Archeological studies and excavations conducted in recent decades - particularly after work began on Porto Maravilha - have shown how the history and culture of Rio de Janeiro´s Port Region can shed light on the African Diaspora and the shaping of Brazilian society. These archeological finds were the inspiration for Municipal Statute 34.803, which on November 29, 2011 created the Curatorial Workgroup on the Historical and Archeological Circuit Celebrating African Heritage, a collective effort to draft guidelines to be used in implementing policies that will recognize and protect this memory and cultural heritage.
Each one of the places listed in the statute speaks to a dimension of the lives of Africans and their descendents in the Port Region. The former Valongo and Empress Wharves represent the slaves´ arrival in Brazil. New Blacks Cemetery bears witness to the deplorable end assigned the mortal remains of peoples brought from the African continent. In the public square known as Largo do Depósito, Africans were sold into slavery. The Hanging Garden of Valongo symbolizes official history and its attempts to wipe out any traces of the slave traffic. Around it stood "fattening houses" and shops that did a bustling trade in slavery goods. Pedra do Sal was a place of resistance, celebration and gathering together. Lastly, the old Freguesia de Santa Rita school, which later became a major hub of black culture as the José Bonifácio Cultural Center, represents education and culture as instruments of freedom in our day. Posted as official stops along the Historical and Archeological Circuit Celebrating African Heritage, these landmarks will be a focal point of the Porto Maravilha Cultural Program. The Workgroup, in addition to defining signage, has devised initiatives that will disseminate knowledge of this chapter of the history of the African Diaspora. The proposal calls for guided visits, publications and publicity activities.
1 Valongo and Empress Wharves
Valongo Wharf was built by the General Intendency of the Police of the Court of the City of Rio de Janeiro in 1811 in compliance with an order issued in 1779 by the Marquis of Lavradio, Viceroy of Brazil, who wanted to shift the disembarkation and trading of enslaved Africans away from Rua Direita (now Primeiro de Março). The slave market picked up steam after the dock was built, and more than 500,000 Africans landed there, coming mostly from Congo and Angola in central-western Africa. The pier underwent a series of transformations over the years. The first was in 1843, when it was elegantly remodeled to receive the Princess of Two Sicilies, Teresa Cristina Maria de Bourbon, fiancée of Dom Pedro II, who would later be Emperor; it was rechristened Empress Wharf in her honor. With Rio´s early twentieth-century urban reforms, in 1911 the area of Imperatriz Dock was filled in. One century later, in 2011, this archeological site was recovered as a result of the Porto Maravilha re-urbanization project and is now part of an open, protected monument, meeting a longstanding demand of the Black Movement.
The My Porto Maravilha exhibit center (located at the corner of Avenida Barão de Tefé and Avenida Venezuela) offers guided tours to the former Valongo and Empress Wharves, the Hanging Garden of Valongo and the Guardhouse. Tours leave at 11 am and at 2 pm, Tuesdays through Sundays. Group tours can be arranged by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
2 Pedra do Sal
Located at the end of Rua Argemiro Bulcão, Pedra do Sal is known as the birthplace of samba in Rio de Janeiro. Today it is still a gathering place for local samba lovers. The name - Rock of Salt - derives from the fact that enslaved Africans unloaded the product here in the seventeenth century. The steps were chiseled in to make the work of climbing the boulder´s smooth surface easier. In the second half of the nineteenth century, stevedores would meet to sing and dance at Pedra do Sal. The first improvised Carnival blocks and parades - known as ranchos and afoxés - and the first samba circles took place here. Great names in music have graced the area, like João da Baiana, Pixinguinha and Donga. On November 20, 1984, Black Consciousness Day, Pedra do Sal was declared a heritage site by the State Cultural Heritage Institute.
3 Hanging Garden of Valongo
Old Rua Valongo, a street that ran from Valongo Wharf to Largo do Depósito, was home to stores that sold slaves and articles used in slavery. Along this route, newly arrived slaves were held in large sheds known as "fattening houses," where they were induced to gain weight in order to increase their market value. Enslaved Africans were also displayed to prospective buyers in the markets there. When the road was widened in the early twentieth century, the Hanging Garden of Valongo, Guardhouse and Public Lavatory were all built. As part of then-mayor Pereira Passos´ plan to remodel and beautify the city, the garden was designed by landscape architect Luis Rey and inaugurated in 1906. Archeological excavations have unearthed a vast collection of household articles from the era, which illustrate aspects of the daily life, customs and mentality of the residents of the surrounding neighborhood of Morro da Conceição.
4 Largo do Depósito
In 1779, when the Marquis of Lavradio ordered the slave market to be moved from Praça XV to the Valongo area - more specifically, to the Largo do Depósito public square (now Praça dos Estivadores) - it was the site of stores owned by members of the business elite who controlled slave trafficking. The change brought new activities into the district as warehouses and factories set up shop. The market on Rua Valongo was officially abolished in 1831.
5 New Blacks Cemetery
When the slave market was transferred from the area of today´s Rua Primeiro de Março (former Rua Direita) to Rua Valongo, New Blacks Cemetery had to be moved from Largo de Santa Rita to Caminho da Gamboa - now located at number 32 Rua Pedro Ernesto, the address of the New Blacks Institute. These "new blacks" were captives who had just arrived in Brazil and who often times died not long after disembarkation, succumbing to the harsh treatment meted out on the voyage from Africa. The archeological site was discovered in 1996 when homeowners were refurbishing their house. Archeologists have identified thousands of fragments of the remains of men, women and children, all newly arrived Africans. Considered the largest slave cemetery in the Americas, it is estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 people were buried there, although official records put the figure at 6,122 from 1824 to 1830. Their bodies were tossed into a mass grave and burned. The same area also served as a garbage dump, a fact that underscores the inhuman treatment to which enslaved Africans were subjected. In addition to human bones, other findings include personal items belonging to the so-called new blacks and everyday objects discarded by the population at large, including the remains of food. Analyses have shown that most of the bones came from children and teenagers. Today the house is a cultural center for the recovery of the history of African culture. Courses and workshops are offered, and there is also a library on black issues.
The New Blacks Institute (Instituto Pretos Novos) is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 1 pm to 6 pm. To schedule a visit on Saturdays, Sundays, or holidays, please call (21) 2516-7089.
6 José Bonifácio Cultural Center
Opening its doors on March 14, 1877, the José Bonifácio Cultural Center was the first public high school in Latin America. Built at the order of Dom Pedro II to educate the Port Region´s poor, it was part of the group of educational institutes known as the "emperor´s schools." It was closed in 1977 and converted into the Gamboa Municipal Community Library. This royal mansion, located at number 80 Rua Pedro Ernesto in Gamboa, has long been a hub of Afro-Brazilian culture.