Plaza del Jornal do Comércio
Rio de Janeiro
Purpose of Memory
The archaeological site commemorates slaves that were transferred from the African continent to Rio de Janeiro, entering through Valongo Wharf.
Date of creation / identification / declaration
2017: Registered in the World Heritage list of UNESCO.
Valongo Wharf (Cais do Valongo in Portuguese) is located in the old port area of Rio de Janeiro, in the center of the Brazilian city. It is made up of various overlapping archaeological layers, the oldest of which has a cobblestone road (pé de moleque) through which slaves had to pass when they arrived in Rio de Janeiro during the 19th century. Cultural activities and Afro-Brazilian religious rites take place around the protected area.
Triangular slave trade was a commercial route established among Europe, Africa and America between the 15th and 19th centuries. It consisted of a route that began in European ports from where boats loaded with goods set off. Goods were later exchanged for slaves in the western coasts of Africa.
Four million people are estimated to have been taken to Brazil under slavery conditions through the triangular trade. As from 1774, slaves entered Rio de Janeiro mainly through the beach of Valongo, where a large market of people existed. In 1811, a stone wharf was built there for the arrival of ships. About one million slaves are estimated to have entered through this place.
In the 1810s, Portugal undertook to put an end to human trafficking, but clandestine trafficking continued. It was only in 1831 when Valongo Wharf was deactivated. In 1843, it was renamed as “Pier of the Empress”, due to the arrival of Princess Teresa Cristina of Bourbon, who became empress after her marriage to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil.
Brazil abolished slavery in 1888 by signing the “Golden Law”. In 1911, the Valongo Wharf was buried due to an urban reform. Within the framework of an urban renovation project that started in 2011, parts of the original paving of the pier and a large number of objects originating in Congo, Angola and Mozambique were found.
The Rio de Janeiro urban renovation program started in the late 1990s especially valued the Portuguese heritage of colonial times. In 2011, the works carried out in the port area allowed for archaeological excavations to be performed, which brought to surface the remains of the Valongo Wharf and a large number of objects originating in Africa.
As from the discovery, the Curatorial Working Group of the History and Archaeology Circuit of African Heritage was created in order to implement policies to value memory and the protection of the African cultural heritage and local Afro-descendants. Researchers, intellectuals and religious leaders of Afro-Brazilian origin were involved in said group. Since 2012, different sites related to the region’s slavery past have been mentioned, including the Valongo Wharf, the Negros Nuevos cemetery and the Pedra do Sal area, where samba is supposed to have been born.
On November 20, 2013, during the celebration of the Black Awareness Day, the Valongo Wharf was recognized as Cultural Heritage of the city of Rio de Janeiro and simultaneously registered in the UNESCO Slave Route, where slavery and slave trade were recognized as crimes against humanity. In 2017, the archaeological site of Valongo Wharf was recognized as Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, valuing the site as “the most important physical footprint of the forced arrival of slaves from Africa to the American continent.”
Valongo Wharf is the first site of memory linked to the African diaspora in America recognized as a world heritage site.
The local Afro-descendant community participates throughout the year in the valuation and resignification of the site through several activities, religious rituals and other manifestations of the Afro-Brazilian culture.
Organization in Charge - Main Referent
Links of interest
Rodriguez, L. S. 2014 Reconocimiento étnico, derecho a la habitación y los impasses de la custodia del patrimonio afrodescendiente en Río de Janeiro. Memoria y Sociedad, 18 (37), 94-111.
Guimarães, R. S. (2016). Entre memorias de Portugal y de África: las políticas patrimoniales en la región portuaria de Río de Janeiro, Brasil. Cuadernos de antropología social, (44), 51-66.
Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (2017). Revista Sítio Arqueológico Cais do Valongo