In October 2011, while the city still debated over the removal of the Perimetral Viaduct, the statue of the Baron of Mauá was removed from the square that bears his name for the construction of the Rio450 Tunnel, one of the most important works of the Porto Maravilha Urban Operation. The statue and the square pay tribute to Irineu Evangelista de Sousa (1813-1889), entrepreneur and abolitionist who, among other initiatives, created the Compania de Iluminação Pública à Gás (Public Gas Lighting Company), implemented the railroad connecting Petropolis to the Mauá Port inside the Guanabara Bay, and the ferryboat service that connected Rio de Janeiro to the port, clearly envisioning the integration of transports.  

It was always the Baron’s vision.

Built during Pereira Passos’s reforms, in the early twentieth century, the Mauá Square represented the integration of the city with the Port and with the Guanabara Bay, delimiting the beginning of the Central Avenue, currently Rio Branco Avenue, also known as Mar-a-Mar (Sea-to-Sea) because it crosses downtown all the way through the other side of the Guanabara Bay at Cinelândia.

The Baron’s disquietude and creativity affected the dynamic of the place. He must have appreciated seeing the inauguration of the John VI Palace in 1916, the former Department of Ports Inspection; the coming and going of sailors between ships, bars and nightclubs in the modernized Port of Rio; the arrival of immigrants full of hope; the glamour of transatlantic in the maritime passenger terminal; the construction of Edifício A Noite (The Night Building) and the people’s frenzy with artists and singers of the National Radio in the 1940s and 1950s. Fond of novelty, he also appreciated the movement of trams.

In the 1970s, the Baron’s statue had to be moved for the first time for the construction of the Perimetral Viaduct for the era of the primacy of cars. Trams were no longer available at this point. When the Baron came back, it found a shrunken square and, from his spot, he witnessed the long period of decadence and urban degradation of the region. The Guanabara Bay could no longer be seen, not even from his pedestal.

After the removal of the Perimetral and the completion of the Rio450 Tunnel, the Baron returns in time to see the advances of the Mauá Square re-urbanization and also the final stage of the construction of the Museum of Tomorrow, the transformation of the Rodrigues Alves Avenue into a public walk and the installation of the Light Rail Vehicle (LRV). Nothing is more attuned to the intrepid thinker, admirer of modernity and of great works. The square of the John VI Palace, restored after decades of abandonment, now houses the Art Museum of Rio (MAR). It returns expanded to fulfil its urban function of connecting the city to the Guanabara Bay and symbolizes a change of path in the development of Rio. The image of Irineu Evangelista de Sousa, between the modern RB1 building and the historical A Noite, and facing the Museum of Tomorrow, consolidates the revitalization spirit, an initiative that could carry his signature today.

Although the noise of machines and the works may continue to disturb for some time, the Baron certainly is happy to be back in the square.

Alberto Gomes Silva, president of Companhia de Desenvolvimento Urbano da Região do Porto do Rio de Janeiro / Photos: Pavel Loj and Bruno Bartholini / February 2015

Alberto Gomes Silva