Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fortaleza Santa Cruz in Niterói


Entertaining out of town guests is always a great opportunity to see the local sights – some of which we rarely get to on our own.

Everyone has heard from a 45-year old Rio resident who reports he has never been to Corcovado, or from the Carioca grandmother who has never seen the view from atop Pão de Açucar.

I think I lived in San Francisco, CA for 18 years before I visited Alcatraz Island, and then only because I was accompanying my out of town friend.

This week we went to visit the Santa Cruz Fortress that sits at the very lip of the entrance to Guanabara Bay. Bill, one of our guests, grinned with curiosity when I mentioned it as one potential day outing. He is a tribal art dealer and has a strong interest in all things combat.

The location could not be more scenic, that’s what I enjoyed. The details of the numerous ways prisoners were tortured and killed kept Bill engaged, but were it not for the need for translation I would have wandered from the tour group.


Here are some facts as reported to us:

- the defensive site was first effectively occupied by the Portuguese in 1584
- the fortress, an earlier version of what now stands, was first built in 1612
- from the beginning the fortress has contained the biggest and most powerful cannons available
- the fortress now encompasses 7,153 square meters in an irregular polygon shape (the shape being quite traditional as fortresses go throughout history).
- starting in 1831 the place became a self described political prison and torture chamber

In 1748 on French traveler wrote:

"The Fortress of Santa Cruz, the country's most important, is situated on the edge of a cliff, a place where all boats entering or leaving the port are required to pass at a distance less than the range of a musket shot. The fortification consists of a compact piece of masonry from 20 to 25 feet tall, lined with white stones that seem fragile. Their artillery has 60 pieces of cannon, 18 and 24 inches in diameter, installed to cover the outside the harbor entrance, passage and a part of the bay [Guanabara]."


Present day visitors are encouraged not to miss:

- the sun dial, dated 1820
- the Chapel of Santa Barbara (tiny but cute)
- the dungeon (complete with grizzly tales of alleged torture)
- the place where people were hanged (again, the young male army tour guide smiled with tales of inhuman behavior)
- the wall of shooting (do you see a pattern?)
- the prison (where prisoners were not meant to survive their imprisonment)

Ah... war, fortresses, cannons, torture, hangings… no wonder we have not visited this place often.


Since 2005 the fortress facility has been the Headquarters of the Artillery Division of the 1st Army Division. It is an active army facility.

But the views of Rio are great!

The site is open from Tuesday through Sunday 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Admission is R$4. Guided tours are hourly.

And there is a terrific, creatively designed bar/restaurant with good food and relatively good prices just outside the fort entrance. Very nice.

2 comments:

sarah&paulo said...

Jim...I visited there 12+ years ago and had nightmares for weeks. When sharing the horror with my then boyfriend was told that a friend's brother had held their elaborate wedding in the same spot. The potential metaphors for torture chambers as a point to start a life together...the jokes are endless

Nina said...

great pictures and really cheap admission!