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Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site is located in central Rio de Janeiro and encompasses the entirety of Jornal do Comércio Square. It is in the former harbour area of Rio de Janeiro in which the old stone wharf was built for the landing of enslaved Africans reaching the South American continent from 1811 onwards. An estimated 900,000 Africans arrived in South America via Valongo. The site is composed of several archaeological layers, the lowest of which consists of floor pavings in pé de moleque style, attributed to the original Valongo Wharf. It is the most important physical trace of the arrival of African slaves on the American continent.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Site archéologique du quai de Valongo

Le Site archéologique du quai de Valongo est situé au centre de Rio de Janeiro. Il englobe l’intégralité de la place du Jornal do Comércio. Il s’agit de l’ancienne zone portuaire de Rio de Janeiro, où fut construit l’ancien quai en pierre, conçu pour le débarquement des esclaves africains atteignant le continent sud-américain à partir de 1811. On estime à 900 000 le nombre d’Africains arrivés en Amérique du Sud par Valongo. Le site est composé de plusieurs couches archéologiques, dont la plus profonde est constituée d’un sol pavé de style pé de moleque, attribué au quai de Valongo d’origine. Il s’agit de la trace matérielle la plus importante associée à l’arrivée d’esclaves africains sur le continent américain.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Valongo Werf, archaeologische site

De archeologische site Valongo Werf is gelegen in centraal Rio de Janeiro en omvat het hele Jornal do Comércio Plein, het voormalige havengebied van de stad waarin een stenen werf werd gebouwd voor de aankomst van tot slaaf gemaakte Afrikanen. Vanaf 1811 kwam een geschat aantal van 900.000 Afrikanen aan in Zuid-Amerika via Valongo. De fysieke site bestaat uit verschillende archeologische lagen, waarvan de laagstgelegen bestaat uit bestrating in pé de moleque stijl, toegeschreven aan de originele werf. Het is het belangrijkste fysieke spoor van de aankomst van Afrikaanse slaven op het Amerikaanse continent.

Source: unesco.nl

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Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site - 4th Washing of the Wharf © João Maurício Bragança
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site is situated on Jornal do Comércio Square in the dock area of Rio de Janeiro city. The wharf started being built in 1811 to facilitate the debarkation of enslaved Africans arriving in Brazil. It is estimated that up to 900,000 African captives entered the Americas via Valongo.

In physical terms the property consists of several archaeological layers. The lowest of these with floor pavings in pé de moleque style represents the remains of the Valongo Wharf. Later, more dominant layers relate to the Empress’ Wharf, constructed in 1843. The property’s characteristic is that it is a beach that was covered with extensive paving made of hewn stones of different sizes, forms and functions, with a ramp and steps leading down to the sea. It was built in an apparently simple process, not on a landfill, as was customary, but directly on the sand of the beach, following its natural contours.

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site is the globally most significant remains of a landing point of enslaved Africans in the Americas and therefore carries enormous historical as well as spiritual importance to African Americans. Valongo Wharf can therefore be seen as unique and exceptional both from a material point of view and with regard to the spiritual associations to which it is tangibly related.

Criterion (vi): Valongo Wharf is the most important physical evidence associated with the historic arrival of enslaved Africans on the American continent. It is a site of conscience, which illustrates strong and tangible associations to one of the most terrible crimes of humanity, the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of people creating the largest forced migration movement in history. As the very location the African stepped onto American soil and with it into their new lives as enslaved labour, the site evokes painful memories, which many African Brazilians can strongly relate to. Preserving these memories, the vicinity of Valongo Wharf has become an arena for various manifestations celebrating African heritage on an ongoing basis.

Integrity

The modest fragments of Valongo Wharf, which were left exposed to the public after their excavation in 2011, encompass the complete remains of the original stone disembarkation wharf. The wharf’s function was originally related to auxiliary structures, such as warehouses, quarantine facilities, the lazaretto and the New African cemetery. These are either lost or preserved only as underground remains in the buffer zone and are legally protected.

As the debarkation point after long and painful journeys across the Atlantic Ocean, Valongo Wharf and the sea were closely related. Therefore, integrity is presently reduced by the disconnection between the archaeological site and the seafront which is removed as result of land reclamations in the dock area. To ensure legibility of the property, it is essential to undertake measures, which assist in reconnecting the sea to the archaeological site.

The intensification of real estate development on all sides of the property and, in particular, towards the sea front is of concern as it will continue to significantly transform the landscape and could have negative impacts on the perception of the property. As future excavations may uncover further auxiliary functions of the wharf, it is essential that detailed archaeological investigations are conducted before any project is undertaken. While the Special Urban Interest Area of Rio's Porto Region, which lies at a distance of about 50 metres to the site, is not included in the buffer zone, it will be necessary to ensure that developments will not negatively impact of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.

Authenticity

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site preserves the remains of Rio de Janeiro’s slave disembarkation wharf in the 19th century. Its earthen cover for the past 168 years has enabled this sensitive site to be preserved with the design of the former disembarkation slipway, drainage system and paving. No reconstruction was undertaken which retains the archaeological remains as an exact fragmented reflection of the early 19th century. These remains are authentic in terms of their material, location, workmanship, substance and, as much as can be perceived, design.

In addition, the modest physical remains are highly authentic in spirit and feeling evoking a memory reference and identity marker for the large Brazilian population of African origin and African Americans at large. This aspect is underlined by creation of religious rituals, such as the Washing of the Wharf, during the merely five years period that the site has been rediscovered.

Protection and management requirements

The Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site is protected by federal Law number 3924, of 26 July 1961 through its official registration on 25 April 2012. The stipulations of this protection are enforced by the Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (IPHAN) as the responsible body for its conservation and management.

The property is cherished by the African-Brazilian society, with communities committed on a daily basis to the site’s care and preservation. This is not only expressed in the religious value the site has been attributed but also the associated rituals established. The physical proximity of these actors, and even the fact that a church of the African cult (Iglesia Universal) will be next to the site to organize regular meetings, creates a strong feeling of community guardianship of the property.

The conservation of the site is supervised by IPHAN and supported by the Companhia de Desenvolvimento do Porto of Rio de Janeiro (CDURP). A conservation plan has been adopted to guide these processes. Regular monitoring and maintenance is needed to ensure protection of the site against erosion and the functionality of the rainwater drainage system via pumps. The conservation and management of the site will be overseen by a council instituted by IPHAN and involving civil society and federal, state and municipal institutions committed to the preservation of cultural heritage and/or linked to questions of interest to the population of African origin.

The site management plan requires to be finalized and an adequately resourced site management body needs to be created. Further minimalistic interpretation on site will allow visitors who may not visit the museum to gain a general understanding of the site’s multi-layered character. Special attention should be given to evaluating further urban developments in terms of their potential negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property before any construction approvals are granted as well as measures which aim at re-establishing the relationship between the property and Guanabara Bay.