“A Rua do Ouvidor, a mais passeada e concorrida, e mais leviana, indiscreta, bisbilhoteira, esbanjadora, fútil, noveleira, poliglota e enciclopédica de todas as ruas da cidade do Rio de Janeiro, fala, ocupa-se de tudo; até hoje, porém, ainda não referiu a quem quer que fosse a sua própria história.” – J.M. de Macedo
One of the oldest streets in Rio de Janeiro, the Rua do Ouvidor was given its name in 1746 by Cariocas due to the fact the city’s ouvidor-mor (Chief Justice) lived in the street. The street existed as far back as 1568, when it was an access way from the port to the warehouses, and called Rua Desvio do Mar (lit. Sea Detour Street).
Ouvidor has gone by many other names, too. After Desvio do Mar, it was then known as Rua de Aleixo Manuel (around 1590, after one of its first residents), Rua da Cruz (with the construction of the Santa Cruz dos Militares Church in the 1620s), Rua do Padre Homem da Costa (in 1650), and Rua do Gadelha (not proven but said to have been the name of a section of the street). By 1745, the Fazenda Real (Royal Treasury) bought some houses on the street and sent the chief justice to live there. Sometime around the 1750s, the second, more well-known chief justice moved in, named Francisco Berquó da Silva Pereira. It was after him that the street took on its longest-lasting name, Rua do Ouvidor (although from 1897 to 1916, the street name was changed to Coronel Moreira Cesar, but everyone kept calling it Ouvidor until it got changed back.)
Machado de Assis once wrote that if Rio de Janeiro had a face, it’d be Rua do Ouvidor.
“Vede a rua do Ouvidor. É a fanfarronada em pessoa, exagerando, mentindo, tomando parte em tudo, mas de- sertando, correndo os taipais das montras a mais leve sombra de pe- rigo. Esse beco inferno de pose, de vaidade, de inveja, tem a especia- lidade da bravata. E fatalmente oposicionista, criou o boato” – João do Rio
Right after the Royal family moved to Rio, Ouvidor became an attractive place to be for businesses. Being that the street was next to the port, where ships would bring in adventurous businessmen and imported items, many of those foreigners set up shop on the street. Shops with fine products, fashionable clothes, women’s hairstylists, perfumeries, cafes, candy stores, jewelry shops, bookstores, live music halls and eventually, printing presses (many newspaper had their offices there and it’s also where many people went to pick up their favorite newspaper). It was said to have been like an “open-air club” where high society would meet each other.
By 1905, with the opening of the new Avenida Central (ie, Av. Rio Branco), Ouvidor became a bit of a has-been, but the fact that it’s been pedestrian-only since 1829 likely helped preserve the street.
Rua do Mercado at the corner of Rua do Ouvidor
Other interesting facts: Dona Leopoldina, the first empress of Brazil shopped on Ouvidor. And on any given day, one might have also run into important writers and politicians such as Machado himself, Olavo Bilac, Rui Barbosa, Joaquim Manoel de Macedo, Coelho Neto, Paula Nei, and Quintino Bocaiúva.
(Speaking of Coelho Neto, he once wrote about the smells of Ouvidor. At 4am, it was corrals, the garden, hot bread and editorials…as 6am, the market life started…joints of meat, baskets of fish…at other times of the day, he said it smelled like a strange sea breeze, and still, of soap, sauces, smoke, laundry, trash, sweat, flowers and perfume.)
Also, it’s important to note that a lot of innovations came first to Ouvidor before spreading to the rest of Rio and Brazil. Some of them were: the first telephone, the first movie theater, the first regular tram line, the first motel, the first people-only street, the first to get a proper sidewalk and to receive gas-, then electric-illumination.
If you speak Portuguese and want to learn more, try the first-hand account Memórias da Rua do Ouvidor by Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, Ouvidor, uma rua do Rio by Alberto Cohen, or even the works of Machado de Assis.