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Luis Alveart

10 Breathtaking South American Museums

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Luis Alveart

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

Photo courtesy of Luis Alveart

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


Photo courtesy of Steve Oldham

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


Photo courtesy of Karlos

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.


Photo courtesy of Porto Bay Hotels and Resorts

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


Photo courtesy of Luis Argerich

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.


Photo courtesy of Tigre Municipio

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

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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

Photo courtesy of Darren and Sandy V and Soye

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

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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

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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

Photo courtesy of ClixYou

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

Photo courtesy of Casey

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!

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Dutch Tiny House Village Provides Houses for the Homeless
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The new residential development outside the Dutch city of Eindhoven is no ordinary community. Skaeve Huse is a special place designed for Eindhoven’s most vulnerable populations, according to Inhabitat. It’s aimed at providing permanent living quarters for previously homeless people with mental illness or drug addiction, or who otherwise struggle to live in traditional city residences.

The community was designed by the Amsterdam-based architects at Studio Elmo Vermijs for the Trudo Housing Corporation, a Dutch developer. (The company previously offered a rental discount for tenants who assist refugees.)

A bicycle is parked outside a slanted green tiny house.

“In recent years, several Skaeve Huse have been built in the Netherlands, always temporary, mostly in containers,” the architects write in their description of the project. “Trudo wanted a permanent and energy-neutral design so that this vulnerable group could benefit from the homes in the long term. Skaeve Huse Eindhoven is the first of its kind designed and built with these principles as starting point.”

The Trudo Housing Corporation partnered with the European Investment Bank in 2016 to create more environmentally sustainable social housing programs.

A bicycle is parked outside a slanted green tiny house.

Skaeve loosely means “slanted,” and some of the walls of the colorful houses do indeed slant, giving them a whimsical look. The high ceilings are designed to give the 355-square-foot houses a more spacious, airy feel despite the small size, while maintaining privacy with windows high off the ground. Each of the homes has a living room with a small open kitchen, a bathroom, and an entrance foyer.

The homes are spaced apart to help give people who have trouble living in the typical, cramped spaces of an urban environment extra room, which the designers hope will help limit disputes between neighbors. The land was formerly a forest, and the homes are placed between trees along a winding path.

Though designed for people who didn’t have homes, this tiny house community looks cute enough to replicate for traditional housing, too.

[h/t Inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Elmo Vermijs.

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9 Notable Buildings With Secret Floors
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Secret floors have long captured the imagination; conspiracy theorists love to imagine that government buildings keep their darkest secrets within sealed-off stories. In the 1960 Twilight Zone episode “The After Hours,” the ninth floor of a department store is where the mannequins mysteriously come to life. Meanwhile, the hidden 7th-and-a-half floor of the Mertin-Flemmer building in New York was a portal for John Cusack into the actual brain of John Malkovich in the movie Being John Malkovich.

While these mysteries may have come from a writer’s imagination, there are notable buildings that have whole secret floors right under your nose—if you know where to look.

1. THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, NEW YORK

One of the world’s most iconic and recognizable skyscrapers, the Empire State Building is also one of Manhattan’s premiere tourist destinations. The gleaming Art Deco elevators speed thousands of visitors to the observation deck on the 86th floor every day, and there’s also an observation pod on the 102nd floor. But just above, hidden out of sight, is the secret 103rd floor. Off-limits to the public, there is no glass protecting visitors from the elements, just a narrow walkway surrounding the top of the building. Original plans are thought to have allowed airships to dock to the top of the Empire State Building, with passengers disembarking on the 103rd floor, and the 102nd being their official port of entry into the United States. The plan never came to fruition, however, and the hidden 103rd floor remains sealed off high above New York City.

2. THE FIFTH FLOOR OF THE YANGGAKDO HOTEL, PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA

For Calvin Sun, of the adventurous travel blog Monsoon Diaries, a hotel in the world’s most isolated nation held a particularly odd secret. The hotel Yanggakdo’s elevator has no 5th floor. Getting out of the elevator on the 6th and walking down, his group reached something peculiar: an entire concreted hidden floor, filled with locked doors and no people. The floor was covered with what looked to be government-issued propaganda posters, with messages like “Let’s prepare thoroughly in order to defeat the invaders” and “Our General is the best.” Other intrepid adventurers have reported bunkers, steel doors, official-looking men with computers, and others listening to headphones. Some have speculated that there is another floor hidden within the 5th, but its purpose remains unknown.

3. THE GREENBRIER RESORT, WEST VIRGINIA

The Greenbrier is a luxury hotel and resort located amid the mountains of West Virginia. The local waters have been attracting guests since 1778, and the glittering guest list of the hotel, now a National Historic Landmark, has included 26 presidents. But hidden under the glamorous rooms and sprawling grounds is a massive underground complex, codenamed Project Greek Island. During the Cold War, it was built to hold the entire United States Congress in safety—just in case Washington was attacked by a Soviet nuclear strike.

The 112,000-square-foot bunker was big enough to hold both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and came complete with six months’ worth of food, 25-ton blast doors, decontamination chambers, water purification equipment, and its own hospital. The government’s construction of Project Greek Island was covered up by the building of a new west wing added to the existing hotel. To avoid detection, the huge amounts of land unearthed in the creation of the project were used in a new golf course, while the army of workers posed as employees of a fake audiovisual company called the Forsythe Associates, who “maintained” the hotel's 1000 television sets.

Project Greek Island fortunately remained unused, and was never officially acknowledged until a story in the Washington Post in 1992 exposed the secret. Today tours of this remarkable relic of the Cold War are given at the hotel, which still operates as a luxury resort.

4. OUR LORD IN THE ATTIC, AMSTERDAM

Luke Spencer

There’s an old house in Amsterdam that looks much like the other Queen Anne-style homes along the canals that give this old part of the city its distinctive character. This particular house, however, holds a remarkable secret hidden away in the attic: a miniature, fully functioning church. Complete with marble altar, pews enough for 150 worshippers, and elaborate gilt decoration, the church was hidden due to the persecution of Dutch Catholics in the 17th century. Access to the clandestine church is gained by a false wall in the living room that leads to a narrow spiral staircase. Today the church is a museum, but still regularly holds services hidden away in the attic, as they have done for nearly 400 years.

5. THE NEW YORKER HOTEL, MANHATTAN

Luke Spencer

When the New Yorker Hotel opened on 8th Avenue and 34th Street in 1930, it was one of the most technologically advanced hotels in the world. It came complete with its own in-house radio station, printing press, 50-chair barber salon, and a dining room that featured a retractable ice rink and skating show to entertain the guests. With 2500 rooms, it was promoted as a “vertical village.”

Underneath the lobby was a giant power plant, occupying a hidden floor around 80 feet below the sidewalk. The DC generating plant was so huge, it was powerful enough to provide electricity for a city of around 35,000 people. The plant was also so sophisticated that one of the hotel’s most famous long-term residents, the inventor Nikola Tesla, who lived there for the last decade of his life, is reported to have wandered down under the lobby to tinker with the plant and talk with the engineers. Remarkably, the plant is still down there, the switches for the old skating rink, coffee shop lights, and ballroom silent and unused. (Much of the plant was modernized in the 1960s, however, and switched over to the alternating current Tesla championed.)

6. WALT DISNEY WORLD, FLORIDA 

Observant visitors to the Magic Kingdom, upon disembarking from the monorail and heading toward Main Street, USA, may notice that they are walking on a slight incline. Indeed Cinderella’s Castle, which lies ahead, appears to be on a hill. In reality, the thousands of daily guests are unknowingly climbing over a vast hidden complex of secret floors, rooms, walkways, and tunnels. Disney World itself is built on top of an intricate hidden infrastructure that Cast Members consider the first floor. (The entire Magic Kingdom itself is technically the second and third floor.)

The story goes that Walt Disney was walking through the original Disneyland in California, and saw a Cast Member dressed as a cowboy walking from Frontierland through to Tomorrowland. Thinking that this would ruin the fantasy illusion for the visiting children, Disney World was designed on top of a hidden 9-acre system that would house walkways for Cast Members, trash collectors, kitchens, and break rooms. Today, tours are available for adults to see behind the curtain of the Magic Kingdom.

7. JOHN HANCOCK CENTER’S 44TH FLOOR, CHICAGO

The John Hancock Center on North Michigan Avenue is one of Chicago’s most iconic landmarks. When it was completed in 1969, it was one of the tallest buildings in the world, second only to the Empire State Building in New York. But what many people don’t realize is that it is actually possible to live inside one of America’s most famous skyscrapers. The residential floors run from the 45th to the 92nd floor, but it is the 44th floor that holds all the secrets. Off-limits to all but the residents, the 44th floor is home to a vast 5200-square-foot supermarket. There is also a library, concierge service, a high-ceilinged sky lounge, and the highest swimming pool in the United States. During elections it even has its own polling station.

8. PLYMOUTH CHURCH OF THE PILGRIMS, BROOKLYN

Luke Spencer

Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights is a church steeped in history. One of the oldest Congregationalist Churches in New York, it was once presided over by the inspirational orator, minister, and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. Described then as “the most famous man in America,” his fiery anti-slavery rhetoric was so renowned that Plymouth was the only church in New York visited by Abraham Lincoln. Beecher would hold mock slave auctions on the site, where parishioners would raise money to free slaves.

But the extraordinary events on the church floor covered a remarkable secret below it: a hidden floor, with the entrance through a door behind the organ. Dry, dusty chambers, brick archways, and tunnels are all that remain of one of the principal stops on the Underground Railroad. This hidden floor provided a sanctuary for so many escaping slaves that it became known in hushed voices as the Grand Central Depot. At great risk to themselves, the brave parishioners of Plymouth Church, led by Beecher, vowed to help as many slaves as possible. “I will both shelter them,” Beecher said, “conceal them or speed their flight.” The church is still vibrantly active today, and tours are available to visit what was once one of the most secret places in America.

Luke Spencer

9. THE OLD OPERATING THEATRE AND HERB GARRET, LONDON

Luke Spencer

Hidden in the roof of St. Thomas’ Church in London is something as chilling as it is fascinating. Climbing the circular staircase of the old church to the garret (or attic) leads to one of the oldest known operating theaters still in existence. Once part of the ancient St. Thomas’ Hospital, visitors today can crowd into the tiny theater and stand on steep wooden terraces overlooking the operating table. Here 19th-century medical students would watch the pre-eminent surgeons of the day practice their craft; one notable surgeon was said to be able to amputate and cauterize a limb in under a minute.

In the attic above the theater is the old herb apothecary and garden where herbs were stored and cured. Still well-stocked today, the Herb Garret resembles a Victorian cabinet of peculiar curiosities, featuring wormwood, poppies for opium, and a “bath of sheep heads for Woman suffering from unknown illness.” After St. Thomas relocated, the church garret was sealed up and forgotten for decades, until it was rediscovered in the 1960s. Today operating as a museum, tours are available for those who want to experience the lancets, blades, and bone saws of over a hundred years ago. 

Luke Spencer

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