Fire devastates museum in Brazil

Guardian graphic. Image: Google Earth. Source: Museu Nacional

A fire has completely destroyed the 200-year old National Museum in Rio de Janeiro. Once the home of Brazil’s monarch, the palace became the largest history museum in Latin America. Its collections included art and artifacts of indigenous peoples, as well as Egyptian and Greco-Roman works, fossils, and so much more.

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21 thoughts on “Fire devastates museum in Brazil

  1. Caleigh Sullivan

    On of the most striking aspect of this article for me was a quote from Mércio Gomes that reads, “‘We Brazilians only have 500 years of history. Our National Museum was 200 years old, but that’s what we had, and what is lost forever… We have to reconstruct our National Museum.’” That is so moving to me, that only after 300 years of existence, a National Museum was established. For 200 years, this museum has been collecting artifacts and held “impressive collections” including “items brought to Brazil by Dom Pedro I – the Portuguese prince regent who declared the then-colony’s independence from Portugal.”
    Museums across the world experience low funding and the challenges that come with that. Brazil is no exception. In the article, it states, “‘For many years we fought with different governments to get adequate resources to preserve what is now completely destroyed.’” Here’s where it gets really interesting. Sources said that the museum “had just closed a deal with the Brazilian government;s development bank, BNDES, for funds that included a fire prevention project.” Considering the cause of the fire is still unknown, the fire leaves me wondering what really happened. The museum was reported to be left lacking in funds and clearly needed some preventative measures for protection of the building and objects. But for it to completely burn just after a deal with Brazilian government’s development bank? During a nationwide recession? Suspicious.

    1. Clare Driscoll

      Brazil lost a part of itself in the burning of this museum. A part of the article that stuck out to me was the line that mentioned how Brazil only has 500 years of history and the museum was 200 years of that. Losing such priceless artifacts is heartbreaking because those were the artifacts of the ancestors of Brazil that the people of today trace their lineage back to. What is also appalling is the lack of funding for museums that focus on the artifacts of the past instead of the artifacts of the present and future. It is always important to remember where we came from, and to the indigenous people who stood outside the museum and watched it burn, it seemed ironic that a museum that focused on the past was a casualty in such a disaster. I think preservations efforts should not only be made towards preserving the art, but also preserving older buildings such as this one due to the flammable nature of the building that contributed to its demise. It is very sad that there is a possibility all of these artifacts will be lost forever, and the road to rebuild what has been lost will not be an easy one, but it is something that must done as a collective effort by the people of the country, because it effects everyone, not a select few.

  2. Desiree Liggan

    This fire consumed a part of history that cannot be restored or reproduced. It is imperative to preserve the cultivating makes that contributed to our civilization today. If there was ever a question on when and how we can strive toward preventive safety measures that encompass preserving natural history. The artifacts shared by Dom Pedrol I is commended for his courage. Declaring independence from a country required sacrifice, and commited belief that a better tomorrow could be established by announcing its independence. Perhaps the this is an innovative opportunity to rebuild or provide technological advances to preserve natural history and the arts. Devestatinly, these treasures will no longer be gazed upon or admired; the fascination of discovery must still persist.

  3. Terra Dickinson

    It is a real tragedy that Brazil’s museum burned down. So much was lost, not just artworks. Extinct culture’s whole history was inscribed in papers that were held in the museum. Luzia, one of the oldest human skulls was lost to the fire as well. It wasn’t just Brazil’s culture that was stored in the museum, there were Egyptian artifacts and even some from Alaskan tribes of long ago. The museum itself is a historic place too. It was the old palace of Brazil’s royalty at one time. The only thing that I read that actually survived was the meteorite.

    It really makes a person think that fires can happen to any museum and that historic artifacts just like anything else isn’t going to always be around. It’s a sad thing to say but nothing lasts forever no matter if it’s well taken care of. That’s not to say to not have fire safety installed in your museums, but it is something to think about.

  4. Tai Frazier

    I can’t really articulate the immense sorrow I felt at hearing this news. The fact that I’m still shaken by it several weeks later only serves to highlight the fact. You don’t typically think of a museum as being a place prone to fire or disaster; they’re chunks of time suspended for all the world to see and appreciate the events and cultures we came from.

    I found a statement from the museum staff that all but begged people to share their photos from their trips to this museum, as those pictures are very much the sole reminders of the rich history held within that museum’s walls. We often talk about ‘the ghosts of the past’ and history ‘haunting’ us, and I think in the case of those pictures it’s particularly apt; that part of the past is now twice-dead, preserved in the smallest of glimpses through someone else’s lives.

    It’s heartbreaking, it really is.

  5. Katie Mick

    This is truly upsetting- art was destroyed in Brazil. This art took forever to restore and to get hands on. It is a part of history that has now been erased. We can never get it back and it is heartbreaking, Nobody really thinks this could happen to a museum which makes me wonder if we have good fire safety establishments in our own museums. This article was not only upsetting, but a big eye opener.

  6. Destiny Kay

    It is ashame a museum with so many authentic artifacts burned to the ground. It’s not like we can just create all theses artifacts and other valueables all over again to bring back the museum to life. It’s stressed all through the article that theses items are truly authentic and over 100 hundred years old. Even if they were able to re create everything exactly to how it was the meaning behind the artifact won’t be the same. After reading the article, it makes me ponder, how come no one knows the cause of the fire? Who would want to burn down the museum that has so much meaning? What is next for the museum?

  7. Jema Unger

    What a terrible, terrible loss this must have been for Brazil. The fire consumed not just ancient artifacts, but also much of the culture and history of the people of Latin America. It’s hard to imagine so many items being destroyed in the fire, when the majority of them are irreplaceable. It makes me wonder if the people of Brazil will try to rebuild the museum with different artifacts, or try to recreate replicas of the artifacts that were loss. Either way, it is a shame that they have to rebuild at all.

  8. Michaela Smith

    This is very sad news, so much history and information have been ruined and lost because of this fire. All of those paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and pictures are gone now. All of that information, that was so unique, has just vanished. I feel so bad for the people that worked in the museum because they must have had a huge love for art and history. People having to see something that they work on every day to protect and it is something they love, just vanish? I could not imagine. I feel very bad for Brazil because that museum showed how they started everything and it was something they could look back on. All of that history and all of that effort that historians had to go through, just to find the art and history, was just thrown and burned away. Very very sad and unfortunate.

  9. Kayla Shaffer

    This isn’t necessarily specific to this particular museum in Brazil. The fire destroyed the museum along with the artifacts and precious pieces inside it. And yes, it is devastating and heartbreaking to hear about the loss of such a prized museum, but I have a question. In the instance of bronze, gold, silver, – or any other precious metal – a piece of art, of history could be melted down and turned into something new. When did people start collecting artifacts and art for historic purposes and to study the past? We learn about cultures of the past through studying their history and we do this through their belongings, writing, images they’ve left behind. When did that collection process begin to enable us to study and teach from objects of the past? I think museums are incredible because they allow us to experience objects and images we would otherwise only read about in our history books.
    I had the opportunity to see the casts of objects we studied in the prehistoric section of the class. Seeing the casts made the material much more real because suddenly it was tangible. It’s amazing to think that there is something that exists from so long ago. I think the reason that the destruction of the museum is so powerful and emotional is that a museum is meant to show things. To exhibit, and to allow as many people as possible to experience the past and learn. This means the experience from a museum touches and effects many many many people. This much connection to so many people draws on their emotions because they can relate. And not only that, but how much we relate to and identify with our religions, our cultures. The destruction of a museum takes away a tangible piece of that culture.

  10. Grace Tian

    This is a very sad news for me to hear. Museum is not just a place for us to view these precious artifact, but it is also a way for us to trace our history. Every piece of these artifacts must cost a great of effort and money. This fire did not just burned down the cultural relics. It also burned down all the effort behind this museum. This fire happened in this 200-year old National Museum in Rio de Janeiro is also an alert to all other museums that cultural relics is not just about excavation, but how can we protect it.

  11. Claire Ross

    For me, the most striking line in this article was that the fire was like, ” a lobotomy of the Brazilian memory.” It is unimaginable to me that such priceless artifacts could be destroyed in this manner. I suppose that I am privileged enough to live in a country that adequately funds its museums and at the very least prevents them from burning down. I honestly feel pain when I think about how much material culture, human memory made physical, was wiped from existence when this museum burned.

  12. Adam Cooper

    The loss of theses historical pieces of art is devastating to large numbers of people. No longer, will historians be able to study this window into the past but additionally, everyday people wont be able to admire and enjoy the visual appeals it had to offer. I think that to really understand the loss that can be felt by those who truly admire and love these works, one could look at the recent wildfires that have ravaged the west coast. It completely destroyed everything in its path, much of which was historical in some aspect. It is especially tragic for the Latin American community and its history. While this art in its physical form, the ideas it pioneered can be seen in other works of art forever, and therefore it lives on.

  13. Paul King

    I think the situation surrounding the fire and the government transferring from a center left government to a fascist government makes the timing of it all very suspicious. My heart aches at the thought of all the history lost in the fire, and I hope the political situation doesn’t cause more to be lost in the future.

  14. Meredith Pons

    It is such a shame that all of the priceless historical pieces of art were destroyed in this fire. So much history, culture and precious stories are lost. This fire did not just ruin the art, it also took away down the gratification and effort behind this 200 year old national museum.

  15. Jacie Waltner

    The burning down of this museum in Brazil is really a tragedy. They lost years of history of their only short lived country. The truly sad part is that they will never be able to recover the lost items lost in the fire. Luckily, there are pictures of the art that was lost, so people are still able to see the history in this beautiful country and the works can still be used for teaching history of Brazil, however there will no longer be a way to view any of the culture portrayed in this museum in person. I am truly sad of the loss of history in this fire and I hope for Brazil that more fires like this do not continue to happen.

  16. Katie Ragone

    It is truly upsetting to hear that Brazil has lost so many of their artifacts that dated back to about 200 years ago. It was their largest Natural History Museums and one that the country was very proud of. It was frustrating to read that this fire could have been prevented. The government had failed to give money to the museum and let fall into disrepair. I don’t understand how the government didn’t not care for the museum even though it held some of the most magnificent artifacts that very important to education and the history of their country. They didn’t even care enough to show up to the 200th anniversary of the museum. These artifacts are irreplaceable and it is history that is now lost forever.

    Museums all around the world are extremely important and should be cared for so devastations, like the fire in Brazil, don’t happen. Countries can not set forth towards the future if they are unknowledgeable about the past.

  17. Sam Freeborne

    This is a terrible and devastating loss for Brazil, I can’t imagine how it must have felt. It’s amazing how much damage was done because of the fire. The ancient artifacts, and the culture of Latin America have been destroyed. It’s very saddening to think that many of the pieces of art that were destroyed are irreplaceable and can never be brought back. This article was a big eye-opener for me because it makes me realize how much can be lost in such a short period of time. I hope Brazil tries to create a new museum with new artifacts, but then again I don’t know what they would put. It’s all just really disappointing and makes you thankful for museums in the first place.

  18. Ireland Licklider

    I had seen about this fire in Brazil on the news but I had not realized it caused so much damage and destroyed so many priceless artifacts. This is a devastating loss for Latin America and their culture and history that was within the museum. Recently, with the Notre Dame fire, art and history have been having a lot of heartache lately and losing precious pieces of history.

  19. Tamra

    This devastating event destroyed what is believed to be 20 million items. This was the biggest natural history museum in Latin America. It is so upsetting to know that so many years of their country’s heritage, memory, science, culture and education were destroyed in such a small amount of time.

  20. katlyn wolfe

    “Some Brazilians saw the fire as a metaphor for their country’s traumas as it battles terrifying levels of violent crime and the effects of a recession that has left more than 12 million people unemployed.”this quote really stood out to me. It is so sad that the fire occurred or continued because they did not have enough water to put the fire out. A firefighter commented that the two closet fire hydrants were empty. I think its interesting that some Brazilians are looking at it as a metaphor. “The tragedy this Sunday is a sort of national suicide. A crime against our past and future generations,” Bernard Mello Franco” many people are seeing it as history being ruined. that is what art and sculptures are all about, carrying on history, not leaving the past behind, leaving something for people in the future. it is sad that this museum burned down and lost basically everything. It really is wiping the past away


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