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Panorama and map of the city of Rio de Janeiro in 1775. The city had improvements during the Marquis de Lavradio´s administration. 1


In the first half of the eighteenth century, Rio de Janeiro was still a village in precarious conditions. Most houses were built on the landfill of marshes, and the streets, unpaved, used as a place to dump waste.

From 1733 to 1762, was governor and captain-general of the captaincy of Rio de Janeiro Gomes Freire de Andrade, who was granted in 1758, the title of Earl of Bobadela. He delegated to Sergeant José Fernandes Pinto Alpoim many public improvements such as the construction of the Carioca Aqueduct, the House of the Governors, completed in 1743, and the pulic fountain on the square of the Carmel. He also promoted the construction of religious buildings, such as the Convent of Santa Teresa and the Convent of Ajuda, demolished in the early twentieth century. He allowed the first printing facility of the colony, in Rio de Janeiro in 1747, which was soon closed by the Portuguese government. He encouraged the culture with the creation of intellectual academies: the Academia dos Felizes (1736) [Academy of the Blessed] and the Academia dos Seletos (1752) [Academy of the Selected], but both had a brief existence.

It was prior to 1747 the foundation of the oldest theater known in Brazil, the Opera House, or Padre Ventura Theater. It stood in the Largo do Capim, near Rua do Fogo, a site today near the corner of Uruguaiana Street and Presidente Vargas Avenue. The theater was completely destroyed by a fire in 1769, possibly during the staging of the play "The Enchantments of Medea," by António Jose da Silva 2. There are reports that several other of da Silva's "operas" had been staged there.

After Andrade's death, in early 1763, Rio de Janeiro became the capital of the Viceroyalty of Brazil, from then on ruled directly by a viceroy. The first of them was António Alvares da Cunha, Earl of Cunha, who ruled from 1763 to 1767. Cunha improved the existing fortifications of Rio, and initiated others, like the Arsenals of War and Navy. Among his many civil works, he founded the Leper's Hospital, one of the oldest in town, and landfilled the big ditch used as a sewer, at Rua da Vala [ditch street], nowadays Uruguaiana.

Cunha was succeeded for two years (1767-1769) by António Rolim de Moura Tavares, Earl de Azambuja, who improved the defenses of the city, for a Spanish attack was then a possibility.

Azambuja was in turn succeeded by Luis Soares de Portugal de Almeida d'Eça Alarcão Mascarenhas e Silva Melo, Marquis de Lavradio (1769-1778), who continued the works necessary for the military defense of Rio de Janeiro, and sent troops and arms to the south of Brazil. He had the cooperation of the German Lieutenant General John Henry Boehm and the Swedish Brigadier Jaques Funck, both at the service of Portugal.

De Lavradio had to deal with the delicate situation created by the extinction in Brazil, in 1759, of the Society of Jesus. In the field of education, to replace the teaching of the Jesuits, he established the "Regal Classes" a new model of public education funded by the literary subsidy, a tax he created in 1772.

The Public Gardens
Plan of the Public Garden by Master Valentim 5

Still in De Lavradio's administration a new opera theater was inaugurated, near the House of the Governors. Until 1813 it became the traditional stage for performances of theatrical and musical plays.

De Lavradio's successor, Luis de Vasconcelos e Souza, Earl of Figueiró (1778-1790) did much for the city: he patroned artists like Master Valentim da Fonseca e Silva and Leandro Joaquim. He made landfill the pond of Boqueirão, a traditional focus of diseases, and built over it, in 1783, the first public garden in the city, designed by Valentim. He reformed the Square of Carmo, with a wall designed by Jacques Funck and a fountain designed by Valentim, and opened streets, such as Rua do Passeio, and Rua das Bellas Noutes, current Rua das Marrecas. He made build what he then called the House of Birds, which was the origin of the National Museum of Rio de Janeiro, in Lampadosa square. He rebuilt the Customs and, in general, was said to be the forerunner of urbanism in Rio de Janeiro. With his sponsorship a Literary Society was founded, which brought together many Brazilian intellectuals.

The Public Garden has become quite frequented at the nights with full or crescent moon (bellas noutes), and it was usual to hear there folk songs and serenades.

However, with the discovery of a conspiracy, the Inconfidência Mineira, the imprisonment and trial of the rebels caused a hardening of government policy, which restricted the right of assembly.

De Figueiró's successor, Jose Luís de Castro, Earl of Rezende (1790-1801), closed the Literary Society, seized and prosecuted its members, among them the poet Manuel Inácio da Silva Alvarenga and Mariano José Pereira da Fonseca, the future Marquis of Marica. Besides introducing the lighting with whale oil, he did little more for the city.

The lagoon of Boqueirão
The lagoon of Boqueirão, levelled to build the Public Garden,
and the aqueduct of Carioca 6

1 VILHENA, Luís dos santos. Prospecto e Planta da cidade do Rio de Janeiro em 1775 [Prospectus and Plant of the City of Rio de Janeiro in 1775]. Watercolor. Biblioteca Nacional. In MACEDO, Joaquim Manuel de. Um passeio pela cidade do Rio de Janeiro [A City Tour of Rio de Janeiro]. Rio de Janeiro: Garnier, 1991. Photograph section at p. 40.

2 Also kown as "The Jew", da Silva was a satyrical playwriter. He was born in 1705, in Rio de Janeiro. Baptized, but of Jewish origin, he was taken to Lisbon, during the persecution that would decimate the community of the "New Christians" of Rio de Janeiro in 1712. He was later arrested by the Portuguese Inquisition along with his pregnant wife, Leonor Maria, mother, aunt, brother André and his wife and burned in fire in 1739.

5 MACEDO, op. cit., p. 59.

6 JOAQUIM, Leandro. Arcos da Carioca e Lagoa do Boqueirão. Oil painting. Museu Histórico Nacional, Rio de Janeiro. In MACEDO, op.cit., photograph section at p. 40.

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