Erasmos Sugar Mill (ruins)

Top photo: Antonio Vargas


Considered one of the country’s most important archaeological sites, the São Jorge dos Erasmos mill was the first sugar-cane mill in Brazil, according to Frei Gaspar de Madre de Deus and Iphan (Institute of National Historic and Artistic Heritage).


Built in 1543 at the foot of  Morro da Canaleira, it is considered the only one on Brazil – and perhaps the world – constructed in Azorean style, which identifies the archipelago where the Portuguese developed the sugar industry. This characteristic is attributed because of the unified construction, with all the installations under one roof. It is also the only mill in the country whose ruins are preserved.


Today the archaeological site is an advanced research, culture and USP university extension base. Turned into a tourist-cultural space, it offers a calendar of free activities, among them soirées, workshops, certificated courses, talks and concerts.
The mill is a hub for multiple professional activities. This is where historians, philosophers, archaeologists, geographers, biologists, engineers, architects, journalists and educators from many areas work and improve their knowledge.


Photo: Rosangela Menezes


Located at the current division between the cities of Santos and São Vicente, the watered-powered mill was constructed in a manner typical of the time: stone, whale oil and lime, with several buildings together under one roof. It is believed that there was a sugar mill, cauldrons, stores, stables and slave quarters.  
São Vicente Island, the site of the two cities, was the birthplace of the industrialization of sugar cane, and responsible for the exportation of the first cases of the American product to Europe. In the first half of the 16th century, Santos also had the Madre de Deus and São João mills.


Photo: Antonio Vargas


The mill produced sugar at least until 1580. At the beginning of the 17th century, it began to suffer the effects of the decline of the sugar industry in the country and of the competition from sugar produced in thge Northeast. But it continued producing sugar for export, as well as rapadura (hard, brown sugar) cachaça (sugar cane rum) for domestic use.
Around 1615, the building is said to have been destroyed by a fire caused by the Dutch pirate Joris Spilbergen.


Photo: Reproduction

Process of production

The ruins, occupying an area of around 3200m², were donated to USP (University of São Paulo) in 1958 and the surrounding area, approximately 4100 m², was given over to Santos city Hall in 1987. The area was thus considered a public utility, which guaranteed visibility around the ruins.
During excavations, USP found sweet bread tins from before 1615. These tins were cones with a hole at the pointed end, into which was poured the boiling sugar cane syrup, to be stored for 45 days. After this period, the ‘bread’  was taken out and sliced by slaves, who separated the lighter part, which formed on the top layer of the sugar block, for exportation. The bottom part, containing the mixture of  bagasse with impurities, was given to slaves as food (Foto meramente ilustrativa)


Photo: Reproduction


According to research into the ruins, the São Jorge dos Erasmos Mill was created from a commercial partnership that involved six partners:  Martim Afonso de Sousa (donatory of the Captaincy of São Vicente, considered the first ‘official’ colonizer in Brazil) and his brother Pero Lopes de Souza, Johan Van Hielst from Flanders, Francisco Lobo and Vicente Gonçalves.
The Mill received its name, São Jorge dos Erasmos acquired by the company, Erasmo Schetz and Sons. Banker and ship owner in Amsterdam,  Schetz bought the shares of each partner in 1544 and became the mill’s sole owner. The original documentation for the Mill was written in old Flemish.


Photo: Reproduction