Posted by: Rob Viens | June 7, 2012

Filth, Beauty and the Lady of the Rock

June 7th – As it has been a busy week for me, I’ll let Darwin’s words carry the day.  In this passage from today’s journal, I particularly like the contrast between the first part of his day (“nothing could be more uninteresting”) and the later part (“I was much struck by the beauty”). He writes:

“Rode with Mr Bolger to the chapel of Nossa Senhora de Penha; this being one of the sights of the country.— Our road lay through the North & back part of the city, which covers a much greater space than I had imagined. The suburbs are very filthy & are surrounded by marshes covered with the Mangrove; the tide occasionally flows into them, & is sufficient to cause a continual putrefaction of vegetable & animal matter, which is rendered very perceptible to the nose.— The land surrounding the Bay is generally thus situated for instance Macucù & in consequence unhealthy. As we proceeded in this direction nothing could be more uninteresting than the country.— Nossa Senhora is a gay little chapel built on one of the naked rounded hills of gneiss so frequent in this country.— Some hundreds of steps lead to the summit & there is an extensive view of the harbor & its islands.— On our return we rode to the palace of St Christophe; at a distance, from its large & regular dimensions & from the bright colours of the walls, it has a grand appearance.— I was much struck by the beauty of the right hand side building; I did not expect to see any thing so elegant in the Brazils.— The gate, which the Duke of Northumberland sent as a copy of the one at Sion house, stands on the edge of a hill where there is no path; even under such circumstances it is highly ornamental.” (June 7)

The chapel Darwin visited is the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Penha (Our Lady of the Rock) – a beautiful little church located on a hill or rock in Rio. It was founded in the 17th century. The church stands out (literally) in the image below from the travel blog

Nossa Senhora da Penha

The palace that Darwin describes (and the gate) are now part of Quinta da Boa Vista park located in the neighborhood of São Cristóvão. The neighborhood (including the park) is located just to the north of Corcovado, which also matches the description of the area Darwin traveled through today.

The Imperial Palace (and gate) in the early 19th Century similar to what Darwin probably saw (from Journal of a Voyage to Brazil by Maria Graham (1824)):

Imperial Palace in Rio

Quinta da Boa Vista park now houses the National Museum (the former imperial palace – the Paço de São Cristóvão) and the Rio Zoological Gardens (Jardim Zoológico). Throughout the 19th century the palace was the residence of first the Portuguese Prince Regent John VI, and then (after Brazilian independence) the Emperors of Brazil. After Brazil became a Republic and the reign of Emperors ended (in the late 1800’s) the palace became the National Museum.  Darwin would have been viewing the palace in its heyday, only about 10 years after Brazil gained its independence.

The National Museum today (from Wikipedia Commons):

Imperial Palace in Rio

The gate Darwin describes, a gift to the first Emperor Dom Pedro I from the Duke of Northumberland, is now the entrance to the Jardim Zoológico.

The entrance gate to the Rio Zoological Gardens (from Wikipedia Commons):

Gaeway to the Rio Zoological Gardens



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