The National Museum of Brazil (Museu Nacional), located in the Quinta da Boa Vista park neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, is a centenarian museum and research center. It housed one of the largest exhibitions of the Americas, including a collection of animals, insects, precious minerals, a vast collection of aboriginal utensils, Egyptians mummies, meteorites, fossils, local South American archaeological artifacts in addition to countless other important findings.


The National Museum was created 200 years ago in 1818 by Dom João VI, the king of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves. The then-Prince Regent and the Portuguese royal family had moved to Brazil in 1808 to escape the invasion of Napoléon Bonaparte.

The building that housed the museum was the Palace of São Cristóvão. Built in the early 19th century, it became the residence of Dom João VI, and later of his son Dom Pedro I, who in 1822 was crowned the first emperor of independent Brazil. Following independence, the museum was renamed the Royal and National Museum. The palace continued to be the residence of Dom Pedro II and the imperial family throughout the 19th century.

The National Museum was established in a royal initiative to foster scientific research in Brazil, which until that time was a vast colony that was relatively unexplored by scientific disciplines, making the National Museum the oldest scientific institution in the country and the largest museum of natural history and anthropology in all of Latin America. As it initially housed mostly plant and animal specimens with many different types of birds, the old building where the National Museum was located Rio Centro was widely referred to as the “House of the Birds”.

The National Museum also housed one of the largest scientific research libraries in Rio de Janeiro and offered a variety of graduate courses in subjects ranging from anthropology, sociology, botany, geology, zoology and paleontology.

What is Lost

Nearly 90 per cent of the 20 million items housed in Brazil’s National Museum had been destroyed by the fire.

The National Museum’s collections featured rare artefacts from around the world. Its Egyptian collection, composed of 700 artefacts, became the largest in Latin America. It also featured a rich collection of Brazilian indigenous artefacts.

The museum also housed items belonging to Brazil’s royal family, left behind in 1889 when a Republican military coup put an end to monarchy in the country exiled the family to France. The rich royal collection included the sarcophagus of Sha-Amun-em-su (mummified around 2,708 years ago) that was brought by emperor Dom Pedro II to Brazil from his third trip to Egypt in 1876.

What Has Been Recovered

Brazilian officials said they have recovered pieces of a 12,000-year-old fossil of a neolithic woman that was among the prized artifacts in Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum.

The fossil, nicknamed “Luzia,” was discovered in 1970 in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais by a Frenchled expedition.

A Manchester University team later did a digital face reconstruction based on the skull, which was used to model a sculpture of the ancient woman.

The Bendegó meteorite from the mu-seum’s collection of meteorites, which is the biggest iron meteorite ever found in Brazil, was unscathed. According to the National Geographic Society, being a “large, metallic rock” is what saved it from damage, as these qualities make it fire-resistant.

Firefighters also recovered several portraits from the upper floor of the museum, which had been burnt, smoke and water damaged but not destroyed.

A portion of the museum’s collection, specifically the herbarium, and fish and reptile species, was housed elsewhere and has not been affected. There was also a large scientific library within the museum, containing thousands of rare works, that has not been damaged.

Salvage Efforts

There is a plan, which is expected to cost R$ 10 million, offered by Brazilian Government as an emergency budget, to reconstruct the remains of the building. Unesco says that the reconstruction would take 10 years to get ready. The museum is still alive doing some Festivals called Museu Nacional Vive or Museum lives to public in tents mounted in front of current under construction improvements to the burned headquarters, with exposition of fossils, living snakes and taxidermied animals like Pterosaurs and Armadilloamong others. Museum would do a permanent exposition outside. Some experts say it would take R$100 millions to rebuild the main dependencies.

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Federal Police.