Explaining Brazil #27: The destruction of Rio’s National Museum

The Quinta da Boa Vista building is located in São Cristóvão, a lower-income neighborhood in northern Rio. A long time ago, it was the residence of the Brazilian Imperial Family.

Today the building houses the National Museum, the oldest in Brazil, created in 1818 by Portugal’s King Dom João the sixth – the only European monarch to set foot in the Americas in over 400 years.

Author Laurentino Gomes, in his book 1808 – which is about how the Portuguese Crown fled Europe to escape an invasion by Napoleon and set up residence in Rio de Janeiro — called the National Museum one of the oddest he had ever seen. It housed indigenous artifacts, Egyptian mummies, stuffed birds, a dinosaur skeleton, and a meteorite. Its collection also included Luzia — the oldest skull ever found in the Americas.

All of that might have been lost on Sunday, September 2, when a massive fire destroyed an estimated 90 percent of the museum’s collection and nearly caused the building to collapse. It took firefighters more than six hours to control the flames – as the museum’s fire detectors weren’t working, fire hydrants didn’t have enough water, and the museum couldn’t afford a fire brigade.

It’s a week of mourning for Brazilians – and the third fire to destroy a museum in five years.

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On this podcast

Gustavo Ribeiro has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets, including Veja, Época, Folha de São Paulo, Médiapart and Radio France Internationale. He is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Abril Prize for outstanding political journalism. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte is the Deputy Director of Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum. Mr. Duarte holds a Ph.D. degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, and a post-doctorate degree from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, in Paris.

This episode was written by Diogo Rodriguez, a journalist and social scientist. He has contributed to publications such as Folha de S. Paulo, Estado de S. Paulo, Trip, Vida Simples, Galileu, Mundo Estranho, Exame, and Vice, among others. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in political science at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.

Maria Martha Bruno edited this podcast. She is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has collaborated with Al Jazeera and CNN, among others, worked as a producer in Rio de Janeiro for NBC, and as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.

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