Botanical Garden

Botanical Garden (23)

If you love plants, this is the place for you. And if not, you should visit anyway. It's spectacular. Or maybe you don't like the idea of contemplating Amazonian giant water lilies? 

If you're not a fan of walking, the botanical garden offers electric buggies (much like golf buggies) in which you can enjoy a guided tour.

Declared a natural heritage site, and with more than 137 hectares, the Botanical Garden is located on the edge of Tijuca National Park and is home to over 9000 species of plants from Brazil and other parts of the world.

In 1808, Prince-Regent Don João VI created the 'Acclimatisation Garden' in order to adapt plants and spices imported from the West Indies to the climate of Rio de Janeiro. However, it is the gift that Luiz de Abreu Viera e Silva gave Don João VI, a Roystonea oleracea, which today attracts the most attention in the Botanical Garden. It is known as the imperial palm, since the Prince-Regent was responsible for planting the palm tree in the gardens. The initial idea was to keep the palm tree exclusive, but legend has it that, when night fell, slaves climbed its long trunk and picked its fruit to sell. Thus, they say that's why the palm tree is now distributed all over the country and is part of the flora of Brazil.

That's why the Aléia Barbosa, or Avenue of Palms, is the must-see part of the Botanical Garden. You'll be astounded by the old 30-metre tall palm trees that greet you on either side of the central walkway. At the end of this walkway you'll encounter a beautiful marble façade in the neoclassical style that belonged to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts that was demolished in 1908. Unfortunately, you won't see that imperial palm planted by Don Joaõ among all these palm trees, since it was struck by lightning in 1972. Back then the palm tree was over 38 metres tall and you can still observe its trunk, which is exhibited in the museum of the Botanical Garden. 

The Botanical Garden did not acquire its scientific character until 1822. After Brazil gained independence, and after years of neglect, it was reopened by the Carmelite friar Leandro do Sacramento, who expanded the collections and began to catalogue them. Inside is the Casa de la Emperatriz, an original colonial mansion from the mid-18th century that was restored in 2001 to accommodate the first National School of Tropical Botany in Latin America. For that reason, and because of the global recognition achieved as a result of the work carried out at the Botanical Garden, it was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1991, together with the Tijuca National Park.

You mustn't miss the various impressive exhibitions displayed here. From the bromeliad collection, which features more than 10 thousand bromeliads, the orchid collection, which consists of more than three thousand examples of six hundred different species of orchids, one of the largest cacti collections in the country and a long list of collections, including the Japanese Garden and the Sensory Garden, a space designed for people who are visually impaired.

You can also visit the Casa dos Pilões, which was one of the production units of the city's Royal Gunpowder Factory and played a key role in defending the Brazilian Empire. It is an interesting example of colonial architecture.

This space, which was originally intended for planting spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper imported from the West Indies, has now become one of the most important botanical gardens in the world.

Incidentally, very close to the garden you'll find the Tom Jobim Space, an exhibition space dedicated to the life and work of the famous Brazilian musician Antonio Carlos Jobim, the composer of the song "Garota de Ipanema" (The Girl from Ipanema), among many other successes. You'll find photographs, sheet music, album covers, panels explaining his work and his artistic career, as well as the jacaranda wood piano on which he composed his unforgettable melodies.

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