Tim Baynes' illuminating guide to the sites you mustn't miss in Brazil's biggest city
I ask several precious colleagues what I should go and see in Sao Paulo – I got the same answers and paid my dear driver Elaine for a couple of hours of her time.
Architect Oscar Niemeyer is as big a hero in Brazil as Ayrton Senna da Silva. He is also considered one of the biggest names in international modern architecture, a pioneer using reinforced concrete to create dynamic and curves – architect or sculptor?
Memorial da América Latina is set over a large open site. We wandered round the concert hall, gallery, murals and library, next to a spectacular concrete hand protruding out of the ground with Latin America running red from the palm into the ground – Oscar’s gigantic structures and curved forms complement an enormous free feel of the place.
Everyone said don’t go to the São Paulo Cathedral without an escort. Outside the main doors, in the square, are speech makers, down and outs, people asking for money and traders of all kinds. Elaine and I hid all visible attributes of wealth, our phones, purses, my camera, Moleskine and scurried through the throng.
Inside I stared up at its five-aisled nave and a dome that reaches 30 metres over the crossing trying to get some of it down in my sketchbook. Elaine smiled sheepishly trying not to look too uncomfortable. The Pope is due here in four weeks time; let’s hope he feels more at ease when he pays his visit.
Five minutes brisk walk from the Catedral da Sé (no eye contact with the locals) and you reach the Patio do Colégio, erected on the very site of the Jesuit mission. The Patio do Colégio marks the place where the city of Sao Paulo was founded in 1544, a Jesuit school was built in this spot with the help of the local Guaianas, Native American inhabitants.
The Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (meaning Art Gallery) is a bright sunlit joy – Elaine added it to the itinerary as her personal contribution. It's the perfect place for anyone wanting to see and understand Brazilian art. Renovated in 1997, the roof and many interior walls were removed, replaced with a latticework of glass and open spaces, and connected by a series of iron and steel catwalks within a neoclassical building, built around 1900; it is a lovely place to visit.
The lung of the city is the Parque Ibirapuera, where Paulistas come to play, which was created by the illustrious Niemeyer. Among its facilities open to the public is an auditorium, planetarium, botanical gardens and green house and the cool and spacious Museum of Modern Art (MAM) where I enjoyed a good show of photography.
Tim Baynes, is a senior executive with the BBC. He has recorded his impressions of more than 20 years of travel with sketches and observations from Istanbul to New York to Tokyo. His book, Drawing from Experience, is available from his website.