The Valongo Wharf is an archaeological site of the vestiges of the former stone Wharf built by the General Stewardship of the Court Police of Rio de Janeiro for disembarking enslaved Africans in Rio de Janeiro from 1811 onwards. The purpose was to remove landing and the African slave trade from Rua Direita, current Rua Primeiro de Março. Hence, the Valongo became the country’s main entrance door. Slaves were sent to coffee, tobacco and sugar plantations in the rural areas of Rio and in other regions of Brazil. Generally, those who remained in the city would end up as house slaves or as workforce in public works. Slave traffic expanded considerably with the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in Brazil and the intensification of coffee plantation.
In 1831, England’s pressure led to the prohibition of transatlantic traffic and the Valongo Wharf was officially closed. However, orders to cease the slave trade were basically ignored. Hence the ironic saying “for showing to the English” (used whenever one suspects something is just “for show”). It is estimated that, from the construction of the Wharf until the traffic ban, something between 500 thousand and one million slaves entered the country, coming from various African nations, especially from the Congo and Angola. In almost four centuries of slavery, Rio de Janeiro alone received about 20% of all enslaved Africans, who arrived alive in the Americas. This makes the city and the Valongo Wharf a reference of what was the biggest enforced relocation of a population in human history.
Over the years, the Wharf suffered successive transformations. An important one happened in 1843, when the Wharf was remodeled to receive the Princess of Two Sicilies, Teresa Cristina Maria de Bourbon, the bride of D. Peter II, and therefore renamed as the Empress Wharf. The site was buried in 1911 during the urban reforms which the city underwent in the early twentieth century.
AFRICAN HERITAGE CIRCUIT
One century later, in 2011, the Wonderful Port re-urbanization works enabled the recovery of the archaeological site. In 2012, the City Hall of Rio de Janeiro accepted the suggestion of the Black Rights’ Defense Movement and transformed the space in a preserved monument, open to public visitation. The Valongo Wharf now integrates the Historical and Archaeological Circuit for Celebrating African Heritage that establishes marks of Afro-Brazilian culture in the Port Region, along with the Hanging Garden of Valongo, Largo do Depósito (Deposit Square), Pedra do Sal (Salt Stone), José Bonifácio Cultural Center and Cemetery of New Blacks.
WORLD HERITAGE CANDIDATE
The Valongo Wharf site corresponds to the area of the Jornal do Comércio Square and is delimited by Avenida Barão de Tefé, Rua Sacadura Cabral and the side of the Hospital dos Servidores do Estado (State Employees’ Hospital). On November 20 (Black Consciousness Day), 2013, the Valongo Wharf was instituted as a cultural heritage of the city by the Instituto Rio Patrimônio da Humanidade (Rio Heritage of Humanity Institute), IRPH. Representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) included the archaeological site as part of the Slave Route.
UNESCO’s acknowledgement reiterated the intention of the city and of the National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage (Iphan) of putting forward the Valongo Wharf’s nomination as a World Heritage on January 2014. The nomination dossier was approved in March 2016 and, from now on, UNESCO will make a technical analysis of the information. The nomination will be evaluated in a council meeting in July 2017.
The archaeological collection found in the site is considered exceptional because of the amount of accumulated materials associated to the African Diaspora. There are approximately 1,200,000 items that give access to the habits, everyday life and religious symbolism of the enslaved Africans, as well as their resistance to the system imposed on them. Among the objects found, there are shoe parts, buttons made of bones, necklaces, amulets, delicate rings and bracelets made of palm fiber, sets of cowrie shells and other items used in religious rituals. One of the rare findings is a small jewelry box carved with images of a caravel and geometric figures on the cover. The collection is still in process of analysis, given the amount and the complexity of the materials found. Iphan previously authorized and is following the entire process of identification and prior analysis, preservation and custody.
Since 2012, a ritual is repeated every year on the rocks of the Wharf during the first Saturday of July. Priestesses of religions of the African matrix – “mothers of saint”, as they are known – conduct a ritual of cleaning, purification and homage to the ancestral spirits that passed by the place as captives. Religious chants, scent water, flowers, love and peace vows fill the Valong Wharf on this occasion.
Cariocas and tourists can take free guided tours to visit the six sites of the Historical and Archaeological Circuit for Celebrating African Heritage. In 2016, the Institute for Research and Memory of the New Blacks (IPN) opened reservations for 40 groups with the support of the Companhia de Desenvolvimento Urbano da Região do Porto do Rio de Janeiro (Company of Urban Development of the Port Region of Rio de Janeiro), CDURP, through the Wonderful Port Cultural Program. The circuit takes about two and a half hours, starting at Largo de São Francisco da Prainha (Saint Francis of Prainha Square), going to the Pedra do Sal (Salt Stone), then climbing up the hill in Morro da Conceição to arrive at the Hanging Gardens of Valongo, from where it is possible to see the Largo do Depósito (Deposit Square). Groups visit the Valongo Wharf at the Jornal do Comércio Square. The two last sites are the José Bonifácio Cultural Center (CCJB) and the Cemetery of New Blacks at Rua Pedro Ernesto. Reservations.
DOCUMENTS ABOUT THE VALONGO WHARF
Municipal Decree that creates the African Heritage Circuit - Document only in portuguese
Proposal for Inscription on the World Heritage List
STUDIES AND ARTICLES
Valongo, Slaves Wharf: Memory of the Diaspora and Port Modernization in Rio de Janeiro - Paper only in portuguese
New Blacks Cemetery, Rio de Janeiro, X1X Century: A Space Delimitation Attempt - Paper only in portuguese
Porto Maravilha: Where past and future meet
The Wharf, the Pier and the Tomorrow