The provision of a new museum of Afro-Brazilian culture at a Unesco World Heritage site in Rio de Janeiro remains on the cards, despite speculation that delays could cause it to lose its Unesco status.
Valongo Wharf is the location where nearly one million captive Africans first disembarked in Brazil between 1811 and 1831. It was uncovered during preparations for the 2016 Olympics and gained World Heritage Site status the following year.
Brazil’s National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (Iphan) and the Rio prefecture then announced that it would build an educational museum dedicated to the site. Brazilian media subsequently speculated that a contractual condition set by Unesco meant that the centre had to open by December 2018, or the site would be de-listed.
This has been refuted by Unesco, which is reported as saying that delisting sites is “very much like saying that we give up on it, and we don’t do that”.
The Valongo Wharf site is currently the subject of a two-year conservation project by Iphan and the Institute of Development and Management, in which the first steps are repairing stone pavements, strengthening walls and foundations, and adding rainwater drainage.
Reports that the organisers hoped the museum could be housed in an adjacent building – the federally-owned Docas Dom Pedro II, built in 1871 by André Rebouças, the first Afro-Brazilian engineer, have not yet been confirmed or denied by Iphan.
However, a statement from Iphan said the museum would be an “open air” museum within the ruins, and that an “Interpretation Centre” would be constructed, with “scenic lighting, interpretive signage, landscaping treatment and a small visitor centre”. This will help people to “understand the context of the port at the time of its construction, in the eighteenth century”, said Iphan.
The project has been supported by an investment of US$500,000 (€439,300, £386,000) from the US consulate, reaffirming the joint work that the US and Brazil have been doing for more than two decades to promote racial inclusion, and highlight the shared African heritage between the two countries..
Currently managed by the Institute of Development and Management, with a management committee responsible for the implementation of site preservation initiatives, the various institutions involved are working on raising funds to continue to develop the plans for the Valongo Wharf site.