With stunning golden beaches and the samba rhythms to keep you occupied in Rio de Janeiro, exploring outside of the city can come as a welcome change of scenery. Traveling just over 35 miles from Rio de Janeiro and nestled among the forested hills of the Serra dos Órgãos, in the valley of the Quitandinha and Piabanha rivers is the Imperial City of Petropolis. Popular with Cariocas (Rio’s residents), Petropolis is the perfect place to spend some free time and take a break from the usual attractions of Rio de Janeiro. From the Summer Palace of the second Brazilian emperor to stunning, regal buildings and an interesting German culture, Petropolis is one of our favorite activities outside of Rio de Janeiro which can be easily added to your travel itinerary.
♦ A brief history of the Imperial City of Petropolis
When the Emperor Pedro I, who declared Brazil independent from Portugal in 1822, spent a night on a farm of what is today Petropolis, he became enchanted by the fresh climate and beautiful vistas. Having purchased some land in the area, Pedro I saw this area as a summer escape from Europe, the hot weather of Rio de Janeiro and also the seat of government. Being forced to resign as the Emperor and returning to Portugal in 1831, his young son, Pedro II took charge as the ruler of Brazil. In 1843, Pedro II aged 18 and newly married created Petropolis with the city and summer residence being built largely by German and European immigrants. After the exile of the Imperial family in 1889, the city continued to attract Brazil’s leaders and the rich and famous who were looking for a weekend or summer escape surrounded by the beautiful mountain-valley views. Today walking through the historic part of Petropolis as well as along its tree-lined canals, cobblestone streets and passing stunning colonial architecture is just one part of the Imperial City’s charm. From the Imperial Museum of Petropolis to it city’s Crystal Palace, below are some of our favorite places to visit in Petropolis.
♦ The Imperial Museum of Petropolis
Constructed between 1845 and 1862, the former summer residence of Emperor Pedro II is today the Museu Imperial (Imperial Museum). Opened to the public in 1943, the museum has some of Brazil’s most prized possessions including the gold quill used by Princess Izabel to sign the law which liberated slaves in Brazil in 1888. The well-preserved building also has a collection of ornate furniture and royal exhibits such as a 16.5lbs diamond and pearl studded crown. To make sure you are not left disappointed, it is important to note that Petropolis’ main city highlight is closed on Mondays.
♦ São Pedro de Alcântara Cathedral
One of the most famous churches in Brazil, the neo-gothic São Pedro de Alcântara Cathedral was declared a buildifing of national historic heritage. Construction of the Cathedral started in 1884 by Pedro II, before being continued by his daughter Princess Isabel. It finally opened in 1925, and in 2004 the cathedral was restored. Inside the Imperial Chapel are the remains of Pedro II and his wife, as well as Princess Isabel and her husband the Count D’Eu. Some of the elements within the Petropolis Cathedral are believed to have been particularly meaningful to Pedro II. One such element is a cross made of black granite found in Rio de Janeiro’s Tijuca. The Cathedral is open daily and if you travel to Rio de Janeiro during the Brazilian winter (June – September), some of the Petropolis Winter Festival concerts are held there and is an unforgettable experience.
♦ Casa de Santos Dumont Museum
The father of aviation and inventor of the wristwatch, Alberto Santos Dumont lived in a house perched on a hill in the downtown area of Petropolis. Turned into Santos Dumont’s House Museum, the house is complete with a lookout point for stargazing as well as stairs shaped like rackets which force visitors to ascend with their right foot on the outside staircase and their left foot on the indoor staircase. Interestingly, the house does not have a kitchen as Santos Dumont would get his meals from a nearby hotel. You can also visit the square dedicated to Dumont (Praça 14-Bis), where you can view a replica of his pioneering 14-Bis airplane which is in fact 75% of the original size. Like the Imperial Museum, the Museu Casa de Santos Dumont is closed on Mondays.
♦ The Palácio de Cristal
Built as a present from the French Count D’Eu to his wife, Princess Izabel, the Crystal Palace was constructed in France and brought to Petropolis. Inspired by London’s famous Crystal Palace, the glass and steel Petropolis palace complete with impressive chandeliers is the centerpiece of a peaceful park. Inside this glasshouse are detailed, miniature replicas of some of the Imperial City’s most famous landmarks. The calm setting of the Crystal Palace is the main draw of this landmark and is a great place to enjoy reading a book or relax and enjoy the delightful climate of Petropolis.