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Cultural Landscape of Paranapiacaba: Village and railway systems in the Serra do Mar Mountain Range, São Paulo

Date of Submission: 27/02/2014
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture - IPHAN
State, Province or Region:
São Paulo/SP
Ref.: 5878

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Category: Cultural property; cultural landscape, organically evolved and continuing.

The inscription comprehends the cultural heritage of the Railway Village of Paranapiacaba, built by the English company São Paulo Railway Co., the natural heritage of Atlantic Rainforest in the stretch circumscribed by the perimeter of the Nascentes de Paranapiacaba Natural Park, in the Municipality of Santo André, on top of the Serra do Mar Mountain Range, and the technological railroad heritage of the funicular and rack-and-pinion systems at the Mogi River Basin between the municipalities of Santo André and Cubatão, in the State of São Paulo, Brazil.

The São Paulo Railway Co. (SPR), inaugurated in 1867 (1st funicular system, or “Serra Velha” system), was the first railway in the State of São Paulo, carrying passengers and the coffee production from the paulista province of Jundiaí to the Santos harbor. At the scarp of Serra do Mar, at 796 meters high, the intense activity of coffee economy allowed by SPR gave rise to the Railway Village of Paranapiacaba, which, in the Tupy-Guarani language, means “the place whence one sees the sea”. Between 1896 and 1901, when the railway was duplicated (2nd funicular system or “Serra nova” system), the worker’s village was expanded by SPR, who conceived a planned Village adopting the urban and sanitary standards in vogue in Europe after the Industrial Revolution. A clock manufactured in London, by Johnny Walker Benson, was placed at the second Station of Paranapiacaba, inaugurated in 1900, lending the place, usually covered by the dense fog of the mountain range at dusk, a typically English character.

The Railway Village of Paranapiacaba is delimited as the Special Interest Zone of the Heritage of Paranapiacaba, according to Municipal Law 9,018/07;  its natural Atlantic Rainforest surrounding is delimited by the Nascentes de Paranapiacaba Natural Park, protected at the municipal and state levels and by the nucleus-zone Biosphere Reserve of the Green Belt of São Paulo; another slope is delimited by the funicular railway system and the rack-and-pinion system, between the municipality of Santo André and the municipality of Cubatão. 

An expressive exemplar from the period of industrialization in Brazil, the Village of Paranapiacaba is an urban nucleus from the 2nd half of the 19th century, presenting a strong English influence by virtue of the English Company responsible for the construction and later operation of the railways in the region. One of its great challenges was conquering the natural barrier formed by the Serra do Mar Mountain Range to allow the transport of coffee, the country’s main source of wealth at the time, from the inlands of São Paulo to Santos Harbor, to become the greatest harbor in Latin America. The creation of the Village is related to the arrival of Italian and, later on, Japanese immigrants, marking a decisive stage in the development of São Paulo, leading eventually to its status as the greatest industrial and economic center of Latin America.

In the Railway Village of Paranapiacaba, a set of 450 houses of predominantly residential use, with the presence of 1,100 inhabitants, maintains its original character as a housing nucleus. In addition to residential exemplars, some notable features are the Castelinho, the chief-engineer’s residence; the União Lyra Serrano Club, now as in the past hosting dances, musical performances, movies, seminars etc.; the old Market; the old Bakery; the Lyra da Serra Recreational Society; the first and second School Groups; the Cemetery; the Church Bom Jesus de Paranapiacaba; the Charles Miller Football Field; the SPR reservoir; the Fox House, an exemplar of typology A; the locomotive Viradouro; the Funicular Museum; and the symbolic clock at the patio of the railway station.

The area around the Village of Paranapiacaba maintains an important remainder of Atlantic Rainforest, protected by the Nascentes de Paranapiacaba Natural Park, by the Biological Reserve of Alto da Serra de Paranapiacaba and by the Serra do Mar State Park, the latter two corresponding to the nucleus-zone of the Biosphere Reserve of the Green Belt of São Paulo (UNESCO, 1994). In addition to the beautiful natural landscape of Alto da Serra de Paranapiacaba, with its almost 1100 meters of altitude, and the Mogi River Valley, in the Nascentes Park area are the springs of Rio Grande, one of the most important in the Billings River Basin, a major reservoir supplying the São Paulo Metropolitan Area.

The Funicular System adopted in Paranapiacaba, built between 1860 and 1868 by the São Paulo Railway Co. – SPR – (founded in 1859 in London with English and Brazilian capital), was conceived by English engineers James Brunless and Daniel Fox to conquer the slope of Serra do Mar, a steep rocky wall of 762 meters, covered by tropical rainforest and subject to strong rainfall.

For that end, the stretch of Mountain Range was divided into four inclined planes and their respective landings. The declivity between these levels was compensated by eighteen bridges and viaducts, the largest of them called Grota Funda Viaduct, built over a gorge sixty meters deep and two hundred meters wide. The wagons move along cables pulled by fixed machines installed at  each of the landings. The wagons move up and down through a counterweight system, connected to a small composition called Serra-Breque, a special steam-powered wagon. Wagons would meet along the way in small stretches of double lines. Each trip could transport 60 tons, and in Piassaguera and Alto da Serra this special convoy was undone and the wagons would follow their normal course to their destination, whether Santos Harbor or the plains.

The execution of the project required the transposition of natural obstacles with numerous cuts in the terrain, the construction of draining channels, landfills and retaining walls, making the Serra do Mar stretch the most difficult part of the works, because of the constant landslides caused by rainfall. A great number of workers involved in this stretch was housed in wattle-and-daub houses amidst the trees of the Atlantic Rainforest. From this construction camp around the railway line, by the Fourth Machine of the Funicular System, appeared the Village of Paranapiacaba.

The beginning of the railway operations, on the other hand, also required the presence of resident workers, contributing to consolidate the initial urban nucleus. Small and precarious dwellings housed the workers on top of Serra do Mar, giving rise to the so-called Vila Velha, or Old Village. In this first settlement, warehouses, railway workshops and temporary dwellings were built, placed in a disorderly way along the main path of access. The establishment of these workers required, around 1874, the construction of the first station – Alto da Serra Station – as well as another station at Raiz da Serra.

In the last decade of the 19th century, announcing the crisis to come, the growing demand for transport in the mountain range stretch and the expansion of train traffic required SPR to begin operating the Funicular System at night.

Two years later, less than two decades after the inauguration of the railway, the growing coffee production, on one hand, and the railway’s limited capacity, strangled by the Funicular System, led to a severe crisis in the transport system for the province of São Paulo. SPR doubled the line, adding two kilometers, five inclined planes and their respective landings, sixteen new viaducts and thirteen tunnels. To retain the hillsides, asphalt and tar were introduced. Rain was collected in complex draining systems. The wagon to which the cable was coupled was called Loco-breque. Works were completed in 1900 and inaugurated in 1901.

At one point, 3000 people were working in this construction, mostly Portuguese, Spanish and Italian immigrants. Work was hard and uncertain, and many accidents involving these workers were recorded. To assuage these problems, a hospital was built in 1896, deactivated in the early 20th century, when it was adapted as housing.

Between 1895 and 1901, another urban agglomeration appeared, known as Parte Alta (Higher Part) or Morro (Hill). This is an ensemble of small, semi-detached one-story buildings, intended as residences, pensions, bars, bazars and small businesses. On top of the hill a small chapel was built in the beginning of 1880, in honor of the Lord Good Jesus. In 1907, the Parte Alta was renamed Vila de Paranapiacaba.

Finally, a third and last urban ensemble appears between 1895 and 1901, the Vila Nova (New Village) or Vila Martin Smith, planned according to the urban and sanitary standards in vogue in post-Industrial Revolution Europe: regular lines, wide and hierarchized streets, water supply, sewage collection, draining, electrical energy and fire protection. The standard of occupation bears the mark of English presence, with standardized wooden houses, semi-detached ensembles of two or four units and frontal recesses, allowing the existence of gardens, still uncommon in the beginning of the century. This urban homogeneity of Vila Nova contrasts with the extreme social hierarchy of SPR, revealed most of all in the diverse residential typologies, corresponding to the different categories of employees.

In addition to the hierarchy promoted by the typology of buildings, part of the daily work discipline of the village was the strict control of time, expressed by the Clock Tower, marking the times of shifts, of trains and of rest. Also standing out in the landscape is a single two-story house with a porch, the Castelinho, home to the highest employee in the company – the chief-engineer, responsible for the operation of funicular systems.

The English ensured two social clubs as space for recreational activities, classrooms for the children of railway employees, a football field, a tennis court and bocce court and a health unit.

Once the 90-year concession of the line to SPR had expired, in 1946 the Federal Government took over the road, renamed Santos-Jundiaí Railway, later operated by the Rede Ferroviária Federal S.A. The process of transformation begins with the adaptation of the steam locomotives to diesel, and, in the context of the country, culminates with the rise of automotive vehicles in detriment of rail transport.

The deterioration of the village was aggravated in the 1970s, when the funicular system became obsolete and the transport of passengers was gradually deactivated, making the railway village unnecessary for the operation of the system. In 2002, the transport of passengers to Paranapiacaba was completely deactivated.

Interest on the preservation of the Village dates back to the year 1985, with the beginning of the process of inclusion in IPHAN’s heritage list, completed in 2002. In 1987, the village was listed as State heritage as the Railway Complex of Paranapiacaba and, in 2003, it was listed by the municipality of Santo André. Since then, public bodies involved with the preservation of cultural heritage and preservationist groups have been working towards the reactivation of the train, as well as for the preservation of the Railway Village of Paranapiacaba.

In 2001, the Regional District of Paranapiacaba and Parque Andreense was established, and, in 2002, the Santo André City Hall bought the property from the Rede Ferroviária Federal, including most real estate units located below the Vila de Paranapiacaba, with the exception of those at the railway patio. Since then, efforts began to reconvert the local economy, powered mostly by cultural tourism, in parallel with the restoration of the main equipment for touristic visitation and the occupation of residential of commercial real estate units.

In 2013, the Vila de Paranapiacaba was contemplated with resources from the Federal government’s greatest heritage investment program, known as PAC Cidades Históricas, allowing the restoration of about 250 real estate units, between 2014 and 2016. 

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The cultural Landscape of Paranapiacaba: Village and railway systems in the Serra do Mar Mountain Range encompasses the representation of a masterpiece of human creation by the ingenuity of its construction, conquering the granite cliffs of the Serra do Mar Mountain Range, under difficult climatic and geomorphologic conditions. It integrates the category of housing ensembles in European workers’ villages according to the urban and sanitary standards existent in late 18th century and 19th century Europe, after the Industrial Revolution.

The diversity of architectural typologies (residential and railway), as well as the specific timber constructive technology present in the Railway Village of Paranapiacaba grants the place an outstanding value.

Criterion (i): The construction of the railway was only possible thanks to the human genius that planned the railway systems and successfully built the small working men’s village planned in the late 19th century. The great obstacle to be transposed (796 meters high above the Serra do Mar in 8 km of extension of the first funicular system, between 1860-67, and in 10.5 km of the second funicular system, between 1894-1901) in obstinate steadfastness is a Brazilian monument of outstanding universal value, as well as unique, since no other such feature was found in the world with similar dimensions and characteristics. 

Criterion (ii): It is a testimonial to a cultural interchange that determined the transformation and development of transport systems and technologies, responsible for the quick and accelerated development of São Paulo. A witness to the expansion of the world capitalist system in the 19th century, the São Paulo Railway, the first railroad in the state, is also particularly meaningful to Brazil, since it fostered the economic, urban and social development of the State that represents the main economy in the country.

The Railway Village of Paranapiacaba is also a witness to modern industrial culture and the only surviving exemplar of a village planned specifically for the workers in a Brazilian railroad. Vila Nova or Vila Martin Smith was planned according to the urban and sanitary standards in vogue in Europe after the Industrial Revolution, integrating the category of housing ensembles in European workers’ villages (Owen, Model Company Tows) from the late 18th century and throughout the 19th century.

Criterion (iv): When implementing Vila Nova, the English company SPR adopted standard projects for both the railway stations and the housing units.

Reports from the Ministry of Industry, Transport and Public Works, dated 1899 and 1900, indicate the presence of “22 houses of different types” in the village of Alto da Serra. These diverse housing typologies, with different sized buildings and plots, revealed the extreme social hierarchy between the categories of workers in the São Paulo Railway Co. There was the “Englishmen street”, with wide houses occupied by the railway engineers, simpler houses for the families of engine drivers and large sheds for the collective accommodation of single employees. 

Considered quite innovative for the time, the Vila Nova presents an orthogonal regular layout of wide and hierarchized streets, with main avenues, secondary streets, sanitary alleys and urban infrastructure networks for water supply, sewage collection, draining, electricity and even fire protection. 

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


In terms of shape, the Railway Village of Paranapiacaba has retained for over a century the implementation and the original urban layout of blocks, streets, sanitary alleys and urban infrastructure in water supply, sewage, urban draining, firefighting facilities and overhead networks for electricity supply. The Village’s built ensemble, with its typological diversity, is also authentic, even considering the modern additions through which bathrooms were brought in to the main body of residential buildings, after World War II (1950s).

Original railway buildings, such as maintenance sheds and toolrooms, are also present in the Village, as well as the railway ensemble of funicular systems with their original machinery and absolutely authentic equipment with inscriptions attesting their origin (SPR) on the 1st and 4th Landings of Serra Velha and the 5th Landing of Serra Nova. The stretch of Serra Nova funicular system between the 1st and the 5th Landings still contains remnants from the original system.

The stretch of the first funicular system of Serra Velha was adapted in the 1970s to receive technological upgrades to the rack-and-pinion system, and is now in full operation, transporting iron ore to the Santos harbor.

The built ensemble retains the original timber, part brought by the English (European pine), part native hewn timber (such as peroba), as well as the original constructive system. A survey found French roof tiles from the city of Marseille and tiles produced throughout the state of São Paulo, possibly from the towns where these railways passed. The foundations of buildings were made of stone masonry (abundant on Alto da Serra), topped by brick masonry, still present and authentic. Masonry buildings are also original, mostly from the 1950s.

From the point of view of the activities developed in the Village, the Funicular Museum, located in the building of the fixed machine, displays, in perfect state, the fixed machines from the 5th landing of the second line (Serra Nova) and the machine from the 4th landing of the first line (Serra Velha), both carefully maintained. They were used for train transport in the funicular system until 1974, when it was deactivated and replaced by the rack-and-pinion system. The major railway junction of Alto da Serra do Mar, in the Village of Paranapiacaba, is still used for the same purpose of transporting merchandise for export via the Santos harbor, keeping alive its original function and the execution of railway work.

In the Railway Village of Paranapiacaba, a set of 450 houses, predominantly used as dwellings by 1,100 inhabitants, maintains its original character as a housing nucleus. In the last few years, the presence of railway workers has decreased, mostly because of the scarce job offers in this sector. On the other hand, the opportunities presented by the establishment of activities related to railway cultural tourism and ecotourism are now the local population’s main economic activity.

The main non-residential buildings, alongside the residential exemplars, integrate the Museological Circuit of Paranapiacaba, envisioned as an “open air museum”. Some of its features are the Castelo Museum, the chief-engineer’s residence; the União Lyra Serrano Club, now as in the past hosting dances, musical performances, movies, seminars etc.; the old Market; the old Bakery; the Lyra da Serra Recreational Society; the first and second School Groups; the Cemetery; the Church Bom Jesus de Paranapiacaba; the Charles Miller Football Field; the SPR reservoir; the House of Memory (Fox House, an exemplar of typology A); the Architecture and Urban Planning Documentation Center; the locomotive Viradouro; the Funicular Museum; and the symbolic clock at the patio of the railway station.

As for local traditions maintained through time, the Cambuci, a typical fruit from the Atlantic Rainforest, of a bitter-sour taste, is widely used in local cooking in sweets, savory dishes and drinks. A yearly calendar of local festivities attracts visitors from all over, such as the Carnival of União Lyra Serrano Club, the Cambuci Gastronomic Festival, June Festivities, Winter Festival, the Bom Jesus de Paranapiacaba Festival, the Railway Worker’s Week, the Film Festival, the Railway Modeling National Meeting and the Oratory and Nativity Scenes Fair.

Local population tells a number of legends, such as those of the “ghosts of 11 tunnels”, the “ghost in the Castle” and the mystics of the white fog that almost always covers the Village of Paranapiacaba. Inclusion in the World Heritage List will bring local dwellers the possibility of developing, recording and preserving all of their interesting oral heritage.

As for the surrounding landscape, the outskirts of the Village of Paranapiacaba conserves an important remnant of Atlantic Rainforest. In 2003, the Santo André City Hall created the Nascentes de Paranapiacaba National Park, measuring 4,261,179.10m2. The Park borders the Biological Reserve of Alto da Serra de Paranapiacaba and the Serra do Mar State Park, integrating the Biosphere Reserve of the Green Belt of São Paulo, recognized by UNESCO in 1994.

In addition to the gorgeous natural landscape of Alto da Serra de Paranapiacaba, with its almost 1200 meters of altitude, the area of Nascentes Park includes the springs of Rio Grande, one of the most important in the Billings River Basin, a major reservoir supplying the São Paulo Metropolitan Area.

For its location at a steep cliff in the Mountain Range, on the granite scarp visible under the exuberant Atlantic Rainforest vegetation, the village takes on a dramatic character, attenuated by the bucolic and well-ordered implementation of the planned houses at Parte Baixa. The compact occupation of the Hill, typical of the Portuguese Colonial period, with its Church of Bom Jesus de Paranapiacaba, presents a counterpoint to Castelinho, the São Paulo Railway chief-engineer’s house. On one side, Colonial Brazil and the power of the church; on the other, the village planned in the context of the capitalist industrial system, controlled, from the top of the small hill, by the chief-engineer. Between them, the railway patio, towards which all buildings, paths and eyes converged, whence they arrived and departed.

This beautiful landscape, complex and apparently peaceful, the fog, the constant sound of trains and wildlife, compose, on one hand, this aspect of magic and mystery, and, on the other, a timeless sensation of past, present and future, favoring a spirit of cultural and spiritual meditation that can be experienced when living and visiting the place, as well as in its traditions and cultural events.

It is a unique ensemble, a paradigm for other such classifications. Prominent among listed properties, it fits magnificently with the concept of a living Cultural Landscape in constant evolution, within its permanent features.


The Railway Village of Paranapiacaba, its natural surroundings and the railway systems of Serra do Mar still possess most of their elements in integrity. The Cultural Landscape of Paranapiacaba has singular and outstanding values, focusing on five aspects: natural heritage, technological railway heritage, historical, urban and architectural heritage. For each of these aspects, the ensemble has enough intact elements to witness history and express these values.

It represents a living Cultural Landscape, in social and economic evolution, although with limitations for its physical expansion, some of a legal nature. It presents a great complexity and diversity of cultural and natural heritage, whose importance will provide the World Heritage List with a comparative model for future analyses.

The Railway Village of Paranapiacaba underwent an intense period of degradation, during the 1980s and 1990s, when the Brazilian railway system was abandoned. One of its main buildings, the 2nd Station, caught fire in 1981, and its houses were invaded by low-income population, who built irregular and precarious expansions.

The site was included in the World Monument Fund (WMF) list as one of the 100 most important endangered monuments in the world from 2002 to 2007.

In 2002, when the Santo André City Hall purchased the Village and its natural surroundings, a process of revitalization began, with investments in the restoration and conservation of its built, natural and human heritage, as well as investments in sustainable touristic development capable of generating work opportunities for the local population. In 2008, Paranapiacaba was excluded from the WMF list, and is now notably a recovered site, with a management plan that has been considered exemplary and paradigmatic in the fields of cultural heritage preservation, urban development and environmental and social management. The village’s urban development is controlled and disciplined by the Fountainheads State Act, by the Municipal Master Plan and by Municipal Law 9.018/07, establishing the ZEIPP – Special Interest Zone of the heritage of Paranapiacaba.

It is included in the PAC Cidades Históricas, a Federal preservation program, allowing the restoration of about 250 real estate units between 2014 and 2016. 

Comparison with other similar properties

Among the sites that most resemble the Village of Paranapiacaba are those of Valparaíso and Sewell, in Chile, Røros, in Norway, the railways of the Himalayas, in India, and the Semmering railway, in Austria.

The historical quarter of the harbor in the town of Valparaiso, recognized only under criteria III (a unique or exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or civilization), translates the importance of a vernacular site of great formal unity as the first port in the American Pacific, with great impact in international maritime trade. In the case of the mining city of Sewell, Chile, recognized under criteria II (a considerable interchange of influences on the development of architecture, technology or landscape), the landscape holds particular interest. Developed over the largest subterranean copper mine in the world, the town, built entirely of timber, lies on an isolated place with a peculiar climate and landscape. It is, however, an abandoned town.

Another similar exemplar is the town of Røros, Norway, also related to copper mining, whose wooden houses and foundry machinery remain intact and abandoned, amidst a landscape of great beauty.

The parallel with the Village of Paranapiacaba is important, since this is also a village built at first at an isolated spot, amidst an exuberant landscape and a peculiar climate, which, however, remains alive. Paranapiacaba conjoins technological values, in the exceptionality of its funicular system, landscape values, represented by the Serra do Mar Mountain Range, and architectural and urban values, in the testimony of an English village built to house the workers of a South American railroad. This is an intact and authentic railway monument from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Two other sites that present a possible comparison are the Himalaya Railways, in Darjeeling, India, and the Railway of Semmering, Austria, expressing, specifically, the relation between the natural landscape and railway structures.