Santa Teresa – The Montmartre of Rio

Santa Teresa is the name of a beautiful neighbourhood in the Zona Sul area of the city of Rio de Janeiro. It is located on top of the Santa Teresa hill, by the centre of Rio, and is famous for its winding, narrow streets and rail system which are a favourite of artists and tourists. It has been referred to as the Jardim Suspenso* (Suspended Garden), as well as other equally affectionate names (such as the Montmartre carioca).

The neighbourhood originated around the Santa Teresa Convent, built in the 1750s on the Desterro hill. At the end of the 19th and early 20th century it was an upper class borough, as testified by its magnificent mansions, many of which are still standing.

In 1896, the Carioca Aqueduct, a colonial structure that used to bring water to the centre of Rio, was converted into a bridge for the Santa Teresa bondinho (tram, pictured above). The old tram is still in use today – the only one in Rio – and is a popular attraction among tourists. The ride starts in the city centre, near the Largo da Carioca square, crosses the Arcos da Lapa (old aqueduct which makes up the arcs of Lapa) and goes through the picturesque streets of the neighbourhood. Wonderful views of the city downhill can be appreciated. Initially the tram was green although the habitants of Santa Teresa (or simply “Santa” as the locals call it) complained that it got lost amongst all the vegetation. Now, as you can see from the picture above, it is yellow.

Santa Teresa ceased being an upper class neighbourhood long ago, but it has been revived as an artistic hotspot. It is home to several artists and art studios and galleries. The offer of restaurants and bars is also varied.

One of Santa Teresa’s most illustrious inhabitants was Raimundo Otoni Castro Maya, an art collector who lived in his Chácara do Céu mansion in the neighbourhood. The mansion was turned into a museum (Museu da Chácara do Céu) and its exhibits include works by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Jean Metzinger, Eliseu Visconti and Candido Portinari (future post).

Another museum is the Museu do Bonde, which tells the history of the Santa Teresa tram since its origins, when it was pulled uphill by donkeys.

* – It was called Jardim Suspenso here (in Portuguese).

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