Engagement for cultural preservation: our support for the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro


Ceramics, © National Museum Rio de Janeiro

30.09.2020 - Article

Two years ago, the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, the largest natural history and ethnological museum in Latin America, was consumed by a devastating fire.

Two years ago, the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, the largest natural history and ethnological museum in Latin America, was consumed by a devastating fire, caused by a short circuit in the air conditioning. The historical palace that housed the museum was gutted by the fire, and a large number of the exhibits were irrevocably destroyed. A tragic loss for the natural and cultural heritage of all humanity!

Up to one million euro for reconstruction ...

Reconstruction of artefacs
Reconstruction of artefacs© National Museum Rio de Janeiro

In the direct wake of the fire, Germany promised to provide swift and easily accessible support. Up to one million euro from funds from the Federal Foreign Office’s Cultural Directorate-General were made available to salvage artefacts and rebuild the museum. On 2 September, in a video message to mark the second anniversary of the blaze, Minister of State Michelle Müntefering announced the payment of the fourth instalment of the emergency assistance. To date, a total of around 800,000 euros have been made available for urgently needed equipment for salvaging work and emergency restoration measures as well as to modernise the museum’s electricity supply. Thanks to this support it has been possible to salvage several significant artefacts from the ruins, including vases and frescos produced between the seventh century BC and the third century AD.

Minister of State Müntefering issued the following statement in this context:

Cultural heritage not only creates a feeling of community in a society. It also unites people across borders. It is a common global task to protect the cultural heritage of humanity. Preserving and protecting cultural heritage are central goals of our foreign policy. We want to further intensify our engagement and broaden our skills in specific areas. To this end we are focusing on multilateral cooperation and interaction with our international partners. For only by working together can we live up to our responsibility to protect cultural property.

... supplemented by expertise from Germany

The Federal Foreign Office has also established contact with experts in numerous disciplines and cultural institutions in Germany, who are assisting the staff of the National Museum with their expertise.

Immediately after the fire, two experts from the historical city archives in Cologne travelled to Rio in the context of a UNESCO mission. The key priority was emergency assistance. The experts could speak from experience: in 2009, the building of the city archives in Cologne, which is twinned with Rio de Janeiro, collapsed.

At the invitation of the Federal Foreign Office Alexander Kellner, Director of the National Museum, visited Germany for a week in May 2019 to talk to representatives of selected museums in Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt am Main about support measures and to forge networks with German experts. In February 2020, numerous directors of German museums then published an open letter expressing their support for the National Museum.

And what lies ahead?

The salvaging and emergency measures in Rio are now almost complete. By 2022, the external façade of the palace and the damaged green spaces should have been restored and a visitor centre built on a neighbouring plot of land. The National Museum is finally due to reopen in 2025.

The Federal Foreign Office will continue to work with determination for the future of the museum. In June 2021, an international conference on the future of the museum is planned in Rio de Janeiro, to be organised together with the Goethe-Institut and numerous other German stakeholders. In preparation for the conference, from autumn 2020 German museums and institutions will offer workshops for National Museum staff in order to share their knowledge and expertise in a wide range of specialist fields.


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