Brazilian Historical Heritages: Which ones, characteristics and curiosities

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The Historical Heritage allows us to know the culture, art, traditions, customs, religion, and history of a people. Do you know which are the Brazil´s historical heritage?  Which institutions are responsible for their preservation?  Learn about the discussions that deal with the preservation of Brazil's Historic Heritage.

What is Historical Heritage?

A Historical Heritage can be defined as a material, natural or immobile asset that has significance and artistic, cultural, religious, documental or aesthetic importance for society.  These assets were built or produced by past societies, and therefore represent an important source for research and cultural preservation.

The Historical Heritage of a country is composed of all the material or natural assets that were built and preserved over time.  It has a strong connection with culture and local identity and contains essential elements to understand how that society developed, and is also a rich research tool.  ​


The Historical Heritage allows us to know the culture, art, traditions, customs, religion, and history of a people. The city of Ouro Preto (MG) was the first Historical Heritage Site in Brazil, recognized in 1980.

What is UNESCO and what is its function?

There is a worldwide concern to preserve the World Heritage Sites, through protection and restoration laws that make it possible to maintain the original characteristics. UNESCO (United Nations Organization for Culture, Science and Education) is the body responsible for defining the rules and protection of the Historic and Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Some of the World Heritage Sites are the Pyramids of Giza (Egypt), Machu Picchu (Peru), Statue of Liberty (United States), Wall of China, Tower of Pisa (Italy), Colosseum in Rome (Italy), Palace of Versailles (France), Eiffel Tower (France) and Acropolis in Athens (Greece).

In Brazil, the historical city of Ouro Preto (Minas Gerais), the Historical Center of Olinda (Pernambuco), the Pelourinho (Salvador, Bahia), the Luz Station (São Paulo), the Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro) and the Amazonas Theater (Manaus) are heritage sites.


What is IPHAN and what is it for?

The Instituto Patrimônio Histórico e Cultural (National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute, IPHAN) is a federal autarchy (self-government), which is linked to the Ministry of Tourism. It works in the preservation and conservation of the historical, artistic, and landscape heritage in Brazil. The agency is responsible for registration requests, which are submitted by representatives from civil society, public institutions linked to the public powers of the states, municipalities, or the Union.

IPHAN started its activities in 1936, after a presidential order from the Minister of Education and Public Health.  The National Historical and Artistic Heritage Service (SPHAN) was founded on January 13, 1937, linked to the Ministry of Education and Health in the Getúlio Vargas government. In this period, SPHAN receives the collaboration of important Brazilian names, such as Oscar Niemeyer, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, Vinícius de Moraes, Gilberto Freyre, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade.

In 1946, SPHAN becomes an Institute with the purpose of preservation. What used to be a service becomes an institution. In the institute a new structure emerges that was contemplated by the Federal Constitution of 1988, which defines cultural heritage from its forms of expression, such as "the ways of creating, doing and living". There are also scientific, artistic, and technological creations; objects, documents, buildings, and the urban sets and sites of historical and heritage value, citing the landscape, artistic, archaeological, paleontological, ecological, and scientific.

What is the difference between material and immaterial heritage?

For a long time, both IPHAN and the Federal Constitution of 1988 privileged the "stone and lime" heritage, as the assets inscribed on the historical heritage list such as churches, forts, fountains, representative buildings and urban groups are called.  Therefore, the manifestations and expressions that did not have a material nature followed to cultural expressions.

Nowadays, cultural heritage can be defined as an asset (or assets) of a material or immaterial nature.  

Material cultural heritage is associated with material elements and, therefore, is formed by tangible and concrete elements, for example, works of art and churches.  

The intangible cultural heritage, on the other hand, is related to spiritual or abstract elements, for example, the knowle​dge, the ways of doing things, the skills, the beliefs and practices.  

Examples of material heritage in Brazil are the Historical Center of Diamantina (Minas Gerais), the Serra da Capivara National Park (Piauí), the Ruins of São Miguel das Missões (Rio Grande do Sul) and the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, Congonhas do Campo (Minas Gerais).

Of the 47 Brazilian intangible cultural assets recognized by IPHAN, 5 were inscribed by Unesco as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity: the Samba de Roda of the Recôncavo Baiano, the Kusiwa-Body Painting and Wajapi Graphic Art, the Frevo, the Círio de Nazaré, and the Roda de Capoeira. 

Preservation of collections

The development of information technologies, particularly the Internet, is creating a completely new environment, which makes it necessary to conduct a broad review of the role of traditional information services. The potential of networks, cooperation and digitalization substantially changes the functions of acquiring, archiving and disseminating information and knowledge.

Libraries and archives are essential components for strategies to promote access to and preservation of information, both for the general public and for specialized groups. Since its creation, UNESCO has supported the strengthening of these types of services.

Debates about the constitution, organization, management and preservation of collections in analog, magnetic and digital media, initially called film libraries, video libraries, media libraries or multimedia collections, have occupied professionals in the field in the last decades. It is on the agenda of the meetings of these professionals, both national and international, and will continue to be, according to the dynamics of the accelerated evolution of technologies.

Fire is a great villain that affects cultural heritage assets all over the world. Although from a standpoint of a single institution it may seem a rare event, major fires can become frequent when considering a country's cultural heritage. Their impact is almost always catastrophic. Such is the case with the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, a tragedy that took place in 2018. Most fires affecting cultural assets have internal causes and can be reduced or avoided through proper maintenance and safety procedures.


In 2019, we developed the entire renovation of the electrical installations and lighting of the Barra Grande Fortress, in Guarujá (SP).

Rescuing History

A partnership between the BNDES (Brazilian Economic Development Bank), together with the Neoenergia Institute and four other partners, launched the "Rescuing History" project, which aims to restore and revitalize the material and immaterial heritage and memorial collections throughout the country.  The initiative also has the support of Ambev Brasil, EDP, Instituto Cultural Vale and Mrs Logística.  A total of R$200 million will be invested, of which R$50 million will come from the partners and R$150 million from the BNDES Cultural Fund, which relies on resources from the Federal Law for Cultural Incentive.

"Rescuing History" is the largest historical heritage preservation program ever carried out in Brazil, gathering efforts from public and private initiatives.​

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