Pernambuco, Brazil Overview

State of Pernambuco

In the first centuries of colonization, Pernambuco was one of the richest captaincies in Brazil, thanks mainly to the production of sugar. Its capital became one of the first cultural hotspots in the colony.

State of the Brazilian Northeast, Pernambuco is limited to the east with the Atlantic Ocean, to the north with Paraíba and Ceará, to the west with Piauí and, to the south with Bahia and Alagoas. It occupies an area of ​​98,938km2. Its capital is Recife.

Physical geography

Geology and relief

According to, the state of Pernambuco exhibits modest relief, with low elevations and a predominance of flat or regular topography. 76% of the state’s territory is below 600m of altitude, and between 62 and 300m, 62%. The morphological picture comprises three units: the coastal lowland, the Borborema plateau and the crystalline pediplane.

In the coastal lowlands, the following are distinguished, from east to west: beaches, protected by reefs; a strip of sandstone boards, forty to sixty meters high; and the strip of crystalline terrain carved into hills, which gently rise to the west until reaching 200m at the foot of the Borborema escarpment.

Both the strip of boards and the hills are cut across wide valleys where wide floodplains are sheltered (alluvial plains). Strong contrasts are observed between the poor soils of the trays and the richest soils of the hills and floodplains (massapê). In the last two, the aptitude of the Pernambuco coast rests for the cultivation of sugar cane, the base of its agricultural economy.

The Borborema plateau rises about seventy kilometers from the coast. Its eastern edge, steep, dominates the coastal lowlands with an unevenness of 300m, which gives it an altitude of 500m above sea level. Inland, the plateau rises further and reaches 800m in its center, from where it goes down until it reaches 600m near the western edge. It thus presents a pronounced bulging. The topographies of the eastern portion and the western portion differ considerably. To the east, crests rise from the east to west over the surface of the plateau, separated by valleys, which form little relief of 300m. To the west it dominates regular relief, slightly sloping to the south, towards the São Francisco River, and limited to the west by a tortuous outline.

The crystalline pediplane extends beyond the western edge of the plateau. Its regular relief, with a level between 300 and 400m, is dominated both by sedimentary reliefs (remnants of the capping that covered the entire area previously), and by small residual saws.


Two climatic types characterize the state, Köppen’s As’ and BSh climates. The As’ climate, tropical, with autumn-winter rains, dominates the eastern portion of the state. Records annual average temperatures of 25o C and annual rainfall of 1,500mm. The warm, semi-arid BSh climate dominates the central and western portions of the state. It registers average annual temperatures of 25o C in the west and 23o C in the center of the state, where the higher altitude reduces the temperature. The rainfall, which falls rapidly from the coast to the interior, always remains below 600mm annually. The São Francisco valley records the lowest totals, less than 500mm.

The rains occur in the summer, and the winters in most of the area are dry. Only in the transition zone to a more humid climate, on the coast, does the rainy season occur in autumn-winter. A marked irregularity characterizes the rainfall in the area of ​​dominance of this climatic type, with years in which the rainy season does not take place or becomes scarce and late. Then, the economic and social crisis caused by the drought was triggered.

In Pernambuco, as in the other states of the coastal Northeast, there is a well marked transition zone between the dry climate of the interior and the humid climate of the coast: it is the wild area, in which there are still some more humid areas, the swamps, resulting from a more copious rainfall, linked to local rainfall.


The state comprises the perennial tropical forest, the semideciduous tropical forest (wild) and the caatinga. The tropical forest once covered the entire region located east of the eastern slope of Borborema, which is why the region has come to be called the forest zone. Currently, little remains of the primitive vegetation, which has given way to fields of culture and artificial pastures.

The transition area between humid and semi-arid climates is covered by peculiar forest vegetation, where species from the Atlantic forest and the caatinga are mixed. It is the vegetation of the agreste, which also gives its name to the region. Finally in the rest of the state, that is, inland, the caatinga dominates, characteristic of the hinterland.


Two hydrographic domains divide Pernambuco. The first comprises small independent hydrographic basins, formed by rivers that flow directly into the Atlantic: the basins of the Goiana, Capibaribe, Ipojuca, Camarajibe and Una rivers. The second domain consists of the Pernambuco portion of the São Francisco River basin: small tributaries on the left bank, including Moxotó and Pajeú. São Francisco forms the border between Pernambuco and Bahia. With the exception of São Francisco and coastal rivers, all rivers in Pernambuco have temporary regimes: they flow only in the rainy season.


A strong contrast between rainy and dry areas marks the state of Pernambuco. The entire humid portion is densely populated, especially in the Recife area. A little further inland, in the southern wilderness, this density drops, becoming even lower in the Ipojuca valley. In the transition area to the sertão the density decreases even more rapidly, mainly in the south, the driest region of the state.

Urban network

The entire territory of Pernambuco is located in the area of ​​influence of Recife, whose action also reaches the territories of Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceará, Piauí and the eastern part of Maranhão. To the south its influence is hampered by the action of the city of Salvador, leaving the states of Alagoas and Sergipe and the north of the state of Bahia in an area where the primacy of either of the two metropolises is not well defined.

The capital of Pernambuco is among the largest in the country. The expansion of its urban area by neighboring municipalities led to the formation of a metropolitan area in which the municipalities of Abreu e Lima, Cabo, Camarajibe, Igaraçu, Itamaracá, Itapiçuma, Jaboatão dos Guararapes, Moreno, Olinda, Paulista and São Lourenço da Mata participate . Other important cities in the state are Caruaru, Petrolina, Vitória de Santo Antão, Garanhuns and Goiana.

Pernambuco, Brazil Overview

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