10 Breathtaking South American Museums

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We’ve seen some absolutely stunning museums in Europe and North America; now it’s time to head south to see what kinds of gorgeous gems are located down in South America.

1. Tequendama Falls Museum of Biodiversity and Culture, Colombia

Originally a private residence, then partially converted into a hotel and finally turned into a museum, the Tequendama Falls Museum is easily worth a visit just to enjoy the breathtaking view. The 1923 French-architecture-inspired building was constructed on a cliff face that overlooks the Tequendama Falls. It was supposed to be reconstructed into an eighteen story hotel after the 1950s, but construction never began and the hotel was eventually abandoned in the '90s due to contamination of the river below. The building developed a reputation for being haunted well before it was converted into a museum. For those who aren’t afraid of ghosts though, it’s certainly one of the top must-see attractions in the area.

2. Imperial Museum, Brazil

This absolutely stunning neoclassical building was completed in 1862, with the purpose of serving as the Emperor’s summer residence. After the empire fell in 1909, the mansion served as the St. Vincent de Paul College. It was one of the school’s students, Alcindo de Azevedo Sodre, who first envisioned turning the school into a historical museum. By 1940, he had convinced enough people that the structure was converted into the Imperial Museum.

Sodre became the first director of the museum, studying the history of the structure and rigorously working to locate pieces of furniture, art and other home accessories that originally belonged to the imperial family so the museum could illustrate their day-to-day lives. The museum opened in 1943, offering an important collection of documents and artifacts relating to the Brazilian Empire.

The museum now houses over 300,000 items and offers a temporary exhibition hall dedicated to contemporary art. It is currently one of the most visited museums in Brazil.

3. Museu Paulista, Brazil

If you just can’t get enough history on the Brazilian Empire, then you’ll want to visit the Museu Paulista as well. Operated by the University of Sao Paulo, the museum is located near the spot where Emperor Pedro I proclaimed independence from Portugal.

The structure—designed by Italian architect Tommaso Gaudenzio Bezzi—and its gardens are loosely based on the French Palace of Versailles and the museum features a large collection of furniture, artwork, and documents relating to the Brazilian Empire.

4. Tigre Municipal Museum of Fine Art, Argentina

In 1890, the beautiful Tigre Hotel was constructed on the banks of the Lujan River, Tigre. Twenty-two years later, the Tigre Club was constructed next door, designed by architects Pablo Pater and Luis Dubois, and adorned with Venetian mirrors, French chandeliers, and frescoes by Spanish artist Julio Vila y Prades. Soon, it became a hot spot for Argentina’s rich and famous. Unfortunately, the owners were forced to close their casino due to new legislation in 1933. The world-wide Great Depression hit Argentina at the same time period and the luxury hotel next door was demolished in 1940. While the Club continued to operate, offering live performances and a classy restaurant, it never again saw the glory days it once had.

Luckily, it wasn’t torn down like the Tigre Hotel, and in 1979, the building was declared a National Historic Monument. This helped earn funding for a massive renovation, and in 2006, the building reopened as the Tigre Municipal Museum of Fine Art.

5. Juan Carlos Castagnino Municipal Museum of Art, Argentina

This lovely building was originally constructed as a summer residence for the Ortiz Basualdo family of Buenos Aires in 1909. Designed by Pablo Pater and Luis Dubois (the same team responsible for the Tigre Club), the building features a classic French half-timber motif.

Meanwhile, the city of Mar del Plata's municipal museum of art was established in the City Hall in 1938. The Ortiz Basualdo family donated their summer home to the museum in 1980, including their fine furniture by Belgian architect and cabinet maker Gustave Serrurier-Bovy, which has been incorporated into the museum exhibits.

These days, the museum’s collection includes nearly 600 paintings, sculptures, lithographs, and photographs, most notably from local painter Juan Carlos Castagnino, for whom the museum was renamed in 1982.

6. National Museum of Fine Arts, Chile

Known locally as the MNBA (which stands for Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes), Chile’s fine arts museum was established in 1880, making it the oldest such museum in South America. The museum was moved into the Palace of the Fine Arts building where it currently resides in 1910. The Palace was built to commemorate the country’s first centennial of independence from Spain. It was designed by French-Chilean architect Emile Jecquier, who combined Beaux-arts, Neoclassical Second Empire, Baroque, and Art Nouveau touches into the building’s design, taking strong inspiration from the Petit Palais of Paris.

The back side of the same building is also home to the Museum of Contemporary Art, so if you enjoy beautiful museums and great art, you really get a two-for-one when you visit the MNBA.

Like many buildings in the area, the Palace of Fine Arts received substantial damage in the 2010 Chile earthquake, but most of this damage has now been cleared out and repaired.

7. Museum of Italian Art, Peru

While Peru might not be the first place you think of when it comes to Italian art, this lovely museum is certainly worth a visit if you get the opportunity. The Italian community of Peru donated the museum as a gift to the country in 1921 to celebrate the country’s 100th anniversary of independence from Spain.

The building, designed by Italian architect Gaetano Moretti, is just as much an artwork as many of the pieces inside. The exterior features elements from Bramante’s architecture and decorations inspired by famous artists such as Donatello, Ghiberti, Michelangelo and Botticelli. The façade features emblems from the largest cities in Italy and two Venetian mosaics featuring famous men from Italian history. Inside, there is a massive stained glass inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera.

One unique feature of this museum is its offering of guided visits for the blind. The service allows blind patrons to wear special gloves and touch the bronze and marble statues to appreciate the beauty of the works. This experience is unavailable to the general public, but it allows the museum to help live up to its philosophy of bringing art and culture to all people.

8. Ricardo Brennand Institute, Brazil

In case you’re wondering, no, Brazil didn’t have any medieval castles or forts just hanging around filled with classical art and armor. This structure is instead a modern castle recreation (officially opened in 2002 to be exact) constructed in a classic Tudor style adorned with some original medieval pieces such as a drawbridge, a number of coats of arms, and a Gothic altarpiece. The massive building fills a gross area of 77,000 square meters and is located on a garden that spans over 44,000 acres and is endowed with artificial lakes and recreations of famous sculptures including The Thinker by Auguste Rodin, David by Michelangelo, and The Lady and the Horse by Fernando Botero.

The institute was borne from Brazilian businessman Ricardo Brennand’s personal collection of weapons, armor, and art that he began assembling in the 1940s. In 1990, he established the museum, which includes an art gallery, a library, an auditorium and a number of administrative/technical rooms. The museum offers free courses on art history and educational programs for teachers as well.

The collection includes objects from around the globe dating from the early Middle Ages to the 20th century, though there is a strong emphasis on Colonial and Dutch-occupied Brazil; in fact, the museum holds the world’s largest collection of items related to the Dutch occupation. It also has one of the largest collections of armor in the world, featuring over 3,000 pieces, including armor for dogs and horses. Meanwhile, the library houses over 62,000 volumes dating from the sixteenth century on, with a particular emphasis on works about Brazil written by travelers from Europe.

9. Estevez Palace, Uruguay

The Doric and Colonial styled Estevez Palace was originally owned by don Francisco Estevez and his family, but in 1880, the government acquired the building and established it as the workplace of the president. One hundred years later, President Julio Maria Sanguinetti moved the presidential office elsewhere, allowing the building to be transformed into a museum dedicated to the Uruguayan presidency and those who have served in the office. These days, the presidential office is located right next door, so it is a perfect destination for those interested in learning more about the workings of the Uruguayan government.

10. Quito Astronomical Observatory, Ecuador

Once a cutting edge observatory, this 1873 astronomical science building now serves as a museum educating the public on observatory technology and general astronomy. Founded in 1873 and completed five years later, the observatory is the oldest in all of Latin America and its design was based on the observatory of Bonn, Germany. While the original telescope dates back to 1875, many of the tools date between 1902 and 1914, when the second French Geodesic Mission traveled to Ecuador to confirm the results of the first mission, which set out to measure the roundness of the earth.

The building was restored in 2009 and remains one of the most important collections of nineteenth century astronomical instruments.

Know of any other amazing South American museums that visitors simply can’t miss out on? Let us know about them in the comments!

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

14 Things You Might Not Have Known About James K. Polk

Matthew Brady/Getty Images
Matthew Brady/Getty Images

James K. Polk may have served just one term, but he was one of history’s most consequential U.S. presidents. Polish up on Young Hickory, America's 11th Commander in Chief.

1. James K. Polk had surgery to remove urinary bladder stones when he was 16.

Born on November 2, 1795, James Knox Polk was the oldest of 10 children born to Samuel Polk, a farmer and surveyor, and his wife, Jane. When James was 10, the family moved to Tennessee and settled on a farm in Maury County. As a child, James was too ill to attend formal school; just before he turned 17, he had urinary bladder stones surgically removed by Ephraim McDowell, a prominent Kentucky surgeon. Anesthesia wasn’t available at that time, so the future president reportedly dulled the pain with brandy. The surgery allowed the formerly ill Polk to attend formal schooling for the first time. He entered the University of North Carolina as a sophomore after just 2.5 years of formal schooling. According to Britannica, "as a graduating senior in 1818 he was the Latin salutatorian of his class—a preeminent scholar in both the classics and mathematics." After graduation, he returned to Tennessee to study law and eventually opened up his own practice.

2. James K. Polk won a seat on the Tennessee Legislature at 27, and the U.S. House of Representatives at 29.

During his time in the state legislature, he met—and befriended—future president Andrew Jackson. He also began courting his future wife, Sarah Childress. The daughter of a prominent planter, she had been educated at the prestigious Moravian Female Academy in Salem, North Carolina, and was an eager and active participant in his political campaigns. Polk and Sarah married in 1824. In 1825, Polk was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives; he was speaker of the House from 1835 until he left in 1839 to become governor of Tennessee.

3. James K. Polk's nomination for president surprised everyone—including himself.

Months before the democratic national convention of 1844, Polk was at a low point. He had just lost his bid to be re-elected governor of Tennessee (he had been voted out of office in 1841 and tried—and failed—to be elected again in 1843). But when the delegates at the convention couldn’t agree on a nominee—the party was deadlocked between Martin Van Buren and Lewis Cass—they eventually decided to compromise by picking a “dark horse” candidate: Polk.

4. Everyone thought James K. Polk would lose his bid for the presidency.

Despite being a seven-time congressman, a former Speaker of the House, and an ex-governor, Polk was a relative nobody. His opponent Henry Clay lamented that Democrats had failed to choose someone “more worthy of a contest.” Despite the doubts, Polk won the popular vote by nearly 40,000 and the Electoral College 170-105.

5. During James K. Polk's White House "office hours," any American could stop by.

During Polk’s day, anybody was permitted to visit the White House for “office hours.” For two days every week, concerned citizens and lobbyists could drop by to vouch for a cause or ask for political favors. “Job seekers were the worst, in Polk’s view, and he found their incessant interruptions far more annoying than his Whig opponents in Congress,” writes Walter R. Borneman in his book Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America.

6. James K. Polk was remarkably boring.

Polk had as much charisma as a puddle of mud. He was straight-laced, somber, and humorless. As Speaker, an editor in Washington called him the "most unpretending man, for his talents, this, or perhaps any country, has ever seen." Some attributed Polk’s boringness to his refusal to drink socially. The politician Sam Houston supposedly called him “a victim of the use of water as a beverage.” (Sarah banned hard liquor—and dancing—from the White House.)

7. James K. Polk worked 12 hour days and didn't take much time off from the presidency.

Polk regularly spent 12 hours a day at the office. He rarely left Washington, took advice, or delegated. When he wanted to lobby for policy, he’d visit Congress and do it himself. Over the course of his single term, Polk took a total of just 27 days off. “No President who performs his duty faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure,” Polk wrote.

8. James K. Polk acquired America's first patch of Pacific coastline.

In the early 19th century, the Pacific Northwest was jointly occupied by British and American settlers. But as the century progressed, Americans began to outnumber the British, and they increasingly felt like the rightful owners of the “Oregon Country.” Thankfully, neither country was interested in battling over the land. In 1846, Polk and the British drew a border at the 49th parallel (with some adjustment for Vancouver Island)—what is now Washington State’s boundary with Canada. With that, the United States obtained its first uncontested patch of Pacific coastline.

9. James K. Polk waged a controversial—and consequential—war with Mexico.

In the 1840s, Mexico’s border encompassed California, the American southwest, and even parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Polk wanted this land. In 1845, he offered to buy some disputed territory near the Texas-Mexico border, as well as land in California; when Mexico refused, Polk sent troops into the disputed territory. Mexico retaliated. Polk then requested Congress to declare war. His critics (including a young Abraham Lincoln) complained that Polk had deliberately provoked Mexico. Whatever Polk’s motivations, the United States lost 13,000 men and approximately $100 million in the ensuing war—but succeeded in taking one-third of Mexico’s land.

10. James K. Polk is the reason the United States stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

In the course of just one term, Polk oversaw one of the greatest territorial expansions of any president—an increase of 1.2 million square miles. His administration extended the United States boundary to the Pacific Ocean and laid the groundwork for states such as California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Montana.

11. James K. Polk's ambivalence toward the issue of slavery may have sparked the Civil War.

When Polk’s administration began pushing westward, debate raged over how these new territories could alter the power balance between free and slave states. Polk, who considered slavery a side issue, refused to give the rancor much time or attention. (No doubt because of his own relationship with slavery. He owned more than 20 enslaved people and brought them to the White House.) Polk’s ambivalence helped sow so much discord that historians now consider his rapid expansion westward as the first steps toward the Civil War.

12. James K. Polk signed bills that reshaped Washington, D.C.

Polk accomplished a lot in just four years. During his tenure, he signed the Smithsonian Institution into law. He was instrumental to the construction of the Washington Monument and helped establish the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He also re-established an independent U.S. Treasury, which was partly intended to reduce the role of speculation in the economy.

13. James K. Polk's administration introduced Americans to the postage stamp.

One of Polk’s unofficial campaign managers was a Nosferatu-lookalike named Cave Johnson, who Polk rewarded with a job as Postmaster General. It was a tough gig. The post office’s budget was swimming in red ink. (At the time, mail recipients paid postage: If a mail carrier failed to find a recipient, no money was made. This happened a lot.) Johnson fixed the financial problem by introducing the prepaid postage stamp, which flipped the responsibility of paying to senders. According to historian C. L. Grant, in 1845, Johnson estimated that the department would have a deficit of over a million dollars. By the time he left that was down to $30,000.

14. The location of James K. Polk's grave is causing a stir in Tennessee.

Polk died, likely of cholera, in 1849, just months after leaving office. Because he died of an infectious disease, the president was hastily buried in a city cemetery near the outskirts of Nashville. Months later, he was re-interred near his Nashville mansion, Polk Place. In 1893, his tomb was moved again to the state Capitol grounds. Today, Tennessee legislators are actively debating whether to move Polk’s bones a fourth time, this time to his old family home in Columbia, Tennessee.

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