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Rio began as a seafaring city and this is a great place to explore some of its history. The exhibit begins with the Portuguese control of Brazil's naval affairs and continues to the present times. Housed in the original downtown navy headquarters, there are also models of galleons, nautical charts, naval paintings and military equipment on display. The highlight, however, has to be the hand-drawn map of the New World by Pedro Álvares Cabral.
Built in 1762 as an arsenal, the Museu Histórico Nacional was also a military prison until 1922, when it was converted into an exhibition center for the celebration of 100th anniversary of the independence from Portugal. Here you will find objects and models that retrace the history of Brazil since its discovery, with special attention to the slavery period and the sugar cane industry.
Located in Catete and finished in 1866, this museum is housed in the palace that was home to Brazilian presidents from 1896 to 1954. Restored to its original grandeur with stained-glass windows and marble floors, the collection contains artwork, furniture and memorabilia from the Republic years. There is also an art gallery, a multimedia area, a theater and a great restaurant set in an enclosed terrace that overlooks the gardens. The permanent exhibition includes an audio tour in English and Spanish.
Formerly the house of 19th-century scholar Rui Barbosa, Casa Rui Barbosa spells magnificence in every aspect. The entire mansion is beautifully painted in pink and has a vast collection of scholarly books and literature material, a garden, a library for children, and a museum. Witness a host of cultural events taking place including the concert series of Brasiliana, personal archives of Osman Lins, book fairs and guided tours around the mansion. Admission is free.
Carmen Miranda lovers unite! This small kitsch museum is located at the very southern tip of the Parque do Flamengo. Highlights include memorabilia from the famed singer's life and career. The infamous fruity headdresses are among the singer's paraphernalia and exquisite costumes that are on exhibit. Posters, postcards, T-shirts, and music are on sale as well.
Some visitors to Rio are not aware that it was once inhabited by Native Indians. This museum, housed in an old colonial building, is a good place to learn a little about Rio's original inhabitants. Opened on April 19, 1953, in honor of the Day of the Native, the collection contains displays of cooking utensils, tools, musical instruments, costumes and religious artifacts. Photographs and displays of native housing round out this collection. The museum has a store named Artíndia which offers crafts items for sale.
Fort Copacabana was built in 1914 to defend Guanabara bay, and now offers many attractions for its visitors. The fort houses Museu Histórico do Exército, a good source of information on Brazil's military history. Outside of the fort you'll get a lovely view of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, which are the two most famous beaches in Rio de Janeiro.