11 Brazilian UNESCO World Heritage Sites That Every Architect Must Visit

On August 17th, Brazil celebrated its National Heritage Day. Created in 1998 to honor the historian and first president of IPHAN (National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute), Rodrigo Melo Franco de Andrade, who would have turned 100 years old. This date aims to reinforce the recognition and appreciation of the country’s cultural heritage.

To celebrate heritage month, HAUS, an ArchDaily Brazil partner, selected 11 UNESCO World Heritage sites located on Brazilian soil.

Historic Town of Ouro Preto

Image: Raquel Mendes Silva/Wikimedia Commons/Reproduction

The city of Ouro Preto (formerly Vila Rica), founded in 1691, was the first city in Brazil to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1980). The city's structure is one of the most singular manifestations of Brazilian colonial architecture. Ouro Preto's religious architecture has a strong presence in the city, and is adorned with ceiling paintings, stonework, and gold details.

According to IPHAN, the city is a "man-made masterpiece" that tells a “unique testimony of a cultural tradition.” 

Historic Center of the Town of Olinda

Image: Roberto Rosa/Iphan/Reproduction

With a history marked by lootings and fires from the 17th-century Dutch invasion, Olinda’s best attributes are its green landscape and the sea, which serve as a background to the landscape and diverse, architectural styles. Here it is possible to find exemplars of 16th-century heritage, unique tiles from the 18th and 19th centuries, and neoclassic and eclectic buildings dating from the early 20th century. Among them is the Carmo church, burned by the Dutch but rebuilt with its original characteristics.

The city was included on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1982 and illustrates “important stages of human history.”

Jesuit Missions of the Guaranis – Ruins of São Miguel das Missões

Courtesy of Haus

São Miguel Arcanjo, founded in 1687, was a mission where European priest of the Society of Jesus converted Brazilian natives. The intense contact between indigenous Brazilians and Europeans gave origin to a singular artistic activity called 'Missionary Baroque,' which blends indigenous and European aesthetics. 

The ruins were included on the UNESCO list in 1985. According to IPHAN, this is one of the most significant Jesuit missions on Guarani land.

Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas

Image: Iphan/Reproduction

The construction of the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Congonhas began in 1757. The construction of the sanctuary forms six chapels. The Bom Jesus do Matosinhos church and the altar of the prophets (an area that holds the sculptures) took more than a hundred years to build. Considered a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, it was built by Aleijadinho and Manoel da Costa Athayde.

It was named a heritage site in 1985 and is “a testimony of a cultural tradition” and “a masterpiece of creative genius.”

Historic Center of Salvador da Bahia

Image: Bigstock

Salvador has remained a vital location in Brazil even after Rio de Janeiro took its title (capital and economic center) in 1763. Designed by Luis Dias, the city’s historic urban layout is divided between “Cidade Baixa” (Downtown, which includes the port) and “Cidade Alta” (Uptown, which includes the administrative and religious centers). Its monumental architecture reached its height in the 17th and 18th centuries due to the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque era. The town’s symbolic buildings are from this period, such as Salvador Cathedral (formerly a Jesuit Church) and the Church and Monastery of Sao Bento.

The Historic Center of Salvador da Bahia became a heritage site in 1985.


Image: Unesco/Reproduction

An icon of Brazilian modern architecture, Brasilia was inaugurated on April 21, 1960, three and a half years after the construction of the monumental city designed by Lucio Costa had begun. Laid out along two axes that cross at a right angle, Brasilia creates four well defined urban scales (monumental, residential, gregarious, and bucolic). Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, buildings such as the Itamaraty Palace, the National Theater, and the Cathedral have become the capital’s postcards.

Brasilia was included on the World Heritage list in 1987.

Historic Center of Sao Luís do Maranhao

Image: Iphan/Reproduction

Located in the Northeastern region of Brazil, Sao Luís (founded in 1615) is another location that was invaded by the Dutch in the mid-17th century. With its streets, squares, plazas, and stairs, architecture is the city's main attraction. Its structures were designed to keep visitors cool in the warm climate with ventilation and shade in the buildings, azulejos tiles, shuttered windows, porches, and balconies.

Included on UNESCO World's Heritage list in 1997, the city was recognized for its “testimony of exceptional cultural tradition.”

Historic Center of Diamantina

Image: Unesco/Reproduction

Founded by the Portuguese Crown in 1731 to take hold of the diamond extraction region, Diamantina is another testament to the fusion of Brazilian and European design. Its architecture is simple: houses with whitewashed walls, vivid colors that adorn doors and windows, and cobogós that integrate with the lush landscape. 

The Historic Center of Diamantina became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999.

Historic Center of Goiás

Image: Wagner Araujo/Iphan/Reproduction

Goiás was founded in 1727 by explorers from Sao Paulo. The city preserves religious traditions such as the Fogaréu procession. It has a vernacular architectural ensemble, with a predominance of single story, colonial, and eclectic houses. The religious architecture stands out for its simplicity, showing traces of a “late” Baroque style, similar to that of the first phase of the style contemplated by the churches of Minas Gerais.

The Historic Center of Goiás was included in 2001 for representing “a considerable exchange of human values in the development of architecture, urban planning, arts and landscape design.”

Pampulha Modern Ensemble

Image: Aglaia Oliveira/Pixabay/Reproduction

Located in one of the most traditional areas of Belo Horizonte (Minas Gerais), the Pampulha Modern Ensemble is the first cultural heritage site to receive the title of "Cultural Landscape of Modern Heritage." It was designed by Oscar Niemeyer and is one of his most important works.

There are four buildings laid out around an artificial lake: the São Francisco de Assis church, a casino (current Pampulha Art Museum), a ballroom (current the Belo Horizonte Reference Center for Urbanism, Architecture and Design), and the Golf Yacht Club.

They were built between the years of 1942 and 1943 and inaugurated by the then mayor of Belo Horizonte, Juscelino Kubitschech, who, twenty years later, would become the president who inaugurated Brasilia. The set is completed by azulejos tiles panels signed by Candido Portinari and sculptures by artists such as Alfredo Ceschiatti and José Alves Pedrosa, alongside gardens designed by Roberto Burle Marx.

Listed by IPHAN in 1997, the ensemble received its UNESCO World Heritage Site title in 2016.

Valongo Wharf Archeological Site – Rio de Janeiro

Image: Agência Brasil/Achieve/Tomaz Silva

The most recent Brazilian Heritage to be listed by UNESCO, the Valongo Wharf Archeological Site, in Rio de Janeiro, was the main port of entrance for African slaves in all of America, receiving around 900 thousand slaves, according to UNESCO estimations. Dated from 1811, the wharf was discovered by archeologists in 2011, during the construction for Porto Maravilha. Recovered, the remnants of the wharf were exhibited and are open for visitation on Barão de Teté Avenue.

The inclusion as a World Heritage was made in 2017 and represents the recognition of its universal value as a memory of the violence against humanity that slavery represents, as well as the contribution that African people have given to the cultural, social and economic formation of the country.

By Haus.

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Cite: HAUS, HAUS. "11 Brazilian UNESCO World Heritage Sites That Every Architect Must Visit" [11 Patrimônios brasileiros que são bens culturais da humanidade da Unesco] 31 Aug 2018. ArchDaily. (Trans. Cavallaro, Fernanda) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/901128/11-brazilian-unesco-world-heritage-sites-that-every-architect-must-visit> ISSN 0719-8884

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