanish America; its towns were formed for trading and developed organically. This narrative explains most substantive building in Brazil from the moment the Portuguese arrived in 1520 to its constitution as a republic in 1889.
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