Famous for its vibrant culture and music, people come to Rio de Janeiro from all over the world to get a taste of the magic. Just a short walk past the beautiful botanic gardens of Rio – Jardim Botanico – there is a hidden gem which is easily overlooked. I bit down Rue Jardim Botanico you will find the cobbled driveway of the public park Parque Lage. Walking through rows of palm trees and breathing in the sweet scents of the jungle, you will find a colonial mansion at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain with on its top Christo Redentor.
Parque Lage was established in 1660 and spreads over 128 acres. It’s part of the much larger Tijuca National Park. The park is has been influenced by its owners throughout the years, like the stables from colonial times, when the property was a sugar mill belonging to Rodrigo de Freitas de Mello Castro, and the garden designs of the English landscaping artist John Tyndale, commissioned by the English owner in 1940.
The beautiful mansion was given its current shape in the early 1920s. Thanks to his family’s shipping company, entrepreneur Henrique Lage (1881-1941) had become one of the country’s richest men. He fell in love with Italian mezzo soprano Gabriella Besanzoni (1888-1962) when she was performing in Rio de Janeiro. He asked Italian architect Mario Vodrel to remodel the existing house to a Roman palace, so that Gabrielle would feel at home. A beautiful facade and arcades were added, along with an atrium and a pool. In its interior, Salvador Sabaté installed his frescoes. This obviously swept her off her feet and they both lived happily ever after in the mansion.
After the couple had passed, the mansion became the Visual Arts School of Parque Lage in 1975. The park’s gardens and architecture are now protected heritage. When you step into the courtyard, there is activity everywhere. On the left side of the courtyard you will find a café where people sit around drinking coffee and discussing their work. With its tranquil pool as centerpiece, students are scattered around the corridors, working on canvasses and sheets of paper tacked on to their easels and the walls.
Images by Eefje Sandmann