Brazil’s 200 Year Old Museum Set Ablaze

By: Malena Esposito

Two hundred years ago, the National Museum of Brazil, or Museu Nacional, was constructed at the Quinta da Boa Vista park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on September, the establishment burned down, destroying millions of priceless artifacts from thousands of years ago.

From 1818 to 1891, the Museu Nacional served as a home to notable families, such as the Portuguese royals and Brazilian imperial family. Since 1891, it’s served as a home to over 20 million artifacts, most of which have been set ablaze. While the exact cause of the fire is unknown, is it strongly speculated to be due to a short circuit.

As well as being regarded as South America’s most significant museum, the institution “held one of the largest scientific libraries of Brazil, with over 470,000 volumes and 2,400 rare works.” Additionally, the Museu Nacional offered specialized courses for college-level students, educational activities and exhibitions for the general public, as well as the scientific journal that had been running since 1876.

In recent years, the Museu Nacional was taken under the wing of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, which managed the funds they received. Dr. Ana Lucia Araujo, historian and professor of Howard University, took to Twitter to post a chart detailing the museum’s budget in the last five years.

Museum Funds

As you can see above, the budget of Museu Nacional was cut by over 90% from 2013 to 2018, and by over 93% from 2017 to 2018. Many believe this dramatic decrease in funds is the cause of the tragic fire that started on Sunday, September 2nd.

Prior to the disaster, the museum suffered from serious neglect including peeling walls and exposed electrical wires. In fact, back in 2015, Museu Nacional had to endure a brief shutdown due to “problems with security and cleaning services.” Looking back at the chart, it is apparent that that same year the museum faced significant budget cuts, which most likely was the cause for such detrimental maintenance issues.

Naturally, opinions of Sunday’s shock were not left unspoken.

“Incalculable to Brazil the loss of the collection of the National Museum.” Brazilian President Michel Temer tweeted. “200 years of work, research and knowledge have been lost. The value of our history cannot be measured by the damage to the building that housed the royal family during the empire. It’s a sad day for all Brazilians.”

Marina Silva, candidate for their upcoming presidential election, also took to Twitter to release her feelings on the incident. “The collection of Quinta da Boa Vista contains objects that helped define the national identity, and are now turning gray,” she wrote in the first tweet. “Unfortunately, given the financial shortage of UFRJ and other public universities in the last three years, this was an announced tragedy,” she continued.

Vice museum director Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte even blamed the cause of the underfunding on the country’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup.

“The money spend on each of those stadiums — a quarter of that would have been enough to make this museum safe and resplendent,” he said in an interview on Sunday. Duarte also confessed to developing the habit of “unplugging everything in his office at night because of the risk.”

However, despite the mistreatment of the abundant institution, a significant event that occured on the scene severely contributed to its downfall and destruction of priceless artifacts. Two hydrants nearest to the museum failed to provide water, so the eighty firefighters involved had use a lake as their resource.

Although employees aided in extracting objects from the interior, an estimated 90% of the pieces have been lost in the flames. Some of the most famous sites of the museum include Luzia Woman, the oldest human skeleton ever discovered in the Americas, a fish-eating dinosaur, the Francisca Keller Library, as well as art, photos, and objects from Brazil’s indigenous peoples.

While a huge portion of American history has been lost, let it not be repeated. Museums are more than just the location for your fifth grade field trip; they are filled with culture, diversity, and appreciation. Without museums and without the preservation of ancient artifacts, we wouldn’t be able to see or understand crucial pieces to the puzzle that is human history. Our history, all of ours.



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