Botanical Garden, Gunpowder Factory and Casa dos Pilões (Pestles House)

Botanical Garden, Gunpowder Factory and Casa dos Pilões (Pestles House)

Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Equipment and Infrastructures

Charmed by the natural beauty of the Serra do Corcovado, the prince regent created a small garden for exotic plants on the shores of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, close to where the Gunpowder Factory had just been installed in 1808. The garden’s management was entrusted to João Gomes da Silveira Martins, the future Marquis of Sabará. This garden marked the beginning of the so-called Royal Kitchen Garden. In the following year, twenty boxes of plants from Mauritius that had been pilfered by Portuguese officials were introduced. Among these plants was a cutting from a palm tree, the palma mater, which was planted by the prince regent himself and resulted in the avenue of palm-trees and all the so-called imperial palm trees in 19th-century Brazilian gardens. With the arrival of some Chinese in 1814, King João ordered the growing of tea in the Royal Kitchen Garden. The name Botanical Garden only officially appeared in 1819. Foreign travellers described the visit to the Botanical Garden as one of the most remarkable promenades to be enjoyed in the city of Rio de Janeiro in the 19th century. With the transfer of the Portuguese court to Brazil, it became necessary to set up the Royal Gunpowder Factory in Rio de Janeiro, similar to the one that existed in Portugal. It was established in a distant suburb, in the former sugar mill of Rodrigo de Freitas, close to the lagoon of the same name. The factory operated there until 1826, when it was moved to Inhomirim, at the far end of Guanabara Bay. The gate and the Casa dos Pilões (Pestles House) remain from the former factory. The Casa dos Pilões belonged to the old sugar mill. It is a single-storey building which was adapted to a form a workshop where saltpetre, sulphur and coal were crushed. The factory gate has Tuscan columns at each side and is surmounted by the royal coat of arms. It is decorated with elements defining the use of the space, such as cannons and iron cannonballs.

José Simões Belmont Pessôa