Glittering like an emerald in the sea, Fiscal Island in Rio de Janeiro seems to have simply been dropped into Guanabara Bay. Roughly a kilometer from shore, Fiscal Island, once known as Rat’s Island, was entrusted to the Finance Ministry of Rio in the 19th century. It was in 1881 that construction began on what was to be a customhouse on the tiny island. The building that actually evolved and remains standing today, covers virtually every square inch of the island, leaving only enough room for a row of majestic palms around it’s foundation.
Now known as the Fiscal Island Castle, the building was initially to be somewhat nondescript, a plain governmental cracker box, if you will. Enter Emperor Dom Pedro II and those plans were immediately scrapped. Amazed by the view of the bay from the tiny island also known as Ilha Fiscal, Dom Pedro insisted that any building placed on the island must be a ”dazzling jewel” befitting what he considered to be a ”delicate jewel box.” Designer Adolpho Jose Del Vecchio set to work immediately and the resulting castle, inspired by the French buildings of the 14th century emerged seven and a half years later. Del Vecchio was awarded a Gold Medal for his design at the Escola Imperial de Belas Artes (Imperial Fine Arts School) Exhibition.
Built with the labor of slaves and the Portuguese, the Castle was finished and inaugurated in 1889. Dom Pedro II himself, boarded the famous Galeota Imperial to make the trip across the Bay for the inauguration. Also known as the Imperial Gallery, the boat is currently on display in the Espaco Cultural da Marinha in Rio de Janeiro.
One of Rio’s most popular tourist attractions, the bright green castle is now home to the Naval museum and it’s artifacts take up almost every square inch of the building. Among the attractions are both temporary and permanent exhibits detailing the history of Fiscal Island and the Navy of Brazil. Delicately carved stonework by Antonio Teixeira highlights the interior and exterior, while the floor of the castle’s turrent boasts over ten different types of hardwood, a beautiful mosiac by Moreira de Carvalho. Also worthy of your attention are the columns, festoons, and arches of the building – most definitely reminiscent of the empire of Brazil. The murals by Frederico Steckel which adorn the walls and the tower clock will surely both amaze and delight.
Earning it’s own place in the history books of Brazil, the Fiscal Island Castle was the scene of what is known as the ”Last Ball of the Empire.” It was here in the Castle, that the last ball was hosted by the Brazilian Empire in November of 1889. A tribute to the empire includes the likenesses of both Dom Pedro II and Princess Isabil in the stained glass windows of the castle.
In 2001, the castle was extensively renovated during a bid to become one of the tourist landmarks of Rio de Janeiro. During this renovation, the turret’s painted dome, walls and floor were all restored. The exterior of the Castle was also returned to it’s original sparkling green. Fiscal Island is a must see for any tourists to Brazil and a tour of the castle takes about 2 ½ hours. If you visit Ilha Fiscal on a weekday, you’ll be able board a boat to get to the island. Weekend visitors are taken to the castle on board a bus that travels the nearby causeway. You can board the boat at the Espaco Cultural da Marinha.
Guided tours are available from Thursday thru Sunday beginning at 1 pm, 2:30 pm and 4 pm. To reach the Castle by phone, you can call (21) 2233-9165. You may also want to include a separate boat tour of the Navy’s other four small islands in your visit. It lasts approximately 90 minutes and includes visits to Ilha Fiscal, Ilha das Cobras, Ilha dos Enxadas, and Ilha Villagagnon aboard a World War I-era tugboat
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