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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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Want to Live Like Snow White? Buy This Cottage
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In the 1970s, one family in Washington state decided to bring the magic of Snow White home—and we don't mean on VHS. (That didn't come out until 1994, anyway.) They built a replica of the cottage from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Olalla, across Puget Sound from Seattle. And now, you can take over Snow White’s housekeeping duties—the house is for sale, as we spotted on the listing site TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.

The house looks straight out of a Disneyland attraction, with a winding staircase seemingly built into a tree, hand-built doors of different sizes with giant iron hinges, stone details and exposed beams, a wood stove, and a rounded interior that “wraps around you like a big hug,” according to the listing. (Good luck hanging shelves, though.) Honestly, the shiny walls look a little plastic, but it’s all part of the Disneyfied appeal.

The interior of the first floor shows a stone oven, a fake tree, and a chandelier.

A spacious room with two different sized doorways looking through to another room.

A bedroom has a mattress tucked into a cave-like nook.

An exterior view of the cottage through an overgrown garden.

Unlike the Seven Dwarfs’ pad, though, this comes with a hot tub and high-speed internet, not to mention a washer and dryer to save any future Snow Whites the effort of hanging laundry. And there’s no need for everyone to sleep side-by-side in twin beds. The two-story “cottage” has four bedrooms and five baths.

The 2800-square-foot house comes on a five-acre gated property. Outside, there’s a sweet tree house with a fireplace inside, a wooden bridge over a creek, and a garden with fruit trees.

It’s $775,000, zero dwarfs included. You can see the listing here.

All images courtesy TopTenRealEstateDeals.com.

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Wolfe House and Building Movers
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How Alexander Hamilton's House Got Moved
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Wolfe House and Building Movers

For nearly three weeks in the spring of 2008, residents and passersby near Convent Avenue and 141st Street in Harlem craned their necks to take in a peculiar sight. Positioned atop a 38-foot structure of crib piles, shimmies, and steel beams was a two-story yellow house originally built for Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury and future Broadway musical sensation.

On site since 1889, the house—which Hamilton called the Grange after his Scottish grandfather, the onetime Laird of Grange—had been the subject of debate for nearly a century. Boxed in by an apartment building on its right side and a church on its left, it was being suffocated by real estate development and in desperate need of an extensive renovation. To do that, it would have to be relocated. But the loggia (a porch-like structure) of the church jutted in front, making a direct move forward impossible.

In order to restore the house to its original condition, the National Park Service would have to effectively perform a housing transplant, moving it around 500 feet to a park site. They considered cutting it in half, or lopping off pieces that they could later put back together. But a proposal from a family-owned firm that specializes in moving houses offered a different approach: They’d raise the house up on jacks, slide it over onto the street, equip it with wheels, then “drive” it around a corner and down a 6 percent grade.

It would be delicate work, but it wasn't as though the Grange hadn't been on the move before.

The Hamilton house is raised 32 feet above grade
Wolfe House and Building Movers

For all of the historical significance attached to the Grange, Hamilton didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy it. Built in what was then countryside by architect John McComb Jr., who also designed City Hall, the home was finished in 1802 and owed a lot of its design to Hamilton himself. Roomy enough for his seven children and 1000-book library, he considered it his retreat from politics and the danger of yellow fever in the city. Away on business, he often left instructions for his wife, Eliza, for specific garden arrangements.

Just two years after the Grange was completed, Hamilton walked out the door for his fateful duel with Aaron Burr and never returned. His widow sold it in 1833.

By 1889, the Grange was blocking the expanding street grid of Manhattan. (West 143rd Street would have been built through it.) Land developers who had possession of the property donated it to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which set about preserving the building by moving it 250 feet to Convent Avenue. “It was done the old-fashioned way,” Stephen Spaulding, Director of the Historic Architecture, Conservation and Engineering Center at the National Park Service, tells Mental Floss. “They put it on railroad jacks, used wooden wheels, and pulled it with horses.”

Though it was safe from destruction in its new location, the Grange would shortly find itself buttressed by developments on either side. An apartment building built in 1910 flanked the right side; the church to the left built a porch that partially obscured the view from the street. It was a suffocating position that made needed renovations difficult. The National Park Service, which took responsibility for the Grange when it became a National Memorial in 1962 on the condition it could be relocated, went through a series of options. “There were a number of locations discussed,” Spaulding says. Grant’s Tomb, a National Memorial on Riverside Drive and 122nd Street in New York, was one possibility.

By the early 1990s, the NPS had one site in mind: St. Nicholas Park, which sat just 500 feet from the Grange and featured a hillside clearing perfect for the historic property. But locals were against the move; they complained removing the house from its location next to the church would contribute to blight in the area by leaving a vacant lot.

Complicating the matter was the notion of the federal government (via the Park Service) colluding with New York state and city bureaucracy to facilitate the project. “That was a long process,” Spaulding says, citing endless federal and state regulations that had to be cleared in order to cut a path for the disruptive move. Once that was settled, the NPS had to field bids from firms that offered different approaches for uprooting the building, which stood on a double basement foundation.

“We basically had three options,” Spaulding says. “We could remove the church porch and then reconstruct it afterward. We could disassemble and move major sections. Or we could raise it up by jacking it.”

The first two options carried major caveats. The church's stone porch was fragile and the potential for damage was high; moving the house piecemeal could have proven hazardous to the structural integrity of the Grange. Aiming to mitigate that risk, the contractor for the move, Integrated Construction Enterprises, brought in Wolfe House & Building Movers, an East Coast firm that specializes in moving multi-ton buildings in a methodical manner.

Mike Brovont, an estimator with Wolfe House, tells Mental Floss that the firm is just “one of a handful” that can handle projects of this scope. “There are a few hundred guys who can jack up a house and put it on a foundation,” he says. “But this one had some unusual needs.”

The church’s stone porch was problem one. “And we couldn’t go in from the back because of trees,” Brovont says. Wolfe’s plan was to come at the problem vertically, raising the house off its foundation 38 feet in the air to clear the obstruction of the porch. “This way, we could keep it intact.”

Over a period of three weeks in May and June 2008, Wolfe employees performed a structural levitation act. The Grange—which weighs roughly 300 tons—was raised in stages. First, the Grange's porch needed to be removed, since it couldn’t be counted on to remain intact. Next, workers drilled holes through the exposed foundation in order to install steel beams that would facilitate the lift. For areas underneath making little contact with the beams, shims and blocks were hammered in to create a flush connection.

Once the house was framed underneath with the beams, hydraulic jacks were placed beneath those to begin pushing the house upward. When it reached the 82 feet needed to clear the porch, crib piles—think warehouse pallets resembling several enormous Jenga towers—were placed underneath for support while another crib structure was built in front on the street. Hevi-Haul rollers pushed by hydraulic rams allowed the first set of steel beams to be rolled onto the adjacent frame, putting the house on a new structure and away from the neighboring buildings.

“At that point, we reversed the jacks until the house was back down on the cribbing piles, then on dollies,” Brovont says. The nine dollies, which could be controlled remotely, effectively turned the house into a mobile home with 72 wheels. It was time to go for a short, highly precarious ride.

A contractor evaluates the wheeled dollies underneath the Hamilton house
Wolfe House and Building Movers

On, June 7, 2008—moving day—dozens of residents, reporters, and protesters gathered to see a rare event: a historic landmark locomoting down the street. The house would have to endure both a turn and a 6 percent grade down the street, which had been cleared and prepared in advance. Internal bracing kept the house from experiencing undue stress; a mile of chain added cross-braced support to the beams. Heavy forklift equipment followed behind to provide braking power in case the house wanted to edge backward.

“At its fastest, it was probably at the speed of a slow walk,” Brovont says. “We hooked the dollies together with hydraulic fluid hoses and stopped a lot to check and make sure everything was holding. It was on a level plane kind of like a tricycle." With nine dollies, the home could be turned in any direction.

A temporary road was built to make the turn level. In about three hours, the Grange had arrived in St. Nicholas Park, idling for a bit while construction workers finished its new foundation. The house was then rolled onto steel beams, “parking” itself permanently. (The Convent Avenue site now sports a garden and a Hamilton statue.)

“The work I thought would be most precarious ended up being the simplest,” Spaulding says of the rolling home. “I was very impressed with [Wolfe’s] skills.”

The move was the penultimate stage in what would eventually be a $14.5 million project. For the next several years, the NPS supervised an extensive restoration of the Grange that allowed its original character to shine through. “It used to be so dark and dismal,” Spaulding says. “Now you can see all four sides of the exterior and really get a sense of how glorious it must have been sitting on the crown of Manhattan.”

The Hamilton musical obviously led to a bump in tourism for the Grange, which is open to the public in its new, static location. For Spaulding, seeing it in motion was a memorable ride. “The geek in me, the 8-year-old in me, really loves that stuff.”

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