In the 16th century, the Portuguese and Spanish kings authorized Catholic orders to create missions to convert the natives. The Jesuits were the most successful order, establishing a series of reductions (missions) across Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina. At its height in the 1720s, this prosperous ‘nation’ claimed 30 mission villages inhabited by more than 150,000 Guarani people.
Today, all 30 missions are in ruins. Together, they form the Rota Missões, or ‘Missions Route,’ a network of pilgrimage sites for the faithful and the curious. Seven are in Brazil (in the northwestern part of Rio Grande do Sul), eight are in southern Paraguay and 15 are in northeastern Argentina. For an excellent overview of the Brazilian missions see the website of the Rota Missões (www.rotamissoes.com.br).