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Rio has a glamorous past, being the only city in the Americas that was once the capital of an European kingdom. When Napoleon was on the brink of invading Lisbon, the royal family of Portugal and the court fled to Rio, under the protection of the British. Praça XV (pronounced Kin-zee) is where they landed.
This is a classical spot to start a tour of Rio de Janeiro's historical center. Paço Imperial is the structure of 1743 that dominates the square. It was the first home to Ruling Prince Dom João VI and his family. Queen Dona Maria I was lodged in the Old Carmelite Convent, right across the street. The façade was preserved, yet overshadow by the glass and concrete tower of Cândido Mendes. Right next to Paço Imperial is Palácio Tiradentes, of 1926, with its large dome and Greek columns.
Praça XV is surrounded by a number of churches of historical value - including Rio de Janeiro's former cathedral. Arco dos Teles is also around the square. It opens to a preserved line-up of colorful sobrados. Carmen Miranda, the Brazilian Bombshell, lived in one of these two-story townhouses before starting her Hollywood career.
Panteão do Osório and Chafariz do Mestre Valentim are the two outstanding monuments on the square. The antique fair happens on Saturdays. You can easily reach Praça XV by taxi, air-conditioned bus (frescão), or by subway. Uruguaiana, the closest station, is only a few blocks away.
Praça XV is a short walk from landmark
Candelária Church, on Av. Presidente Vargas. On the way, in
addition to more churches, you will pass by the Cultural Corridor,
concentrating some of Rio's most important cultural centers.
Estação das Barcas, where you take the ferry boat to Niterói or
Paquetá, is right next to Praça XV.
Getting there is easy. There are buses leaving from Ipanema, Lebon and Copacabana that will take you there, and you may always hail a cab. If you go by subway you may get off at the Uruguaiana Station and start working your way south from Candelaria Church, or get off at Estacao Carioca, take work your way north from Igreja de São José. More details about the subway here.
Praça Quinze - Clickable Map of Highlights and Attractions
Igreja de São José
According to historians, the original Chapel of São José was built sometime between 1608 and 1640. The records were lost when French corsair Duguay-Trouin ransacked the city in 1711. In the end of the XVIII century the chapel was in a terrible state of disrepair. The Brotherhood of São José, one of the oldest in Rio, decided to raise a new church. They commissioned the project to Felix José de Souza and Portuguese architect João da Silva Muniz. The two front towers are home to Rio de Janeiro's most cherished carillon, of 1883. The church is a mix of several styles. The colonial contrast of stone and whitewashed walls outside alternates to heavy engraving in late Rococo style inside. The latter is a work by Master Simeão de Nazaré, a disciple of Mestre Valentim. The sacristy is carved in dark jacaranda wood, which today is almost extinct. Av. Presidente Antonio Carlos, s/n, corner of Rua São José.
The palace was built in 1926 on the spot where the Old Jail was formerly located. This is where Tiradentes, the martyr of the Independence, was held prisoner in 1792 before being hung and decapitated. The large statue of a bearded and long-haired Tiradentes in front of the Palace bears little resemblance to the actual character, named Joaquim Jose da Silva Xavier. The palace was built in an eclectic style, with tall Greek columns and an octagonal glass dome. The structure was raised to be a congress building, decorated with elements that portray history and ideology. The large sculptures on the ground floor represent Order and Progress, a motto of the Republican Banner. The sculptures on the top of the Palace stand for Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry. Law is between Freedom and Authority. Details like the floor in French mosaic, paintings with nationalistic themes, beautiful stained glass artwork, and furnishings in Brazilian woods are good reasons to explore inside. Rua Dom Manoel s/n.
Paço Imperial, the Imperial Palace
The palace was built in 1743 by Gomes Freire de Andrada to be used as a residence by Viceroys. The area was previously used to lodge the Royal Mint (you may visit the furnaces in the archeology room), and the King's Warehouse. In 1808, when the Royal Family of Portugal arrived in Rio, the Palace was their first home. After they moved to the larger palace on Quinta da Boa Vista, the centrally located Paço was used as a government building. From one of the windows, in 1822, Dom Pedro I announced to his subjects that he would disobey his father's orders, and remain in Brazil. This episode, know as Dia do Fico, would eventually result in Brazil's independence. Dom Pedro's granddaughter, Princess Isabel, signed in the Paço the famous Lei Áurea, a law that abolished slavery in 1888. Today Paço Imperial is a cultural center with a busy agenda of temporary exhibitions, videos and other activities, plus a cozy cafe on the inside patio. The main attraction is the building itself, though, full of historical charm, and interesting architectural details that were carefully restored. Praça XV, 48.
Chafariz do Mestre Valentim, the Pyramid Fountain
The first water fountain on Praça XV, formerly known as Largo do Carmo, was located on the spot where today you find the Osório Pantheon. The water came from Rio Carioca through a pipe on Rua do Cano, later renamed Rua Sete de Setembro. The fountain was moved to its present location in the end of the XVIII century. Mestre Valentim was in charge of designing this new fountain, built 1789. It is considered one of his masterpieces in stone. A curiosity is that the fountain was placed right on the shore, by the docks. You would never suspect, as the consecutive reclaims changed the area completely. The bottom part of the stone fountain is a square tower, topped by a pyramid. On top of the pyramid you will find a metal sphere with the Imperial Crown, added in 1842. The water used to flow from the 3 shells on the base of the fountain. Praça XV.
Panteão de Osório
Even though General Osório is the name of a celebrated square in Ipanema, the statue of the old General is here, in the heart of Praça XV. General Osório defended the Empire in the War of Paraguay (1864-1870). This bloody conflict resulted in the death of thousands, involved also Uruguay and Argentina, and only ended with the death of Paraguay dictator Solano Lopez. The statue was forged with bronze from Paraguayan cannons, and cast in Paris in 1894. The project is a masterpiece signed by Rodolfo Bernardelli. The side panels portray the horrors of war, while the General sits tall and proud on his horse. A curiosity is that, true to fact, the General is wearing sandals, not boots. Manuel Osório's feet had scars that never healed properly, after an unsuccessful treatment to reduce swelling (with the aid of leaches, legend goes). According to some sources, the embalmed body of General Osório is inside the pedestal in Alpine granite. Praça XV.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo da Antiga Sé
This church used to be connected to the Carmelite Convent. The construction started in 1716, yet the façade was only finished in 1816. The original tower was demolished to open the connection between Rua Sete de Setembro and Praça XV, and it was rebuilt in 1905. When the Royal Portuguese Family arrived in Brazil in 1808 and settled in the Paço Imperial, the Convent was turned into an annex, and became the home of Queen Maria I. The Carmelite Church was converted into the Royal Chapel. This is where Dom Pedro I married Princess Leopoldina of Habsburg. It became the Imperial Chapel with Brazil's independence in 1822. Here the two Brazilian Emperors were crowned: Dom Pedro I and his son, Dom Pedro II . With the advent of the Republic in 1889, the church was renamed Metropolitan Cathedral. It held held until the new Cathedral was built, in 1976. The church engraving by Master Inácio Pereira Pinto dates back to 1785. It holds the mortal remains of Pedro Alvares Cabral, the discoverer of Brazil (the tombstone is on the aisle, near the sacristy). The altar frontispiece, a masterpiece in fine silverwork, was inherited from the Carmelites. The church is currently undergoing a renovation, and will soon be back to its former glory. Rua Primeiro de Março s/n, across from the Carmelite Convent.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Ordem Terceira do Carmo
This church, right next door to the Old Cathedral, dates back to 1770. The project by Master Manuel Alves Setúbal features a main façade in granite with two towers. The lateral façade overlooks quaint Beco dos Barbeiros. The belfries, covered in tile, are designed by painter Manoel Joaquim de Melo Corte Real (1850). The limestone portal was brought from Lisbon in 1761. The engravings in the chapel and high altar are credited to Luis da Fonseca and his disciple, Valentim Fonseca e Silva, that later would be known as Mestre Valentim. The novitiate chapel of 1852 can be visited by appointment only. It is a priceless gem, with XVIII century engraving covered in white and gold leaf. The higher and lower altars credited to Mestre Valentim. Rua Primeiro de Março s/n, corner of Beco dos Barbeiros.
Arco do Teles e Travessa do Comércio
Arco do Teles is the only remaining part of Paço do Conselho, the building was completely destroyed in a tragic fire in 1790. As you go through the arch you enter Travessa do Comércio, a corner that preserved the charm of colonial Rio. Colorful two and three-story sobrados with balconies decorated with iron lacework set the scene. Typically the ground floor of these townhouses was used for some kind of commerce, while the upper floors were a residence. One of these sobrados was a pension that belonged to the mother of the Brazilian Bombshell, Portuguese-born actress, singer and performer Carmen Miranda. Do not miss the old frescoes on the walls of the first bar to your left, just as you go through the arch. From the Travessa you have access to a maze of narrow streets, dotted with churches and historical buildings. If you want to stop for a lunch break, there are several restaurants with self-serve buffets and reasonable prices. Praça XV, 32/34.
Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Lapa dos Mercadores
Built by a brotherhood of merchants, this church was consecrated in 1750. There are many peculiar details worth noting. The church was in originally baroque style, and later neoclassical elements were added. On the façade there are four marble statues representing São Felix, São Bernardo, São João da Mata, and Santo Adriano. The beautiful marble medallion, with a depiction of the Coronation of the Virgin, was found when they were digging the courtyard in the XIX century. It may have belonged to the Ordem da Terceira Penitência, that was based next door. Apparently it was hidden to keep it safe from pirates that looted the city. The carillon with 12 bells is the oldest in Rio. It is housed in a new tower, built in 1893. The original tower was destroyed by a grenade during the Navy Upraise (Revolta da Armada). Another curious detail is that when the large religious statue that decorated the tower fell down, the only damage was a minor nick in a corner. Today you will find it in a niche on the sacristy. The interior carvings are attributed to Antonio de Pádua e Castro, and the stucco work to Antonio Alves Meira. The oil panels in the main chapel are by Francisco Garcia Sanches. Rua do Ouvidor, 35.
Igreja da Santa Cruz dos Militares
The Brotherhood of Santa Cruz was founded in the early XVII century. It kept a small church on this spot since 1628, where the military were buried. The present church is a project of 1780 by José Custódio de Sá e Faria, a renowned Portuguese military engineer. The church was consecrated in 1811, in a ceremony attended by Prince Regent Dom João VI. The main entrance, carved in jacaranda wood, is attributed to Mestre Valentim. The engravings by Mestre Valetim inside the church were almost completely destroyed in a tragic fire in 1923. It was partially reconstructed in 1924, based on photographs. The images of São Mateus and São João escaped from the tragedy, and today can be seen at the Museu Histórico Nacional.
Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil
The eclectic structure with neoclassical elements built between 1880 an 1906 is a project of Francisco Joaquim Bethencourt da Silva, a disciple of Grandjean de Montigny. It belonged to the Commercial Association of Rio de Janeiro, and was originally used as a Commerce Square. In 1923 it was transferred to Banco do Brasil to pay a loan. The bank used it as headquarters to the board of directors until 1960, when the capital was moved to Brasilia. The building was renovated, four new floors were added, and it lost most of its original classical style. After 27 years as a branch of the bank, a major renovation started in 1987, highlighting some of the original features. In 1989 it opened doors with the new function of cultural center. It soon conquered the hearts and minds of Cariocas and visitors with a cafe, shops, two theaters, a movie theater, video room, and a busy agenda of temporary displays with eight exhibition halls. The grandeur of the building is more striking once you enter and see the a huge glass dome, floor and walls covered in marble, and pillars carved in Portuguese stone. Rua Primeiro de Março, 66.
It is considered the most important example of neoclassical architecture in Rio de Janeiro. The structure was designed by French architect Grandjean de Montigny, who came with the French Artistic Mission of 1816. It was built under the request of Dom João VI to lodge the Commercial Park of Rio de Janeiro, and opened doors in 1820. On the following year, when the Portuguese court was ordered to go back to Portugal, it was stage to a riot that was repressed by Dom Pedro I. It reopened in 1824 as a Customs House. In 1944 it became home to the Second Court Jury. Since it started being used as a cultural center in 1983, and a number of important temporary exhibitions were held at the França-Brasil. The building itself is the main permanent attraction. It is aligned to the cardinal points, oblivious to the direction of other buildings around it. The interior features a large cross-shaped space, topped by a monumental dome. The floor is covered in large blocks, with carpets of Belgian tiles on the entrance, and underneath the dome. The roof has a colonial inspiration. Rua Visconde do Itaboraí, 78.
Igreja da Candelária
The original Candelária Chapel was built in the early XVII century by Spaniard Antonio Martins Palma and his wife Leonor Gonçalves, to thank for the grace of having been saved from a shipwreck. The chapel was expanded in 1634, but after a few years it was in a terrible state of disrepair. The project of a new church was commissioned to Francisco João Roscio in 1775, and consecrated in 1811 with the presence of Dom João VI. The Brotherhood of Santíssimo Sacramento promoted a number of renovations along the XIX century, leaving intact only the façade designed by Roscio. You will find a mix of several styles, ranging from baroque to neoclassical. The famous dome in Portuguese limestone that crowns the church was finished in 1887. It weighs 630 tons, and many people doubted that the structure could actually stand the weight. The eight white marble statues around the dome were sculpted in Portugal by José Cesário de Sales. The beautiful doorway in bronze by Teixeira Lopes was cast in Bruzy, France, and first shown in the Paris World Fair of 1889. The interior is decorated with a rainbow of marble shades, the stained glass windows are outstanding. The six large ceiling panels by João Zeferino da Costa depict the origins of the church. Praça Pio X.
Igreja Nossa Senhora Mãe dos Homens
Built by the Brotherhood of Nossa Senhora Mãe dos Homens, this church was consecrated in 1784. The façade received neoclassical elements when it was renovated in 1856. The high altar of 1789 is attributed to Master Inácio Ferreira. Also noteworthy is the large ark in the sacristy, carved by carved by Friar Domingo da Conceição Silva in 1691. Rua da Alfândega, 54.
Igreja Nossa Senhora da Conceição e Boa Morte
It took over one hundred years to build this church. The project of 1738 by José Fernandes Pinto Alpoim was only finished in 1853. The delays are attributed to a shortage of funds, and to disputes between two religious orders that finally joined forces in 1820. Part of the façade and the main altar of 1790 is attributed to Mestre Valentim. The frontispiece of the main altar, is in solid silver, dates back to the XVIII century. From the same period are the three paintings on the sacristy, by Leandro Joaquim and Raimundo da Costa e Silva. The original tower was put down upon the opening of Avenida Central, later renamed Av. Rio Branco. The current bell tower is of 1916. Rua Buenos Aires, 71.
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