The National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janiero was destroyed after a massive fire engulfed the building this past weekend, ravaging millions of priceless artifacts. Although the flames were eventually extinguished, tempers are still flaring on the street, where protestors and local police have been engaged in a bitter battle.
The museum, which housed more than 20 million artifacts, has not reported any injuries, though the damage is incalculable. On Monday, protests began after the media reported that the fire was the result of government spending cuts, which left the museum unprotected.
“This fire was caused due to several years of neglect from the federal government,” Caio, an anthropology student who studied at the museum, said. “The anthropology department went through absurd budget cuts from the federal government during the past two years. In my class alone, it was around 70 percent.”
The museum’s deputy director believes this tragedy has been in the making for a while now. “We never had adequate support,” he said, adding that staff had warned the institution that a fire could potentially break out.
“Given the financial straits of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and all the other public universities the last three years, this was a tragedy that could be seen coming,” Marina Silva, a current presidential candidate in Brazil, told the BBC.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Rio de Janeiro fire department said two fire hydrants outside the museum lacked pressure to function properly. The fire department had to resort to taking water from a nearby pond.
Museum staff has been left hoping for a miracle to salvage what is left of the museum. “Very little will be left,” preservation director João Carlos Nara told Agência Brasil. Nara says the museum will have to wait until the firefighters have finished their work to assess the exact amount of damage the fire has caused.
Brazilian Minister of Culture Serguio Sá Leitao has already announced plans to rebuild the museum. “We are hoping to start an international campaign to mobilize collectors that would be willing to donate or sell their collections,” he said.
Unfortunately, what has been lost cannot be replaced. The museum was the oldest scientific institution in Brazil and one of the largest museums of natural history and anthropology in the world. Located inside the Quinta da Boa Vista park and installed in the Paço de São Cristóvão, the museum was the former residence of the Portuguese Royal Family between 1808 and 1821. It also housed the Brazilian Imperial Family between 1822 and 1889, and the Republican Constituent Assembly from 1889 to 1891, before becoming a museum in 1892.
The Museum housed fossilized animals, insects, minerals, aboriginal collections of utensils, Egyptian mummies and South American archaeological artifacts, meteorites, fossils, and numerous other findings. The center held over 20 million objects from various cultures and ancient civilizations. The institution’s collection had been gathered for more than two centuries through expeditions, excavations, acquisitions, donations, and exchanges, and was subdivided into seven categories: geology, paleontology, botany, zoology, biological anthropology, archaeology, and ethnology.