Rio’s Hills and Landfills

ImageThe landfills in Rio have always been a fascinating subject, but in order to gain flat dry land to expand the city, hills, or “morros”, had to disappear. The Morro do Castelo was demolished early in the 20th century, in two stages. The first stage started in 1905 under Mayor Pereira Passos, and the second between 1920 and 1922 under Mayor Carlos Sampaio. The rubble and earth removed was used to extend Rio’s downtown limits, filling unhealthy swamps and creating Avenida Beira Mar, Praça Paris and the Avenida and park along Flamengo beach. Material was later used for landfills in Urca, Gávea and Copacabana, and Santos Dumont Airport.

An interesting detail is that Carlos Sampaio contracted Leonard Kennedy & Co. from New York to demolish the hill, and most of the rubble was transported by rail, using steam engines made by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, one of which is in perfect condition today, in the Museu do Imigrante in São Paulo.

The main landfill, creating what we know today as the “Aterro”, or Flamengo Park, was started in the 1950s with rocks and material from the demolition of part of Morro de Santo Antonio. A long rock wall was built in the sea from the Ponta do Calabouço (Santos Dumont Airport) to the Morro da Viúva. The first landfills were used for the Modern Art Museum (1958) and the War Memorial (1960). The rock wall formed a huge lagoon, which was gradually filled with earth and sand to form today’s Aterro. Burle Marx was responsible for the landscaping and planting of all the green areas and trees, and the park was finally inaugurated in 1965. I clearly remember the rock wall and the filling in and construction of the park – still kept beautifully today.

Part of the Morro de Santo Antonio was spared, and can be reached today from the Largo do Carioca. On top of the hill are the Convento de Santo Antônio and the Igreja da Ordem Terceira de São Francisco da Penitência, an important example of Rio’s colonial architecture. The Astronomical Observatory, originally located on the Morro de Santo Antonio, was dismantled in the 1920s and all instrumentation moved to the Morro da Conceição, also in downtown Rio, where the Valongo Observatory is still used today by the Federal University.