By Felicity Clarke, Contributing Reporter

Police photographs of Ronnie Biggs, who spent 35 years on the run before returning to the UK in 2001, photo by Getty Images.
Police photographs of Ronnie Biggs, who spent 35 years on the run before returning to the UK in 2001, photo by Getty Images.

RIO DE JANEIRO – For many, the most famous person to have brought their own brand of charisma to Santa Teresa in recent years was the British criminal Ronnie Biggs, known for his role in the Great Railway Robbery of 1963 who made the bohemian Rio neighborhood his home for over 25 years.

While Biggs patronized the neighborhood with stories of his criminal escapades and personal merchandise, other great characters have left a more permanent mark to be enjoyed by visitors.

The hilltop attractions Museu da Chácara do Céu (Museum of the estate of Heaven) and Parque das Ruinas (The Ruins Park) on Rua Mortinho Nobre up from the Selaron Steps and near the Curvelo bonde stop are two such examples.

La falaise d'Étretat by Gustave Courbet, Museu da Chácara do Céu. Source:
La falaise d'Étretat by Gustave Courbet, Museu da Chácara do Céu, image by Creative Commons License.

From 1925 onwards Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya, a Paris-born Brazilian industrialist, made his fortune and his mark on the cultural, economic and political life of Rio de Janeiro. Companhia Industrial Carioca, the company he started with his brother Paulo, was most famous for its Carioca coconut fat product but Castro Maya himself is noted for his passion for arts alongside his business acumen.

Accruing over 22,000 items, Castro Maya was a devoted art collector and preserver and his modernist home in Santa Teresa is now the Museu da Chácara do Céu and houses part of the collection (the rest is displayed at his other home in Alta da Boa Vista).

The museum is a stunning display of works collected between 1920 and 1968 by the foremost Brazilian modernist artists such as Candindo Portinaru and Iberê Camargo as well as works by European masters Matisse, Seurat and Modigliani. What is perhaps most beautiful about the museum is not only the works but the preservation of the space as a comfortable home environment. The works can be enjoyed as individual experiences, but also as a collection within the context of Castro Maya’s home, with his exquisite personal taste imprinted throughout his modernist mansion.

Parque das Ruinas, photo by Arthur Neto/Flickr Creative Commons License.
Parque das Ruinas, photo by Arthur Neto/ Flickr Creative Commons license.

The house is adjoined by a pathway to the Parque das Ruinas (The Ruins Park) which is the domain of another Santa Teresa patron. At the turn of the 20th century, Laurinda Santos Lobo was the principal Santa socialite, campaigner for women’s rights and an influential figure in cultivating the area’s intellectual and artistic scene at the time.

Her first home is now the Centro Cultural Laurinda Santos Lobo on Rua Monte Alegro in Santa Teresa which hosts changing art exhibitions, concerts and performances. Parque das Ruinas is the remains of one of her later homes where she entertained the leading artists and thinkers of the day such as Ataulfo de Paiva and Helio Lobos.

As it’s current name suggests, the mansion is in ruins having been left to decay since Lobo’s death in 1946. This does not detract from the beauty to be found here, for unlike Castro Maya’s museum, Parque das Ruinas visual appeal comes from looking out rather than in.

As you climb through the staircase installed in the shell of the building, the view of this most good-looking city unfolds. From the top, a 360 degree vista can be drunk in, Sugarloaf mountain and Guanabara bay round to Marina da Gloria and Niteroi and then out across the shiny high rises of Centro and beyond. Much lower than Christ or Sugarloaf, the view is stunning for the more detailed proximity to the panorama.

With an impressive early 20th century art collection, beautiful home to explore and truly breath-taking views, the Museu da Chácara do Céu and Parque das Ruinas combination makes for an enchanting visitor attraction and individually are fitting legacies for two of Santa Teresa’s most prominent former residents.

Museu da Chácara do Céu, Rua Murtinho Nobre, 93, Santa Teresa. Tel: (021) 3970-1126. Open daily Noon – 5PM (closed Tuesdays). Entrance free on Wednesdays.

Parque das Ruinas, Rua Murtinho Nobre, 169, Santa Teresa. Tel: (021) 2252 0112. Open Tuesdays to Sundays 10AM – 8PM. Free entrance.


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