Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site
Ministry of Culture - IPHAN
Rio de Janeiro/RJ
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party
The site corresponds to a wharf where enslaved Africans disembarked, located at an area near Downtown Rio de Janeiro called Valongo. Valongo Wharf was built in 1811, and, in 1842, it was landfilled for the construction of a new wharf, to welcome the Princess of Two Sicilies, Tereza Cristina Maria de Bourbon, for her wedding with future Emperor D. Pedro II. In the early 20th century, the Imperatriz Wharf (Empress’s Wharf) was itself covered with earth, and a new square was built over it, whose parallel pavement was also later covered with the current Portuguese stone flooring. The site proposed for inscription in the Tentative List is, therefore, an archaeological site that, since 2011, in the context of the great project for the urban renovation of the central area of the city of Rio de Janeiro (Porto Maravilha), has been subject to archaeological diggings conducted under the supervision of Iphan.
Although not completely delimited by the diggings, traveller’s journals and the vestiges found there indicate that the “Valongo complex” included the Wharf, a group of warehouses used for quarantining, displaying and selling the Africans (some would house more than 2000 people), a lazaretto (a place for the treatment of contagious diseases) and a cemetery, the Pretos Novos Cemetery (Cemetery of New Blacks), that is, black folk that would die upon arrival from diseases caught during the journey or in the insalubrious environment of 19th-century Rio de Janeiro. The cemetery holds about 6,000 burials, most in mass graves, and many incinerated corpses.
In addition to the Wharf, the site includes remnants of the Pretos Novos Cemetery, part of the so-called Valongo Garden, built in a wide urban reform of Rio de Janeiro in the first decade of the 20th century, and the Pedra do Sal, a symbolic location considered the birthplace of samba, a Brazilian music genre and rhythm of African origins. Its surroundings include a set of port buildings currently undergoing renovation, most notably the building of the Former Dom Pedro II Docks.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The number of Africans captured by the Atlantic Traffic is estimated in 10.7 millions, and around 50% of those are believed to have been brought to Brazil. This amount, indicated by historical documentation, is compatible with the dimensions of the demand for captives in a country whose economy was based in the export of agricultural and mineral products, with an extensive coast and a vast territory.
Several factors contributed to Brazil’s two terrible records: that of greatest slave importer and the last country in the world to officially abolish slavery, which only took place very close to the 20th century, in 1888.
From a historic point of view, this is a testimony to one of the most brutal episodes in the history of Humankind. Episodes whose traces were constantly erased throughout time.
Criterion (ii): Valongo Wharf, although in activity for little more than 20 years, was, in this short period, the busiest slavery port in the country. Its location, chosen so as to leave a distance between the arrival of slaves and the noble areas of Rio de Janeiro, was motivated by the intensification of traffic because of the economic transformations experienced by the city and the country with the establishment of the Portuguese Court in Rio de Janeiro. There is no precise information on the number of slaves that arrived through Valongo, but it is estimated in over 500 thousand people.
Foreign travellers’ records, corroborated by vestiges found recently in the so-called Pretos Novos Cemetery, paint a terrifying picture of insalubrity, of the terrible health conditions of those arriving in Brazil and the massive presence of children, unusual in the first stage of slave traffic.
The site symbolizes the beginning of exchanges that would determine the social and cultural profile of Brazil, a phenomenon extending to most of the American continent.
Criterion (vi): The site received support from the International Scientific Committee of UNESCO’s 2013 Project for its inclusion in the World Heritage List because it consists in one of the most striking testimonials to the history of slavery and its legacy in the Americas.
The Valongo Wharf is associated with the origins of samba, in the first Carnival ranchos, afoxés and ritual pontos, surviving to this day.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrity
The nominated property preserves parts of the Imperatriz Wharf and of the Valongo Wharf. According to archaeological research, the Imperatriz Wharf is now damaged, with only a few surviving islands from the old flooring. The most interesting place, however, the Valongo Wharf, is better preserved, since it is found at a lower stratigraphic layer.
The Pretos Novos Cemetery was not yet thoroughly studied, but techniques of so-called forensic archaeology have allowed some highly valuable findings from the point of view of untold history, as seen from the standpoint of black people.
Archaeological findings such as food, bones and other vestiges indicate the way in which slaves were treated, as well as their dead. A particularly noticeable feature is the variety of religious cult objects, denoting the diversity of geographic and cultural origins of the Africans who landed in Brazil and mingled in work settings, whether in urban life or in mining and agricultural areas.
The presence of the sacred and the sense of ancestry found in the place has turned Valongo into a symbolic landmark for social movements promoting racial equality.
Its archaeological collection is being treated under the tutelage of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
After its identification in archaeological researches, the area was appropriated as a symbolic and ritual place for African-Brazilian religions. The site’s management was entrusted to the Rio de Janeiro City Hall, including the consolidation and protection of remaining archaeological structures, the arrangement of circulation spaces and the treatment of the collection. The Pretos Novos Institute of Research and Memory, managing the archaeological site of Pretos Novos Cemetery, is also in activity at the place.
a) The site possesses all the elements necessary for the expression of its Outstanding Universal Value; it represents distinct moments in history, from the wharf that supported the forced entry of black people from Africa, to the presence of European elites in Brazil, with the construction of Imperatriz Wharf over the Valongo.
b) Its dimensions are enough to enable a complete representation of the processes that define the relevance of this property; the archaeological site already studied presents some crucial characteristics and material dimensions for the knowledge and appropriation of the space as a place of memory.
c) It suffers the negative effects of the heavy circulation of pedestrians and the intense process of urban renovation in its surroundings. The Rio de Janeiro City Hall is responsible for commissioning studies and projects, and the Porto Novo Concessionaire, in charge of the Porto Maravilha Project, is responsible for maintaining the space.
Comparison with other similar properties
In the international context, the Door of No Return, in Benin (Africa), although it was a gateway through which slaves were embarked towards America, may be compared to the Valongo Wharf.
Some academic studies inventorying the places of memory of the Atlantic traffic of slaves and the history of Africans indicate other port towns in the Americas with similar characteristics, but the theme is underrepresented in the World Heritage List, further reinforcing the nomination of Valongo Wharf.