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We have 6,000 municipalities in Brazil, each with its flag (although normally they fly only at the respective city hall). Each state is divided into a number of smaller regions for administrative purposes, as "departments" or "microregions." The main city of each smaller region is the sede [seat]. As a general rule, these cities happen to be those with much history and the others are older districts that were emancipated. For example, the state of Rio de Janeiro, one of the smallest, evolved from 5 municipalities in the 19th century to ten or so at the beginning of the 20th century. This ten or so became the sedes of microregions, which have since been subdivided into 90 municipalities!
Günter Zibell, 5 February 2001
The standard organic law by which Brazilian municipalities are chartered gives each municipality the right to select its own symbols--a coat of arms, flag, and hymn. This is normally done by law passed by the municipal chamber and approved by the prefect (elected executive). There is no central authority for these symbols and, as far as I can determine, no authoritative set of rules that must be followed. Nevertheless, some professional heraldists have attempted with some success to persuade a number of municipalities that there are in fact rules that must (or should) be followed).
Joseph McMillan, 4 June 2002
Mural Crowns are sometimes assigned fanciful explanations (recalling that the original settlement was fortified, for example), but in most cases are simply explained as the accoutrement proper to arms of dominion. Some designers attempt to equate the color and number of towers to Portuguese usage, which differentiates between the crown used by the capital, other cities, towns (vilas), and villages (freguesias). Brazilian law does not make these distinctions and many cities use arms with crowns that do not follow these "rules."
Shields in Brazilian municipal coats of arms are usually described as either "Iberian" or "Samnitic." Both are claimed to symbolize the Portuguese heritage of Brazil.
I suppose this [the Samnitic shield] is the one that was present on the Portuguese national flag from 1706 to 1910. Portuguese heraldry calls it precisely a "French shield." I wonder what is it called in French. "Samnitic?" Well, that's a fancy name, all right!
António Martins, 6 March 1998
A common statement beginning the legal description of Brazilian municipal flags, especially those designed by Arcinóe Antônio Peixoto de Faria or Lauro Ribeiro Escobar, runs more or less as follows: "The style of the flag follows Portuguese heraldic tradition, whose rules and canons we inherit, that municipal flags should be divided into eighths, sixths, quarters, or thirds, having for their colors the same colors as the field of the coat of arms, this coat of arms being applied on a geometric figure on the flag, placed in the center or the hoist." In fact, Portuguese municipal flags actually are solid or divided into quarters or eighths (gyronny). Brazilian flags that claim to follow this rule are usually not parted into different colors like Portuguese flags but rather consist of a solid field with stripes overlaid on it, sometimes in cross or saltire, often in cross and saltire (Union Jack-style), and in many cases horizontally. Thus a blue flag with three narrow yellow horizontal stripes is said incorrectly to be divided "quarterly per fess." On flags with stripes emanating from the area where the coat of arms is placed (either on the center or in the hoist), the stripes are usually said to symbolize the radiation of municipal power throughout the territory of the municipality. The coat of arms represents the municipal government itself, while the geometric figure on which it is placed represents the city that is the seat of the municipality. This concept obviously results in many flags of remarkable similar design.
Joseph McMillan, 4 June 2002
Let me stress very clearly that there is no such thing as a Portuguese heraldic tradition for municipal flags, as the principles currently used were laid out in the late 1920s--a date irreparably too late for Brazilians to follow them out of any "inheritance." Furthermore, let me utter an authoritative assertion: traditional or not, Portuguese munucipal flag backgrounds are either plain, quartered or gyronny of eight--all patterns seldom found in Brazilian municipal flags. Finally, the wording used used in Portuguese laws describing municipal flags is almost always gironada or sometimes gironada de oito partes (divided gyronny of eight parts), not oitavada as in Brazilian descriptions.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 June 2002