This article offers a preliminary reading of the Porto Maravilha urban operation from the perspective of Landscape Archaeology. In this sense, there will be a brief presentation of Porto Maravilha as a transformation process of urban landscape. Then, to situate our appropriation of Landscape Archaeology, I will analyze impacts and potentialities of the urban space under production as an exercise of valorization of our memory.
The Consorted Urban Operation of the Port Region of Rio de Janeiro, known as Porto Maravilha (Wonderful Port) was created by the Supplementary Law 101/2009 with the purpose to “promote the urban restructuring of the region’s Area of Special Urban Interest (AEIU) through expanding, articulating and re-qualifying Port Region’s free spaces of public use, so as to improve the quality of life of its current and future residents, besides the region’s environmental and socioeconomic sustainability”[i].
To implement the abovementioned task would be a challenge anywhere in the city, but it becomes even more relevant because of the Port Region’s uniqueness in terms of strategic location and historical relevance, presenting itself as well as an extension of Downtown are. Main road accesses to the city and connections between the South Zone and the North and West Zones and to the Metropolitan Region pass through the region. Its proximity to two airports and sightseeing spots reinforces its strategic character.
Porto Maravilha: strategic location
From the Colonial period to the beginning of the Republic, the Port of Rio was the most important of Brazil. Hence, between 17th and 19th centuries the sea line went through successive alterations with the construction of sheds, docks and shipyards. In early 19th century, the big land fill of approximately 1.2 million m2 advanced on the sea to serve as a support area for port operations, a scenario very similar to the current configuration. The encounter of native, European and African cultures produced a good part of our cultural and material wealth, as well as the social inequalities that still characterize Brazilian society.
Detail of land fill area
During the second half of the last century, the city’s peripheries suffered a process of expansion and the historical downtown area was consolidated as a place of work; housing became ever more distant bringing all sorts of consequences in terms infrastructure, urban mobility and deficient or inefficient services. However, this model of city increasingly spread reveals itself incapable of replacing the historical downtown from its role of concentrating jobs.
The revitalization of the Port Region is intended to promote a reencounter of the city with its center by attracting new residential and commercial enterprises to populate the area and, at the same time, guarantee the valorization of its memory and identity. The aim is to give downtown back to the city, but now as a lively place where people can live, work and occupy public spaces, moving on foot and by non-motorized or non-pollutant vehicles; to offer this standard as a reference to urban space. And, by doing this, the final goal is to positively impact mobility, safety, that is, offer people quality of life.
This model contributes to an inclusive city by creating, through the very process of transformation, opportunities for people, especially for those who live in the region today, to increase their income and access to goods and services; that is, to expand the exercise of right to the city.
The consorted urban operation is an instrument of urban policy established by the Statute of Cities in 2001 (Federal Law nº10.257/2001) with the purpose of stimulating the recovery of deteriorated urban areas. Private initiative may obtain additional construction potential in the area through financial compensation. Instituted by a municipal law, the operation increases the constructive potential of a determined area. In order to use this additional construction potential, the interested party must offer financial compensation to the municipality by buying Certificates of Additional Construction Potential (Cepac). On its side, the municipality is obligated to use resources obtained with the selling of Cepacs to execute a program of interventions for the urban requalification as established by the same law.
The Area of Special Urban Interest (AEIU) of the Porto Maravilha Urban Operation has 5 million m2. According to the last census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), 32 thousand people live in the area and other 60 thousand work there. The area encompasses the Area of Cultural Environment Protection that includes the neighborhoods of Saúde, Gamboa and Santo Cristo (Apac Sagas), with approximately 3.8 million m2 that concentrates the majority of residents. And, on its turn, this area encompasses the Area of Special Social Interest (Aeis) of Morro da Providência, Brazil’s first slum. The remaining area of 1.2 million m2 corresponds to the land fill made for the port, but that no longer fulfills its operational function; 4,089,502 m2 of construction potential were added in this area.
It is worth stressing that the law that established the urban operation has sanctioned two special areas that had been previously created, which determines new criteria for soil use and occupation. In other words, Sagas’ characteristics are preserved, as well as the Aeis of Morro da Providência.
The Port Region’s occupation project privileges people. Legislation opted for the verticality of buildings in the area of increased construction potential in order to enable greater horizontal width through spacing and indentation rules. The region will have a quicker and healthier mobility standard with the increase of green areas, about 4 km of pedestrian routes, enlargement of sidewalks, 17 km of bikeways and the Light Rail Vehicle (LRV). Integration between Sagas’ relevant architectural collection and new buildings is another important concern. Innovation in terms of shape is desirable, as long as integrated to the region’s image and identity.
The Supplementary Law nº 101/2009 allocates at least 3% of funds obtained with Cepacs sales to the valorization of the region’s material and immaterial patrimony and to promote this integration through the Porto Maravilha Cultural program[ii]. The area has 76 properties listed by agencies of federal, state and municipal custody, most of which are forgotten and degraded, a reflex of the region’s own condition. Archaeological prospection efforts before works for the reconstruction of urban infrastructure contribute to the recovery of our history. In this case, it is important to stress that valorization of heritage is an intrinsic part of the operation both for its historical importance as for making the region more attractive to its new residents.
Landscape Archaeology will be used to approach this aspect based on Jaisson Teixeira Lino’s[iii] and José Carlos Loures de Oliveira’s[iv] ideas. According to these authors, landscape is an ensemble of material and symbolic elements that must be considered together in order to better understand the past. Here, the intention is not to extend this debate. The purpose is to use this approach as a way to read the landscape revealed by interventions in the Port Region.
We are not only focused in the results of archaeological excavations prior to infrastructure works, but also in those elements that, even though not buried, were invisible until the removal of the Perimetral viaduct. We are not jus focused in its margins, but in the region as a whole. Now, it is possible to observe buildings, places and socio-cultural manifestations that tell the histories of different times and are becoming integrated in that same urban space. Therefore, Landscape Archaeology is an instrument to read these different times.
Up to now, excavation works have confirmed our current knowledge about the history of the occupation of this part of Rio. Many anchors and cannons were found, along with an immense quantity of faience. The location and the way objects were disposed suggests that a big part of this material was treated as trash. Nonetheless, it is quite interesting to see cannons treated like garbage. It makes us wonder if there was a moment in which weapons of destruction were unimportant to us; although they were probably replaced by more modern and destructive weapons. But, it doesn’t hurt to dream…
Cannon found during works at Sacadura Cabral Street in 2011
The most relevant and precious finding so far is the Valongo Pier, because it gives a clear picture of how the city’s occupation evolved. For its significant historical relevance, the pier symbolizes the roots of a great part of our inequalities and, at the same time, of our identity as a people. We will talk more about the pier in a moment.
The region has many historically significant properties that were left invisible and forgotten, but that now are undergoing a process of physical restoration. Most important: historical properties that are gaining a new function and contributing to valorize the region’s dynamic. After being restored, Don John VI’s palace now houses the Art Museum of Rio (MAR); the Warehouse Paranapanema is being transformed into the Fábrica de Espetáculos (Show Factory), a second branch of the Municipal Theatre of Rio; and the former Cibrazem’s fridge will be the address of the new research center with the biggest marine aquarium of Latin America, the AquaRio. There are also the José Bonifácio Cultural Center dedicated to afro-Brazilian culture, the Gamboa Sheds and the headquarters of the Laboratory of Urban Archaeology of Rio de Janeiro. Through fiscal incentives and rewards, owners of the region’s listed real estate are stimulated to recover their properties and make them useful, especially for residential and cultural purposes.
Festivities and cultural manifestations that translate the region’s immaterial heritage are getting stronger every year. The region’s traditional carnival groups and bands, some classified among the city’s oldest, are parading again. Celebrations of Saúde, Morro do Pinto and Santo Cristo churches are being reincorporated to the calendar. The space’s valorization contributes to recover current residents’ self-esteem after decades of abandonment and degradation. In addition, opportunities for new manifestations emerge. The traditional samba group and Yabas’ party at Pedra do Sal (Salt Stone), both promoted by the Quilombo of Pedra do Sal, coexist with hip-hop, jazz and other cultural manifestations.
Thus, as taking a tour in the region you can identify different times that preserve and complement each other as constituting the urban landscape.
The Valongo/Empress Pier represents a synthesis both of the transformation process and the richness of this new place under construction. Besides the archaeological fact, from an urban, historical, political and symbolic perspective, the incorporation of the Pier as an open-air memorial to the Jornal do Comércio Square is a milestone. Not because it is the first case, but for what the pier represents to Porto Maravilha, to the city and to history. After being literally unearthed and considering the historical jumps, the pier reveals temporalities that tell a lot about the construction of our profound social inequalities.
Public power’s decision to maintain on display these archaeological elements signals a change of posture in relation to the past. The revision of urbanization projects chose an approach that assumes the past does not hamper innovation and the future, contrary to what may seem. In fact, the past enriches the future. However, the broader dimension of this fact perhaps is the possibility of making our history visible with all its contradictions. Once exposed, maybe we can revisit, understand, accept and, above all, overcome them.
The decision to keep the Valongo Pier open incited a very interesting debate about its configuration as an urban element; or, according to our approach here, as a landscape element. At same time, this discussion led the City Hall of Rio to create, on November 2011, the Historical and Archaeological Circuit of Celebration of African Heritage and a workgroup coordinated by Washington Fajardo, at that time municipal sub-secretary of Patrimony and currently president of the Rio Heritage of Humanity Institute (IRPH), and that had as members representatives from the Special Coordination of Promotion of Racial Equality (Ceppir), the Municipal Council of Black Rights (Comdedine) and the Company of Urban Development of the Port Region of Rio de Janeiro (CDURP). The workgroup also had scholars, community representatives and leaders of African originated religions as members. Besides the Valongo/Empress Pier, the Circuit includes the Salt Stone, Largo do Depósito (Deposit Square), the Hanging Garden of Valongo, the Cemetery of New Blacks and the José Bonifácio Cultural Center.
Art Museum of Rio – Don John VI’s palace and Escola do Olhar (School of Vision)
The new square is a place where different times, memories and people meet. It is a space of opportunity to reinterpret and reconcile our history. It is a finding of urban archeology that significantly valorized this part of Rio de Janeiro and of Brazil, shedding light on elements of the past.
Samba Day at Pedra do Sal
From the Salt Stone we can observe various stages of the city’s advances over the sea, which used to reach up to where today is Sacadura Cabral Street. Furthermore, we can go all the way to where currently is the Cais do Porto (Docks), noteworthy for its former function. More conservative historians indicate that about 500 thousand enslaved Africans entered the country through the Docks. Recent studies suggest that the number may have reached more than one million. If the Empress Pier was built over Valongo as an attempt to erase recollection of slavery is an ongoing and possibly never ending debate. Perhaps, the most interesting thing is the building next to the Docks called Doca Don Peter II that houses the Ação da Cidadania (Citizenship Action) and was a work by the first Brazilian black engineer, André Rebouças. The building is a landmark of the fight for the abolition of slavery. From the Docks we can picture Machado de Assis playing at Ladeira do Livramento (Livramento Slope). And we can try to imagine the pain of making the long crossing of the Atlantic; the destiny of those that did not survive and are buried at the nearby Cemetery of New Blacks, where currently is Pedro Ernesto Street, address of the Research Institute and Memorial of New Blacks. We can imagine how, after crossings with bags and more bags of salt, emerged at the foot of the stone something so deeply important to our culture, samba. Finally, at the edge of the Docks, now unearthed – better yet, made visible and converted into a monument – there is so much to see. From there we can look for ways to overcome problems and think about paths for our citizenship.
Valongo Pier, rediscovered in 2011 during Porto Maravilha works, memorial of the Black Diaspora, part of the Circuit of African Heritage and a candidate for World Heritage Site.
This is the significance of the possibility to read the region’s landscape, which preserves so many times in the same spaces. Public power is doing its part by giving visibility to landmarks that were forgotten, buried and hidden. However, it is necessary to go there and read these landmarks as scholars, students, curious individuals and, most of all, as citizens: to learn more about ourselves and to make a better city for all.
This article derives from participation in the panel “The cyborg city: hybrid landscapes” that happened during the “Symposium of Archaeology in Landscape: the city as artifact”
Alberto Silva, president of Companhia de Desenvolvimento Urbano da Região do Porto do Rio de Janeiro (Cdurp) – sociologist, postgraduate in Urban and Regional planning
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ARRAES, Jorge; SILVA, Alberto. Porto Maravilha: Permanências e Mudanças. Paper published as a chapter in the book Cidades em Transformação, edited by Ephim Shluger e Miriam Danowski - October 2014. Available at:
http://portomaravilha.com.br/artigosdetalhes/cod/15. Access on February 11, 2016.
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[i] For more information see ARRAES, Jorge; SILVA, Alberto. “Porto Maravilha: Permanências e Mudanças”. This article was published as a chapter in the book “Cidades em Transformação”, edited by Ephim Shluger and Miriam Danowski - October 2014. Available at: http://portomaravilha.com.br/artigosdetalhes/cod/15. Access on February 11, 2016.
[ii] See SILVA, Alberto. “Porto Maravilha, Cidadania e Cultura”. Revista Porto Maravilha n.4, April 2011. Available at: http://portomaravilha.com.br/artigosdetalhes/cod/19. Access on February 11, 2016.
[iii] LINO, Jaisson Teixeira. A Arqueologia da Paisagem como Enfoque Teórico para o Estudo Arqueológico da Guerra do Contestado. Revista Tempos Acadêmicos, Dossiê Arqueologia Histórica, nº 10. Criciúma: Santa Catarina, 2012.
[iv] OLIVEIRA, Jose Carlos Loures de. Ecologia e arqueologia da paisagem: um estudo dos sítios Pré- Coloniais da Zona da Mata mineira. Master’s thesis in Ecology applied to the handling and preservation of natural resources. Instituto de Ciências Biológicas: Universidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2007.