The State of Rio de Janeiro is so amazing that it can hold together the wonders of a multicultural and a summer city with the contrast of a European-like village in the mountains. Quite impressive, right? Not too far from the city of Rio, there is a place called Petrópolis, better known as the Imperial City of Brazil. The name came all the way from the imperial period in Brazil when Dom Pedro II started the construction of the city as you know it today. Petrópolis is a charming place that combines classical sceneries of Europe and the tropical nature of Brazil. So, if you are looking for a perfectly relaxing day trip outside Rio, check the following lines and fall in love with this amazing city.
During the colonial period, today’s location of Petrópolis was populated in majority by natives, that lived along with Portuguese colonizers. As the place is in the middle of hills and far from the seaside, it was not good for the big plantations, so there were few commercial activities there. Everything changed in 1822, during the imperial time of Brazil, when Emperor Dom Pedro I had to cross the mountains during one trip from Rio de Janeiro to Minas Gerais. Instantly he fell in love with the place and decided to acquire a farm there with the idea of constructing the summer residence for the Imperial court. The first emperor never finished the project, but his son Dom Pedro II, finalized it, and just like this, the city of Petrópolis was born. Fun fact: its name translates from Latin as the “City of Pedro”.
Petrópolis was built as the second planned city in Brazil, just after the city of Recife, projected by the Dutch colonizers some centuries before. In Petrópolis, the urbanism project was authored by Júlio Frederico Koeler, a German who brought the Teutonic characteristics to the city's streets - and nowadays, the main avenue in Petrópolis carries his name. Because of its origins, Petrópolis came to be known as the Imperial City.
If you plan your day trip well, there is plenty of time to see the main touristic points in Petrópolis. Mostly, the city has an amazing atmosphere, so just walking around is already relaxing and refreshing.
If there is a place you have to see in Petrópolis, it is the Cathedral of São Pedro de Alcântara, located in the charming city center, on the famous Avenida Koeler. It is one of the main tourist attractions to visit, built in a French neo-Gothic style in 1884. The stained glass, paintings, and sculptures are spectacles on their own. By the way, in my opinion, this cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings in Brazil, and you can visit it free of charge. There is just a ticket charge to go up to the top of the bell tower to see the entire city of Petrópolis from above, which I recommend you to do.
It is also important to remember that the cathedral houses the Imperial Mausoleum, which holds the remains of the imperial family, such as Dom Pedro II, his wife Tereza Cristina, and their daughter, Princess Isabel, responsible for the decree that puts an end to the slavery in Brazil.
Along with the cathedral, the Imperial Museum is a very important touristic spot in the city. The palace has a neoclassical style and was built by Dom Pedro II on the farm that his father, Dom Pedro I, had bought to spend time with family. It is located in the historical Center of Petrópolis, indicating that the city started there and spread around it. The museum is huge and holds thousands of historical items, organized in well-preserved rooms that tell the history of the Second Reign. Completing the visit, the land has beautiful gardens and other outbuildings that offer exhibitions and attractions.
The Crystal Palace was built in 1844 to be the place that would house the exhibitions of flowers and birds, having this name because it is covered almost entirely in glass, with its structure made of iron. The inspiration for the construction came from the Crystal Palace in Porto, Portugal. The palace was a gift from Count d’Eu to his wife, Princess Isabel, daughter of Dom Pedro II. It is an important attraction in Petrópolis, and it is normally used during some cultural events, such as the Bauernfest, a traditional German festival that honors the first settlers who arrived in the region.
The 'Casa de Santos Dumont' is very important not just for Petrópolis but also for Brazil because it tells the history of one of the most important Brazilians ever - Santos Dumont, the Father of Aviation. Santos Dumont created the first heavier-than-air aircraft that ever flew, in 1906, the 14-bis. The flight happened at the grounds of Paris' Château de Bagatelle in the Bois de Boulogne for a distance of 60 meters and a height of about five meters. His house, built in 1918 to enjoy the summer in Rio, has some peculiarities in its design. The ladder, for example, has racket-shaped half-steps as a way to force everyone to enter his house on the right foot. Also known as “A Encantada”, the place is nowadays a museum that holds a large collection of personal belongings of the inventor.
The Quitandinha Palace is one of the top places in Petrópolis. It was built to be the largest casino in South America in 1941, and you can see that it is indeed huge. The architecture has a French Norman-style façade and a Rococo-shaped interior and holds 440 apartments and 13 halls distributed in approximately 50 thousand square meters of built area. Its artificial lake has the shape of the map of Brazil, with the lighthouse being the Ilha de Marajó. Quitandinha is so big that the palace even houses a bowling alley and a mega theater with more than a thousand seats. Another great highlight is the dome of the Mauá room, considered by specialists to be the second-largest in the world in size. Throughout its history, it received great personalities such as Orson Welles, Getúlio Vargas, Carmem Miranda, and Walt Disney.
I hope you will enjoy your day trip to Petropolis, the Brazilian Imperial City. It is one of my favorite destinations in Rio, especially to relax and enjoy the finest Brazilian emperor’s time culture.
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