Tiradentes Palace

Today I went on my first field trip with my Portuguese class to explore Centro (see previous ‘downtown’ post), we went to Tiradentes Palace which was the old building of the National Congress of Brazil between 1926 and 1960…Today it is the current seat of the Legislative Assembly of the State of Rio de Janeiro.

Some history for you: In 1922 The Imperial Parliament building was demolished, which gave rise to the Tiradentes Palace, designed by Eclectic Style architects Archimese Memory and Cuchet Francisco.  Named Palacio Tiradentes because it is the site of the old jail where Tiradentes, the leader of the greatest colonist conspiracy against Portugal, was held before his execution by hanging on April 21, 1792.

The facade is lined with concrete, and the allegorical sculptures represent the Independence and Republic. As beautiful as the faced is, it is the inside that is truly magnificent. As you enter, the first thing you see is a gorgeous marble stairway- huge slabs of white marble in perfect condition. The room below is one of the smaller meeting rooms with fresco’s representing the Tiradentes story dancing across the ceiling.  Almost like water colors the paintings are faded, done in pale pastels.

The decorative panel (see below) from Tiradentes Palace House was run by Eliseu Visconti in 1926 and represents the signature of the first Republican Constitution of 1891. The large panel, was restored in 2001, depicting a life-size portrait of the sixty-three constituents. Even from across the room you can see how detailed this painting is and how much pride people feel when looking at it (my teacher was quite moved).

The inside of the dome, is covered with a beautiful stained glass panel which represents the sky in Brazil the morning of the Proclamation of Republic November 15 1889.  The dome was created by Brazilian artist Gastão Formentti and completely restored by Ópera Prima Arquitetura e Restauro, a Rio de Janeiro company. The massive paintings surrounding the dome are historic scenes celebrating the Republic and the story of Tiradentes. It was truly an incredible experience.

Guided tours are free Mon-Sat 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sun and holidays noon – 5 p.m, since mine was part of class it was Portuguese only (meaning I actually understood about every 5th word the woman was saying), but don’t worry, you can take a tour in English


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Another Beautiful Church in Centro

Located in the heart of downtown you will find some of Rio’s most magnificent churches including Igreja de Sao Jose.  I was actually shocked at how bright and full it was on a Wednesday afternoon—I went on a class field trip

The church stands beside the Tiradentes Palace and the Imperial Palace, a few meters from the Church of Caramel (they feel quite similar inside).  Work on Irgeja de Sao Jose began in 1808, and was completed 34 years later. The bells are known for making ‘the most sound of the city’.

As you can see, the church is a beautiful mixture of traditional Brazilian colonial and Rococo styles. Located on Avenida Presidente Antonio Carlos, s / n. Centro. It is open daily from 7am-5pm


Lunch at the Palace

Nested inside the Paço Imperial (Palace, the emperor’s first residence in Brazil) is the Atrium restaurant.  Named one of the most beautiful restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, you feel pleasantly transported to another time.  

The traditional colonial style building was built in 1743 and restored in 1980. Notice the think walls and heavy arches, the elegant decor takes full advantage of the arched walls and stone floors.

The menu is also a mixture of tradition and creativity.  Everything on the menu sounded delicious; from eclectic pastas to traditional carne (beef) dishes. I went with the ‘Light Chicken’ (shocker for me, I know), but this was excellent! Grilled chicken with oregano and served with a green salad in mustard sauce- it was the seasoned perfectly making it my ideal lunch.

After dining here, I understand why it is rated one of Brazil’s best restaurants.  It is only open for lunch, so try to get there before all of the ‘power-lunching business execs’ fill the place up (we arrived right before the place was filled!)


Church of Gold: Our Lady of Mount Caramel

I studied art history in college and have always had a soft spot when it came exploring churches.  I think they are incredibly interesting, so much rich history and incredible artwork/ architecture in one place that I feel I have to share them. 

The Carmo Church dates back to the original chapel of the nearby Convento do Carmo, one of the oldest city (16th century). In 1590 the Carmelites donated a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of O. The façade was completed only around 1822 by Pedro Alexandre Cavroé, which gave the building a large pediment in classic style.

It is the interior decor that will have your mouth drop! A magnificent gilded garb of rococo covers the main chapel, side chapels, nave and ceiling. The carvings were done in 1785 by sculptor Ignatius Ferreira Pinto (one of the greatest artists of colonial Rio de Janeiro). As you can see the contrast between the golden and white backgrounds is so elegant and illuminates the chapel. The detailed gold carving is absolutely stunning! Sort of reminds me of Bernini’s Baldachin over the High Altar of St. Peter’s (my fav).   


The paintings allude to episodes of the sacred order, painted by Angelo Clerici. 

Great way to spend a rainy day downtown Rio

From High Society Tea to Saara.. There is something for everyone

After the seeing the beautiful churches (see my last post), it was time for a ‘snack’. We headed to Confeitaria Colombo, a well known Belle Époque’ tearoom that opened its doors in 1894; quickly becoming the ’ rendez-vous’ place of choice for Rio’s high society members. The ornate late 19th century decor really did remind me of Belle Epoque Paris — or a painting by Monet. At the front of the restaurant is a bakery and candy shop so you can see all of the wonderful goodies right away.

The very high ceiling (which has a stained glass circle in the center) is ringed by a balcony of people who want something more than just a snack or sweet. The room itself is surrounded by enormous Jacaranda-framed mirrors which are absolutely stunning!

There are hundreds of different ‘snacks’ (if you are craving something salty and or fried) as well as a wide selection of different desserts.  We started out with some of my favorite snacks: a pastel carne (ie ground beef in a pocket), empada( little pastry filled with either chicken, shrimp or cheese) and I tried my first camarao frito a meaipe (large friend shrimp with too much batter— if you take off half the batter it is delicious!) Then it was on to desserts….As you can see we got a chocolate napoleon (something safe-I know I like these!) and we tried a few traditional Brazilian and Portuguese desserts…

  The Pasteis de Nata (custard tart traditionally Portuguese) which was good, but extremely sweet, so I would recommend sharing it even though it is small.  We also tried something similar to quindim (basically egg yolks, sugar and butter)… I was not a fan.  In general the desserts here are either chocolate (safe for me), passion fruit (it is huge here) or ‘egg yolk’…they love their egg yolks here….personally, I will be sticking to sorvete (ice cream!)

In a city that has replaced much of the old with less attractive modern construction, Confeitaria Colombo was a welcomed surprise.

Then it was off to Saara, which is like NYC’s Chinatown during a New Year festival every day. Syrian, Lebanese, Greek, Turkish, Jewish, Spanish, Portuguese and Argentinean immigrants are among the pioneer merchants in what is known as ‘Saara’ and thousands of people fill these streets daily.  Saara (ie Chiantown) is a mixture of all sorts of vendors.

   On the street level there are tons of different merchants selling everything from different foods/spices to clothing and home goods. As you can see from the picture below, this store had containers of everything you could think of (olives, cherries, cake decoration sprinkles, spices etc).  Very convenient to do a ton of shopping in one place, and everything here is 10times cheaper than the rest of the city.  However, beware… these little stores are VERY hot (no ac here), get crowded and there are flies buzzing around.  In general, because of the bacalhau it doesn’t smell great…wouldn’t want to be here on a really hot, crowded day!

The second stories are old art deco buildings that are falling apart. If you stare at it long enough you can see that once upon a time they were beautifully colored buildings.  We were going to explore the National Library but since Obama is coming to town this weekend people were ‘practicing’ their protests in the square…so decided to call it a day and we will venture downtown another day. 

Heading Downtown…..

Yesterday was my first visit to Downtown Rio and I must admit I was very surprised.  The cobblestone (paralelepípedo- my fav word in Poruguese) streets are very narrow and there is a mix of old world and new world architecture. There are larger commercial buildings (like in any other city)

and scattered in between the side streets are older very cute(but falling apart) art deco buildings- what Rio used to be back in the day. It’s rather unfortunate that they are not being restored, through the decay you can see they were once all beautiful bright colored buildings.

There are also a ton of churches which are very similar to the ones you would see while exploring France or Italy- very Baroque. Beautiful fresco’s, stained glass ceilings and extremely detailed carvings.  We visited 2 churches today:

The first was Igreja da Candelaria (Church of Our Lady of Candelaria) shown above. Some history for you: In 1608 there was a ship named Candelaria that survived terrible storms finally docking in Rio; thankful for their survival the couple on board built the chapel (naming it after their ship) in 1609. The facade faces the Bay of Guanabara (gorgeous view).

In 1878 Antonio de Paula Freitas and Heitor Cordoville began decorating the interior of the church, following an Italian neo-Renaissance model, with Italian marble flooring, polychromatic walls and columns. The angels holding up the staircases are absolutely stunning. The magnificent wall paintings inside the Church were created by Brazilian painter João Zeferino da Costa and were distributed through the roof, aisles, dome and chapel of the church between 1880 and late nineteenth century. 

  The incredible detail on the roof of the nave are 6 panels dedicated to the early history of Candelaria Church, since the founding trip until the first consecration.  The paintings on the dome represent the Virgin and symbols of the Old Testament. When inside you feel transported to another time.

The second church we visited was Mosteiro de Sao Bento which is on the hill of St. Benedict in the historic center of town.  It is regarded as one of the major monuments of colonial arts of the city and country.  It is tucked away from the main streets so I would recommend going by car.  The building of this ‘Abbey’ started in 1590 (its pretty cool that each layer has the date it was started on top of it)

The church interior is rich, fully lined with a gilded style that goes from the Baroque of the late 17th century to the Rococo of the second half of the 18th century.  The first sculptor active in the church was the Portuguese monk Frei Domingos da Conceicao.  Look closely, and you can see how incredibly detailed every inch of the entire interior really is.

He designed and carved the magnificent statues of the nave of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica,as well as the high altar of the church, Our Lady of Montserrat (holder of the church).  Love the little cherubs on each pillar (below) 

The fresco’s represent the life of Benedictine saints (painted by German monk Frei Ricardo do Pilar between 1676 and 1684). In the sacristy of the monestery is a masterpiece by Fra Ricardo; a screen representing the Lord of the Martyrs, painted in 1690.  This church was particularly fun to see because there was something wonderful to see in every direction and was very rich in history.  There are currently supervised visits to this church.  Not just a church for tourists to visit, there is also a school there.  Of the two churches we saw, this was my favorite, the carvings were spectacular and the emphasis on religious symbolism made me feel like I was back in Italy:)