There are plenty of incredible sites, museums and monuments in Brazil to whet your appetite for historical travels. They include National Historical Museum, which was founded in 1922 and contains over 300,000 items relating to Brazil’s history, the prehistoric remains in Serra da Capivara National Park, and the 18th century Jesuit church at Sao Miguel das Missoes.
Our list of the best historic sites in Brazil is your passport to the South American country’s fascinating history.
1. Sao Miguel das Missoes
Sao Miguel das Missoes was founded in the 18th century by the Jesuits or the ‘Society of Jesus’ and intended to convert the indigenous Guarani population to Christianity.
Very little remains of Sao Miguel das Missoes, most of this historic site having been destroyed in 1768 as part of a campaign to expel the Jesuits. The church, of which some ruins remain, had actually already been ravaged by a fire in 1760.
2. Carandiru Prison Museum
Known locally as ‘Casa de Detencao’, the House of Detention, Carandiru Prison in São Paulo was designed by Samuel das Neves in 1920. In October 1992, a revolt over inhumane conditions led to what became known as the Carandiru Massacre. The Policia Militar do Estado de São Paulo stormed the cell blocks, killing 102 prisoners.
The prison was demolished in 2002. The Paulista Penitentiary Museum in the north of the city occupies the one remaining cell block. It aims to preserve the documentation which tells the story of one of the world’s most brutal prisons.
The 21,000-plus collection includes detailed paintings, sculptures and furniture made by prisoners in creative workshops as well as objects ‘that help to reassemble the daily lives of the prisoners’, including rudimental tattoo machines and makeshift weapons.
3. National Historical Museum of Brazil
The National Historical Museum of Brazil, or the Museu Histórico Nacional in Portuguese, is situated in the historic centre of Rio de Janeiro on the site of a Portuguese fortification, arsenal and prison. The buildings were opened to the public in 1922.
Inside the museum, visitors will be able to see the throne of Dom Pedro III (1825-1891), the last monarch of imperial Brazil, and luxuriously ornamented imperial coaches. The museum also features expansive oil paintings of the Paraguayan War, which lasted from 1864 to 1870.
4. Ingá Stone
The Ingá Stone is a rock formation near the Ingá River in northeast Brazil which includes symbols and glyphs thought to have been produced by the pre-Columbian indigneous inhabitants of the region. The meaning of the carvings remain uncertain, but may allude to astronomy, animals and fruits.
The first reports of rock art in the state of Paraíba were made by European settlers in the 16th century. The rock art at Ingá are the most representative group of a particular type of engraving tradition in Brazil. The stone retains symbolic significance for the descendants of the indigenous population of the region.
5. Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) is a 30 metre high statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro. It is mounted upon an 8 metre pedestal and the 700 metre high mountain of Corcovado. It was constructed between 1922 and 1931 and is a Brazilian cultural icon and global symbol of Christianity.
Christ the Redeemer was created by French sculptor Paul Landwoski and Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, working with French engineer Albert Caquot. It weighs 635 metric tons. The face of the Christ the Redeemer statue was created by Gheorghe Leonida, a Romanian sculptor living in Paris hired by Landowski.
6. Football Museum
The Football Museum in São Paulo, Brazil is dedicated to the country’s passionate embrace of football. It contains multimedia displays designed to summon the excitement of the sport. It’s devoted to the practice and wider history of football and was inaugurated in 2008 with Brazilian former football star Pelé in attendance.
The Football Museum is close to the centre of São Paulo. It’s housed inside the Pacaembu Stadium, which was built in 1940 and is one of Brazil’s oldest football stadiums. It features a large exhibit devoted to different editions of the World Cup from 1930 onwards.
7. Museu Afro-Brasil
Museu Afro-Brasil is dedicated to the history of African people in Brazil’s colonial and modern history, and explores aspects of Afro-Brazilian culture. The museum collects objects connected to the subjects of Africa, labour, slavery, religion, history, memory and art.
Its collection of artwork includes important works by Afro-Brazilian artists and its collection of Afro-descendant art is the largest in the Americas. The museum is located in the major Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo.
8. Serra da Capivara National Park
The canyons of Serra da Capivara National Park feature over 500 shelters and caves as well as early evidence of human habitation. It was designated a World Heritage Site in 1991 after the park was created to protect the prehistoric remains located in the area. The Capivara mountain range was densely populated before significant European influence in the Americas.
The park is situated in Piauí, a northeastern state of Brazil, and its landscape is characterised by canyons and the thorny shrublands known as the Caatinga. Archaeological sites in the park include Pedra Furada, Toca de Pena, Baxao de Esperanca and Sitio de Meio.
9. Historic Centre of Salvador
The Historic Centre of Salvador is a location in the Brazilian city of Salvador that retains impressive Renaissance buildings, brightly coloured houses and sober allusions to the fact that this site was one of the first slave markets in the Americas.
The Historic Centre of Salvador is a destination for dining, music and nightlife. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and has been a national heritage site since 1984. Many of the buildings have been renovated: over 800 buildings have restored facades and interiors.
10. Ouro Preto
Ouro Preto is a city in Minas Gerais, Brazil and an important former colonial mining town that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ouro Preto was founded in the late 17th century and was originally known as Vila Rica (“Rich Town”), for its role in the Brazilian Gold Rush which started in the 1690s.
The municipality became known as Ouro Preto (“Black Gold”, for the local gold that is covered with iron oxide) on 23 May 1823 when the village was distinguished as a city. Ouro Preto features well-preserved Portuguese colonial architecture in its city centre, which is relatively unmarked by modern urban development.