Brazil may be one of the most historically enriched countries in South America yet Rio, its most revered city, is not renowned as a museum mecca as such. Whilst we can argue that the whole city is one huge, open-air museum, where visitors are drenched in culture, history and nature at every turn, we do admit that the bustling city could do with a few more more educational spaces. This notwithstanding, Rio is home to quite a few museums that are well worth checking out if you crave an even deeper insight into the country’s history and culture.
Head to the following museums on a rainy day in Rio and you may find yourself enlightened and pleasantly surprised.
National History Museum (Museu Historico Nacional)
Rio’s National History Museum is often rated as the best ‘rainy day destination’, yet we believe it is a worthwhile place to visit at any time, considering it does such a fine job in educating visitors on the country’s history. Presented in a chronological and detailed manner, the displays at the museum run the gamut from the pre-colonial times right up to the present day, and offer a glimpse of its tribulation from colony to monarchy and to eventual republic.
Showcasing a wide range of artefacts, documents and relics (including ancient religious artwork and war paraphernalia), the museum does a great job in educating visitors, most of whom don’t even know that Rio was once upon a time the capital of the French Kingdom. Head here on a Sunday for free entry but do spend a few bucks for the English audio guide, it’s well worth it!
Museum of the Republic (Museu da Republica)
Revered for both form and content, the Museu da Republica details Brazil’s transition from monarchy to republic, and is considered an absolute gem for both its architectural attributes and the historical importance of its displays.
Housed in a splendid and well preserved 19th century palace, the museum showcases artefacts and memorabilia which trace the country’s history from 1889 up to the present day. From the stunning marble and granite façade, to the opulently furnished 2nd floor halls, the palace itself is worthy of a visit, as are the luscious and well-manicured gardens the palace is framed by.
The contents of the museum are not excessively valuable in any way, shape or form; yet in Brazil they are considered of epitome historical importance. As the monarchy was deposed in 1889, the palace became the presidential headquarters of the nation and served as humble abode to its first 18 presidents. It is here that President Vargas committed suicide in 1954 to try to prevent the military from staging a coup. His rooms, which have been kept intact since that fateful day, are open to the public and their Spartan furnishings an eye-opening contrast to the lavish furnishings you’ll find the 2nd floor conference halls, which have themselves been kept in their original ways since the royal family was chased out of the country.
This museum includes a small art gallery, restaurant and theatre within its walls and, whilst most of the information displayed is in Portuguese, you’ll have the option of paying for an English-language audio guide to make the most out of your visit.
Rio is home to two brilliant modern art museums and although both boast remarkably striking features, they do differ drastically in content.
The MAM, a sleek-looking building made from an indecent amount of concrete and glass, is located in Flamengo Park just south of downtown and can be reached via an impressive skywalk. Although this museum seems to be a little short on permanent displays (its alleged Picasso and Rodin spaces are always mysteriously closed off), it does score massive points among modern-art lovers due to its consistently avant-garde and at times controversial displays and installations. The MAM boasts an excellent reputation both at home and abroad and is said to be sheltering some of the most ingenious curators in the continent. Whilst it’s true that your enjoyment will depend on the luck of the draw, considering displays can vary greatly, we dare say if you are a modern art aficionado you’ll have no problems spending a few hours admiring the art here.
The MAC (Museum de Atre Contemporanea), on the other hand, is something no-one should miss seeing, even if just for its futuristic façade. The spaceship-design of the clifftop building is so impressive that most visitors feel it draws attention away from the art displayed inside. Subjectively however, the temporary shows the Mac hosts are not nearly as mind-blowing as at the MAM, so perhaps it really is true that most of the funds for this particular museum went on the design. Best way to settle the argument would be to visit both!
Once considered the finest military fort in the continent, the Copacabana Fort is nowadays revered as one of the best viewing platforms in Rio. Strategically built atop a rocky spit on the southern end of Copacabana Beach, the Fort gifts sweeping views of Rio’s most famous stretch of beach as well as breathtaking views of Sugarloaf Mountain.
The fact that it also houses a very comprehensive military museum makes this one of the most popular ‘museum visits’ in town, even though we should mention that not only are the majority of displays in Portuguese only, but primarily made up of different army uniforms. Go figure. Never mind…the views and relaxing atmosphere (especially from the front garden cafes) more than make up or the lack of informative material!
National History Museum, Leandro Ciuffo via Flickr
Museum of the Republic via Wiki
MAM, MarcusRG via Flickr
MAC via Wiki
Copacabana Fort via Wiki