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Brazilian Fortresses Ensemble

Date of Submission: 30/01/2015
Criteria: (ii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Brazil to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
States of Santa Catarina, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Amapá, Rondônia, and Mato Grosso do Sul
Ref.: 5997

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


Categorization: Serial monuments; Military architecture; Sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries; nationwide coverage.

The set of fortresses installed by Europeans in Brazil originated in a territory occupation process, different to those found in other colonial powers. It was based on a decentralized effort, arising from the actions of inhabitants of the different captaincies that formed Brazil, without further intervention from the mother country. This resulted in the construction of hundreds of fortresses, scattered throughout the country, built to cater more to local interests than the motherland. The fortresses not only marked the presence of towns and cities of Lusitanian origin, but also the contact between different cultures. Many of the defensive buildings and settlements were set up where there were already indigenous settlements, while French, English, Dutch and Spanish forts were destroyed by forces that were not sent from the mother countries, but by residents in Brazil. These were mobilized without further directive from Europe, marking the formation of a territory with its own language and identity, different from all the other existing territories in the New World and a territory that would have a greater geographic extension than the European continent. Due to the nature of the decentralized efforts coming out of small community actions without greater support from the Portuguese government, the result was a variety of works, with different strokes, styles and construction techniques that served to demarcate the ingenuity and creativity of the people in coming upon unique solutions to address ecological and cultural conditions that were very different from those existing in the Old World. Even today, there are dozens of these Luso-Brazilian fortresses pointing out its activities in establishing a unique culture. The purpose of this application is to present a set of fortresses that includes a selection of 19 (nineteen) monuments representing the formidable defenses deployed in Brazil, the points that served to define the sea and river borders that resulted in the largest Latin American country: Brazil. The selection of monuments fell on the following works:

  1. São Antônio de Ratones Fort (Florianópolis/SC, 27º 28’ 21” S, 48º 33’ 41” W): Built in 1740 during the implementation of the captaincy (state) of Santa Catarina to support the struggles in the southern part of the continent against the Spanish. The conquest of the island of Santa Catarina by the Spanish in 1777 and the island’s exchange for the Colônia de Sacramento (Uruguay) temporarily interrupted the cycle of clashes in the south. These would be rekindled with the independence of Brazil and the last Brazilian military action in Uruguay, supported by the forts in Santa Catarina, taking place in 1864. Leveraging the insularity, the position of the fort is formed by curtain curve, a proper construction of precarious resources available then. The Federal University of Santa Catarina maintains a site visitation program. Federal protection of 1938.
  2. Santa Cruz de Anhatomirim Fort (Governador Celso Ramos/SC, 27º 25’ 36” S, 48º 33’ 51” W): Built in 1740, it was the main defense of the captaincy of Santa Catarina and, over the centuries, served other functions such as a hospital and even a hostel for foreign travelers who might have been infected by contagious diseases. The fort was kept operational and in constant expansion until the 1950s. With an irregular shape, the fortress consists of a series of interconnected batteries, each of rugged and very simple design. The set is completed by the large barracks, which was once the residence of the governor, and a monumental gate in an oriental style. Administered by the Federal University of Santa Catarina, it is Santo Amaro da Barra Grande Fortress (Guarujá/SP): With its initial construction starting from open to visitations. Federal protection of 1938.
  3. Santo Amaro da Barra Grande Fortress (Guarujá/SP, 23º 59’ 40” S, 46º 18’ 25” W): Built from 1584 when Portugal and Brazil were part of the Iberian Union (1580-1640), it was designed by the Italian architect Bautista Antonelli in response to an attack by the English privateer George Fenton carried out the previous year. The Fortress, however, was not yet ready when another Englishman, Thomas Cavendish, sacked the town of Santos in 1588. The fort, the main defense of Santos, was kept in operation until 1908. Its format is of two overlapping rectangular batteries with a long curtain defending the coast and an auxiliary battery on top of the elevation where it is located. Currently, it operates as a municipal museum. Federal protection of 1964.
  4. São João Fort (Bertioga/SP, 23º 51’ 18” S, 46º 08’ 04”W): Originally built in 1532 to prevent the indigenous peoples from using the Bertioga channel to attack the towns of Santos, was the military post in which the German gunner Hans Staden, author of one of the first accounts of the conquest of America, served. Therefrom, residents of St. Vincent used it to expel the French Calvinists who had found a settlement in Rio de Janeiro in 1555. The current fort was erected in 1750 in the context of fixing the borders with Spanish America, with a very narrow rectangular battery format, and in the back a railing in the form of a tenaille. It is a local municipal government museum. Federal protection of 1940.
  5. Santa Cruz da Barra Fortress (Niterói/RJ, 22° 56' 16"S, 43° 8' 3"W): The Fort began to be raised in 1578 as the main defense of the city of Rio de Janeiro, and it has been kept in operations and constantly expansion for three hundred years. In the early eighteenth century, it became the largest fort of Portuguese America, its irregular construction being a testimony to different styles and defensive programs. Even considering its importance, it could not prevent the French privateer René Duguay-Trouin from invading Guanabara Bay in 1711, and sacking the city. The fortress is still in use by the army, which has its own tourist visitation program. Federal protection of 1939.
  6. São João Fortress (Rio de Janeiro/RJ, 22° 56' 36" S, 43° 9' 25" W): erected in the location where the settlers from São Vicente founded the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1565 to fight the French Calvinists who had settled in the Bay of Guanabara ten years earlier. Attacked several times by the French and indigenous, the fort served as a base of operations for the conquest of the region. The present work, built over nearly three hundred years from 1602 to 1864, the cluster is formed by three different forts, one of trace italienne , an irregular battery and another casemated on the navigation channel. Still in use by the Army, it is a museum. Federal protection of 1938.
  7. Nossa Senhora de Monte Serrat Fort (Salvador/BA,12° 55' 47"S, 38° 31' 3" W): Built in 1582, it's a transition fort with some characteristics of a medieval castle, with its large turrets in salient angles, but with a terre-plein already adapted to the use of cannons and an exposed quarter on the back of the walls. It took part in combats against English and Dutch privateers in 1587, 1599, 1604, and 1627. It was taken by the Dutch West Indies Company's fleet in 1624, serving as the Dutch resistance point against the locals in a siege by the residents of Salvador. Taken up in 1625, it was again raided by the Dutch in 1638, also taking part in the encounter against the West India Company fleet in 1647. In these times of conflict, it has had always been garrisoned by Bahia militia residents. It is currently managed by the Army. Federal protection of 1957.
  8. Santo Antônio da Barra Fort (Salvador/BA, 13° 0' 36"S, 38° 31' 58"W): The fort is shaped in an irregular decagon in tenaille, with large barracks on its ramparts. Built in the place of the second Lusitanian town of Salvador (1534), it had to be evacuated because of the native resistance and was rebuilt during 1582, just after the Union of the Crowns of Portugal and Spain (1580-1640), with the increasing risk of attacks by European powers. The fort was part of the additional defenses of Salvador and it took place in combats against English and Dutch privateers, which mark the history of the city in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It currently serves as a Naval museum. Federal protection of 1938.
  9. Santa Maria Fort (Salvador/BA, 13° 0' 16"S, 38° 32' 2" W): The first Santa Maria Fort has been erected soon after the reconquest of Bahia, in 1652, when a fleet with more than ten thousand troops (Spanish, Italian and Portuguese) came to Salvador to retake the city, occupied by the forces of the Dutch West Indies Company. It served to defend the small harbor, where the Dutch had landed the previous year and which was once more used to attack the city in 1625. The current work is the result of a reconstruction in 1694, shaped like a rectangle with walls in a very smooth line of tenailles, with an elevated hood on the walls, as is typical of the Bahia military architecture. It belongs to the Army, responsible for its maintenance. Federal protection of 1938.
  10. São Diogo Fort (Salvador/BA, 13°0'6.89"S, 38°31'58.03"W): The Fort is part of the Barra de Salvador complex, along with the Santo Antônio and Santa Maria Forts. Along with Santa Maria Fort, São Diogo Fort was built in 1625, and rebuilt in 1694 in the form of a semicircular battery, with its headquarters on the hillside where it is centered and where the first Portuguese settlement of Bahia was founded. The Fort had to be abandoned in 1534 because of the native resistance. In the small inlet at São Diogo’s fort front, the Dutch landed in 1624, with the Spanish-Italian-Lusitanian forces driving the Dutch the following year. It is owned by the Army. Federal protection of 1954.
  11. Forte São Marcelo (Salvador/BA): known as Nossa Senhora do Pópulo and São Marcelo Fort or as “Forte do Mar”, Sea Fort, it has been built away from the coast for fear of the Portuguese of new Dutch invasions. Its function was to impede the entrance to the Salvador Port, crossing fire with the Forts of São Franciso, São Felipe and São Paulo de Gamboa. Influenced by the design of Fort Bugio, in the backshore of Tejo, its construction stretched until the 18th century, with participation of the French engineer Felipe Guiton, and his compatriot the engineer Pedro Garcin. The circular design is constituted of a main tower involved by a ring of equal height, formed by the perimeter embankment and barracks. In sandstone stonemasonry, it possess a barrel vaulting, and is the only still existing example of circular shaped forts in the country. It belongs to IPHAN and is under federal protection since 1938.
  12. São Tiago das Cinco Pontas Fort (Recife/RE, 8° 4' 18"S, 34° 52' 51"W): Originally built as a Italian traced pentagonal fort by the Dutch West India Company in 1630 , it was a key element for the Dutch defenses of the city of Recife, being kept under siege by the residents of Pernambuco during the sieges from 1630 to 1635, and ensuing sieges of 1645 to 1654. It was rebuilt by Pernambuco residents in the late seventeenth century, adopting a rectangular layout. However, the name of the fort kept the same name of the fort as during the episode of the Dutch occupation of Pernambuco. It now operates as the Museu da Cidade do Recife. Federal protection of 1938.
  13. São João Batista do Brum Fort (Recife/PE, 8° 3' 10"S, 34° 52' 15"W): The Fort’s origins date back to 1595, when English privateers, under James Lancaster's command, erected the fort. Later, the fort would undergo various expansions and modifications. One modification that has marked its history was the construction of Schans de Bruyne, by the Dutch in 1630, one of the main points of resistance for the siege of the Luso-Brazilian forces, which occurred between 1630 and 1635. The Fort was rebuilt in brick and stone with the same layout of the Dutch in 1690, a straight curtain to the sea with bastions and half-bastions to land, maintaining the Portuguese version of the Dutch name, Brum. It belongs to the Army, housing a museum. Federal protection of 1938.
  14. Santa Cruz de Itamaracá Fort (Itamaracá/PE): known as Fort Orange, it is one of the testimonies of both the Portuguese and the Dutch action in Pernambuco during the colonial period. The monument was built in the 1630’s by Dutch military serving the East India Company and has been undergone several changes in its structure since the Portuguese restauration of 1654, changing its name to Fort Santa Cruz de Itamacará. In limestone and lime masonry, the current fort presents a regular quadrangular polygon design, with pentagonal bastions at the vertices in the Vauban system, stonemasonry sentry-boxes, escutcheoned gates, as well as barracks for the troops, Command House, bunkers under the walls, involving the embankement. Federal protection of 1938.
  15. Santa Catarina Fort (Cabedelo/PB, 6°58'8.51"S, 34°50'24.80"W): Dated from 1590, the fort was built after a long campaign to subdue the native inhabitants who, together with the French, contested the occupation of their territories. Attacked in 1596 by thirteen French ships, the Fort was renovated by locals in 1603. In 1631, the position withstood a Dutch West Indies Company attack before being taken in 1634. Rebuilt by the Dutch two years later, the current work is from 1700, following parts of the reaces of the Dutch Fort, a tenailles line to the river, with bastions defending the side of land. It is administered by the State Government of Paraíba today, which maintains a museum on the site. Federal protection of 1938.
  16. Reis Magos Fort (Natal/RN,  5° 45' 22 "S, 35° 11' 41"W): Built in accordance with the 1597 project of the Spanish Jesuit priest Gaspar Samperes, the fort is the first of the Lusitanian America to follow the trace italienne, with a unique architecture in Brazil, with a tenaille line to the side of the river and half bastions with orillons to the side of land. Built as part of the campaign by Pernambuco residents to oust French traders who worked with indigenous populations, it was attacked by a French and Indian force in the same year of its construction. Later, in 1634, the fort was taken by the Dutch, remaining under its administration for twenty years. Administered by IPHAN, it is the largest cultural attraction in the city of Natal/RN. Federal protection of 1943.
  17. São José Fortress (Macapá/AP, 0° 1'50.60"N e 51° 2'57.77"W): The square fortification of italienne trace according to the French school was built on the north bank of the Amazon River, where the Irish and then British had established trading posts and settlements to trade with the natives in the early seventeenth century. After the destruction of these occupations, and the construction of a Portuguese fort in the same location, it was destroyed by the French in 1697 as a result of claimed ownership of the north bank of the Amazon River mouth. The current work was erected in 1764 by Portuguese settlers who, coming from the evacuated village of El Jadida, Morocco, participated in the formation of the established colony in the region. The area protected by the fortress was later occupied by the French in 1838 and 1895, but the situation was resolved through diplomatic means. Administered by the Government of the State of Amapá, the building is open to visitors, with cultural activities taking place within it and its surroundings. Federal protection of 1943.
  18. Príncipe da Beira Fort (Costa Marques/RO, 12° 25' 40"S, 64° 25' 22"W): Built according to the trace italienne in 1776 in a failed attempt to establish a trading post with Spanish America, it is located in an area long occupied by indigenous peoples, region in which the Spanish had established the Jesuit mission of Santa Rosa. The Portuguese presence in the area, which guaranteed river communication between the modern states of Pará and the Mato Grosso mining region, led to two attacks by Spanish troops coming from the Andes, both repelled, consolidating possession of that border. Currently, it is owned by the Army, open to visitations. Federal protection of 1950.
  19. Coimbra Fort (Corumbá/MS, 19º 55’ 12” S, 57º 47’ 31” W): Installed on the East bank of the Paraguay River, as a way to claim ownership of this communication route for Portugal, the primitive fort, built in 1777, was attacked and destroyed by the native inhabitants, leading to the fort’s reconstruction in stone masonry in the late eighteenth century with a stroke in tenailles, with bastions in the back. This site was attacked unsuccessfully by the Spanish in 1802, and the fort was taken by Paraguay in 1864. Disabled as a fortress in 1998, it is maintained today by the Army and it is open to visitations. Federal protection of 1974.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Justification for the selection of components 

The continental dimensions of Brazil are the result of a slow process of expansion, occurring over four centuries. The construction of fortresses functioned largely to consolidate future occupation strategies of these vast geographical areas. Based on this criterion, the set of locations was delimited by Fortes Príncipe da Beira/RO and Coimbra/MS, as landmarks on the western border; the São José do Macapá/AP, as a mark of the northern border settings; the set of fortresses on the island of Santa Catarina (Ratones and Anhatomirim), marking the southern division; and marking the extreme eastern borders, the Fort of Reis Magos, in Natal/RN, and Santa Catarina Fort, in Cabedelo/PB. The strongholds of Pernambuco (Cinco Pontas and Brum) mark the struggles against the India Company. In turn, the strongholds of the Baía de Todos os Santos (Monte Serrat, Santa Maria, São Diogo and Santo Antônio da Barra) and Baía da Guanabara (Santa Cruz and São João) marks the defenses of the two capitals of colonial Brazil, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro. Finally, the fortresses of Barra de Santos, including the Canal de Bertioga forts (Barra Grande and São João), point to the defense of the port that drained most of the wealth produced in Brazil and, therefore, endowed with a fortresses system built from the fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century, forming one of the largest defensive sets in the world, with continental dimensions.

The artillery forts chosen represent, therefore, a decentralized effort associated with local interests of different captaincies for the occupation of Brazil and are representative of the diversity of the architectural solutions with different traces, styles and construction techniques. They are significant influences of classical architectural proposals, as the trace italienne forts of the French schools (Príncipe da Beira and Macapá forts), Dutch style (Bum and Cinco Pontas), Spanish (Barra Grande and Reis Magos) and Portuguese (São João/RJ and Coimbra), as well as local solutions, exemplified by the forts of Salvador and the fortresses of Santa Cruz/RJ and Anhatomirim.

The motivation for building these forts were linked to the principal factors of defense and territory demarcation, in different situations of local threats such as the Dutch (PE and BA), English (EP, BA, AP), French (SP, RJ, PB , RN and AP), Spanish (MS, RO, SC), and indigenous (PB, RN, SP and RJ).

Lastly, the management conditions and the state of conservation of the forts were relevant to their selection.

Criterion (ii): Brazil's complex of fortresses is a remnant of a single contact produced between different cultures from the Old and the New World, beginning with the establishment of European villages in the territory previously occupied by natives, passing through a long period of conflict between the powers of the Old World, like the French in Rio de Janeiro, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte, the English and Irish in Amapá, Pernambuco and Sao Paulo, and the 55 years of war against the Dutch, in a geographical area of thousands of kilometers, that extends from the Equator to the Tropic of Capricorn. Finally, the conflict with the Spanish in Prato resulted in the formation of two Brazilian states (Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul), with a great influence on the formation of Uruguay, originally a Portuguese colony. The victory of the Luso-Brazilians in these conflicts resulted in the emergence of a country whose conformation, still maintained today, has mainly been defined by the third quarter of the eighteenth century with the construction of establishments on the western border. The strongholds, built in response to these contacts, marked the success of a unique formula of occupation in the territory, where Brazilian residents played a more important role than the actions of the governments of the Old World cities, contrary to what occurred in other European colonies around the world. Thus, the constructions were made in order to ensure ownership and the safety of new territories, forming a complex that bears no resemblance to other fortified systems built in the same period elsewhere in the world, playing an important role in territorial occupation in South America.

Criterion (iv): The Brazilian fortresses ensemble is the result of influences of classical architectural proposals, as seen in the Italian forts trace of the French schools (Príncipe da Beira Fort and Macapá Fort), as well as Dutch architecture (Bum and Cinco Pontas forts), Spanish (Barra Grande and Reis Magos forts), Portuguese (São João/RJ and Coimbra forts), as well as local solutions, exemplified by the forts of Salvador. The forts don’t have a more elaborate technical quality, compared to the European standard, but were still very effective, given external and internal threats existent in America, which were minor considering the difficulty of existing communications. Thus, the specific type for defensive constructions erected with strictly local resources are characterized by local solutions, many of them improvised due to the little technical training of most of its designers and builders, as seen in the cases of the Santa Cruz/RJ and Anhatomirim fortresses. However, it is precisely this lack of a "classical" unifying standard, established in adverse circumstances and against great opposition of the natives and rival powers, as well as the success of the proposal to establish limits through fortified works, that makes this fortresses ensemble worthy of being highlighted, especially considering the large number of surviving works to this day. It should also be emphasized the unique aspect of maintaining a continuous and stable geographical boundary of continental dimensions, from the mid-eighteenth century through fortresses, which resulted in a country with distinct cultural characteristics then of Brazil’s South American neighbors, a situation without equal to the observed dissolution of colonial territories in the South American continent, or even in Africa and Asia.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The fortresses that were chosen, all characterized as eminently utilitarian works, remained in constant improvement and evolution throughout the period of Portuguese rule, maintaining a continued use until the twentieth century, which ensured their preservation. In this sense, all the forts selected to represent the ensemble are intact as fortresses, allowing its understanding as such and the understanding of different times and historical facts that they represent, ensuring its authenticity in the aspects of form and design, materials and substance. Although none of the forts have maintained their original use as defensive constructions, this function can be easily perceived by the observer, a fact reinforced by the military use and/or cultural use of various constructions. The location and the environment of the selected forts are still enough preserved to allow the assessment of the works as defensive buildings, making it clear that the spirit imbued in these assets is preserved. The selection, addressing forts in all regions of Brazil in an exemplary and representative character, demonstrates the Luso-Brazilian solution imprint to occupy a vast territory that, in general, remains to the present day. 

The choice for nomination as an ensemble series of only a portion of the over the hundreds of forts that still remain in the country was based on the assembly of the most representative examples that still exist and formed the basis for the country`s occupation. With the exception of the river border and São Paulo forts, all the others were built in towns that became capitals of current states of Brazil, always aiming to establish ownership in areas militarily disputed by other European powers.


  1. The set is complete, the selection criterion prioritizes the main elements of the defensive systems established in each region of Brazil, being a representative group with the necessary elements to express the proposed Outstanding Universal Value.
  2. The selection of the sites was made considering places that point the Brazilian river and sea borders, and that represents different architectural works that marked different moments of history, both in the technical and construction styles, as well as the events that led to the formation of a continental sized territory, as Brazil has.
  3. The outline of the chosen works allows a complete representation of the historical processes that underlies the importance of the forts for the South American continent history, and of the continent for the world history;
  4. In its entirety, the sites have a use compatible with the preservation and cultural function, with visitors welcome to all selected locations, with agencies responsible for the management and maintenance of buildings, considering their educational and cultural use.
  5. All elements of the complexes are protected at the federal level, and some of them fall under other jurisdictions, such as state and municipal. All are publicly owned, without major problems in management. There is also no threat to any of the elements of the ensembles.

Comparison with other similar properties

The World Heritage List contains at least three other discontinued fortress complexes. The most similar is formed by the fortresses on the Caribbean side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo, composed of fourteen distinct works, selected as unique assets of the Spanish military architecture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Located in geo-cultural areas of Central and South America, there are notable distinctions between Brazil and Panama,  such as geographical and chronological dimensions of the two fortification groups, much more restricted in the case of Portobelo-San Lorenzo and broader in Brazil. Most notably are the cultural inferences present in the Brazilian fortresses selected, that is, the contacts between different cultures resulting in a particular way of defense, in a country with environmental and territorial characteristics of continental dimensions that shows no parallel.

With greater geographical coverage, there is also the case for the twelve sets of fortresses in Vauban, France. The unifying element of this set is the work of Sébastien Le Prestre, Lord of Vauban, the French military engineer of the seventeenth century and the first years of the eighteenth. In this case, the comparison is valid for the border demarcation point, although in the French case the defensive works were made in areas already consolidated and belonging to the country. Furthermore, in Brazil, most of the fortresses are not exemplary of classical architecture such as Vauban’s, presented more relevantly as works that express representations of the different cultural groups that were established at that time, precisely with the building of defensive works, which delimited the scope and extent of the Portuguese occupation in the New World in the face of different neighboring cultures (Indigenous, Spanish, French, English and Dutch).

In none of these cases there is a direct comparison with a similar reality, usually being limited by geographic extension and narrower chronological outline of the works already included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO. In the case of the fortresses in Brazil, what is being proposed is a representative set with conceptual unity based on the principles that guided the initiative of local residents, covering an area of 8,500,000 square kilometers and 23,000 km of borders. The distinguished character of the Brazilian set of fortresses should also be emphasized, which was formed by the activities of the residents of the country local administration, and not as a result of a central government project, as was the case in the examples mentioned.