Army Historical Museum and Fort of Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The Army History Museum and Copacabana Fort acts in the preservation, safeguarding and dissemination of historical memory of the Brazilian Army. Located in the Copacabana Fort, construction of the late nineteenth century that served the defensive system of the city of Rio de Janeiro and its harbor, scene of events that are now part of the History of Brazil such as the Tenant Movement of 1922, when it served as a prison for the deposed president of the Republic, Washington Luís, during the Revolution of 1930, as meeting place of the command involved in the Revolution of 1964.

On the famous Copacabana Beach, Museu Historico do Exercito e Forte de Copacabana is a military base housing the Museum of Army History. The massive fort was built in 1914, on the eve of World War I, and formed an important part of Rio’s military defenses against a possible attack. Many of the fort’s original features are still intact, including the Krupp cannons designed to fire shells 23 km (14 mi) out to sea. Explore the on-site museum’s several floors of exhibits, narrating Brazil’s military history starting with the early days of the Portuguese colony.

The Army Historical Museum is one of the main military museums in the country. Its origin dates back to the 19th century. Since then, it passed through some addresses in the city, being extinct and recreated until 1987, the year in which it took up residence in a famous and historic site, the Fort of Copacabana, as determined by Decree No. 61, of December 19, 1986.

The mission of the Historical Museum of the Army and Fort of Copacabana is to preserve, safeguard and disseminate the values, traditions and historical memory of the Brazilian Army and act as a Cultural Space, which provides culture, entertainment and knowledge to visitors. Thus, important facts of our terrestrial military history are told in the Cologne-Empire, Republic and Temporary Exhibitions halls.

The Museum’s technical team worked tirelessly for almost a decade to gather, catalog and restore existing collections. The first exhibition took place in 1992, with the opening of the Fortification to the public. In September 1996, the then Minister of the Army, General Zenildo de Lucena, opened the Colônia-Império hall which, covering the period from 1500 to 1889, portrays scenes from the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil until the fall of the Monarchy and the Proclamation of the Republic.

On May 11, 1998, the República hall was inaugurated, which shows the performance of the Brazilian Army until 1945 with the modules: Floriano Peixoto, Consolidation of the Republic, Canudos and Contestado Wars, Modernization of the Army, Marshal Rondon, Tenentism and FEB Participation in World War II.

With a varied collection of fifteen thousand pieces in its Technical Reserve, the Museum has clothing, weapons and rare personal items of historical military figures, such as a lock of hair by Napoleão Bonaparte, which are sporadically exposed in temporary exhibitions.

Because it has a valuable collection, is located within a historic site and is part of the Copacabana scene, the Army Historical Museum and Copacabana Fort can today be considered unparalleled in the world. And yet, it constituted itself as one of the main tourist spots in the city, receiving about thirty-five thousand people a month.

The permanent exhibitions have chronicled the History of Brazil narrated from military history.

Cologne / Empire Hall
Inaugurated in 1996, with the theme “The Army in the Formation of Nationality”, the exhibition presents the history of Brazil from the perspective of military history, portraying the main facts linked to the colonial phase: the discovery of Brazil, the colonization of the territory by the system of Hereditary Captaincies, territorial expansion through entrances and flags, and territorial invasions.

Among the episodes covered, the Battle of Guararapes, which took place on April 19, 1648, which marks the birth of the Brazilian Army, stands out.

The showcase of the arrival of the Portuguese Court in Brazil portrays the changes resulting from this phase. Next are the windows of the Proclamation of Independence and the Army’s participation in the Triple Alliance War.

In this hall, there is also the space destined to exalt the Patron of the Army, Marshal Luiz Alves de Lima e Silva, Duque de Caxias. On display are the bicornean hat, a replica of the ducal crown and, also, the comfortable paper bin with the coat of arms of Duque de Caxias, original collection dated 1851.

Finally, the showcase with the original collection of Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca, the proclaimer of the Republic.

Republic Room
The República Room shows the performance of the Brazilian Army in the Republican period. It brings the first Constituent Assembly, the Armada Revolt, the Canudos War, the modernization of the Brazilian Army and the contribution of Marshal Rondon to the integration of Brazilian territory.

The original collections of Marshal Rondon are on display, such as maps and the camera used to record contact with indigenous nations. During the visitation, images of the contact made with the Indians of the Amazon are projected.

There is a showcase that portrays the Levante dos 18 do Forte, when military personnel from Copacabana Fort marched against loyalist troops. Lieutenant Eduardo Gomes, Lieutenant Nilton Prado, Lieutenant Siqueira Campos, sergeants, corporal, soldiers and the civilian Octávio Corrêa participated in the 1922 Movement.

The showcase that ends the visitation shows the participation of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in the Second World War. Images of FEB’s performance on the battlefields of Italy are projected.

Military Presidents Hall
The Presidents Room is the place where the collection that offers the public an understanding of the Republic is exhibited, with objects that register and inform about events that are part of our history. This space allows the visitor to have access to the museum collections about the presidents of Brazil.

Curiosities Offices
The Cabinet of Curiosities makes available the collection that is not in the permanent exhibition. They are highly heterogeneous pieces, of the most varied natures and origins, including porcelain, medals and decorations, curiosities, miniatures, among other rare objects.

The construction of the Fortification, in the form of a pillbox, was a challenge to military engineering. The external walls facing the sea, 12 meters thick, house the German Krupp cannons, seated in armored and rotating domes.

The Fortification has two 305 mm cannons, which could hit targets 23 km away, two 190 mm cannons and two 75 mm cannon towers.

The space has a diesel plant, which at the time supplied electricity to the Copacabana neighborhood and served for the lighting, ventilation and operation of artillery pieces.

The Fortification project is unique in South America, as it has firing chambers, a kitchen, a living room, ammunition magazine, accommodation for officers and soldiers, oratory, workshop, telegraph, observatory, warehouse, water cistern, bathrooms and infirmary.. Once inside the powerful pillbox, it was possible to stay for a long period of combat without needing outside assistance.

Copacabana Fort
The Copacabana Fort is located at the tip of Copacabana, at the end of the beach and neighborhood of the same name, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil.

Officially called the Army Historical Museum / Fort of Copacabana (MHEx / FC), it currently has a flow of around ten thousand visitors per month, making it one of the most beautiful postcards in the city. The tourist can choose between the restricted visit (only to the external areas) and the complete visit (including the interior of the fort and the historical-military Museum).

Occupying an area of 114,169 square meters with 40,000 square meters of floor area, the building, shaped bunker domed with outer walls 12 m thick employed 2,239 civilian workers and is provided with power plant with two sets generating the diesel manufactured by the company AEG, from Berlin (lighting, parts operation, ventilation), firing chambers, food and ammunition deposits, cafeteria, kitchen, living quarters and dressing room / pharmacy. Its artillery consists of four mobile armored domes, with Krupp cannons:

one with two 305 mm cannons (“Duque de Caxias” dome, “Barroso” and “Osório” tubes, with a maximum range of 23 km);
one with two 190 mm cannons (“André Vidal” dome, with a maximum range of 18 km)

both rotating 360 °, and
two with a 75 mm cannon each (Torre “Antônio João” at N, and Torre “Ricardo Franco” at S, with a maximum range of 7 km), rotating 180 °, more
a battery of spotlight projectors for night vision.

The project to build a fortification at the tip of Igrejinha (Church of Nossa Senhora de Copacabana), at the end of the then Sacopenapã beach, dates back to the time of the transfer of the capital of Brazil, from Salvador to Rio de Janeiro (1763). Under the government of Viceroy D. Luís de Almeida Portugal (1769-1779), works were initiated for this purpose in 1776, on the verge of a Spanish invasion that materialized the following year (1777) against the Colony of Sacramento and the island of Santa Catarina, in the south of Brazil. Perhaps for this reason, the works of this small fort were never completed.

At the time of the transfer of the Portuguese court to Brazil (1808-1821), D. João VI determined for the site the project of a new fort, which started on an unknown date, was only artillated in 1823, at the juncture of the War of Independence of the Brazil, when there was fear of an attack by the Portuguese Armada on the capital of the newly emancipated nation. Later, at the time of the Brazilian Regency Period, together with the other fortifications in the country, it was disarmed in 1834.

At the time of the Second Reign, in the context of the Christie Question, it is related between the defenses of the South sector (Fortifications of Copacabana) in the Map of Fortifications and Fortins of the Neutral Municipality and Province of Rio de Janeiro of 1863, in the National Archive (CASADEI, 1994/1995: 70-71).

In the republican period, at the time of the Armada Revolt, the old position was re-established in 1893, although its inability to prevent the departure of the Armada warships from the Guanabara Bay bar was evident. A few years later, a diplomatic dispute with the Argentine Republic, due to the demarcation of borders – the Question of Palms -, led the Army’s General Staff to commission the project of a new fortification for the place. Major Engineer Augusto Tasso Fragoso was in charge, who outlined a modern fortification, equipped with six long-range cannons. The question having come to an end by arbitration at the time (1895), the new fortification project was shelved.

In 1902, seven pieces of their old artillery (Museu Histórico Forte de Copacabana) lay abandoned on the site, almost buried by sand.

The definitive fortification of the site only materialized when Marshal Hermes da Fonseca (1855-1923) occupied the portfolio of Minister of War under President Afonso Pena (1906-1909) (BARRETTO, 1958: 244).

The construction of the fort
In view of the evolution of naval warfare from the 19th to the 20th century, it became imperative, in Brazil, to place long-range cannons that would prevent the approach of bellowships that could threaten the then capital of the country. The chosen point was the tip of Igrejinha, at the end of Copacabana beach.

To that end, a project was presented by the then Major Tasso Fragoso, who originally planned to install howitzers. However, the equipment supplier, Krupp, convinced the then President of the Brazilian Republic, Marshal Hermes da Fonseca, that it would be more appropriate to install cannons with rapid and long-range guns, which was accepted.

In 16 of December of 1907, then – Major Luis Eugenio Franco Filho, associate’s Engineering Directorate, was appointed to direct the construction of the fort, according to the adapted project, with the auxiliary Captain Cornelius Otto Kuhn, 1st Lieutenant Wolmer Augusto da Silveira and the 2nd Lieutenant Julião Freire Esteves. Major Wolff, from Krupp, also contributed decisively to the adaptation of the new project.

After the Commission was appointed, the budget was prepared by Captain Otto Kuhn, who presented two total figures: one, considering the exemption from customs duties for material imported from abroad in the amount of 2,516: 721 $ 568 reis, and the other, disregarding such exemption, in the value of 2,946: 951 $ 408 reis.

The Commission began the work by demarcating a line on the ground to serve as a guideline, and drawing the axes for reference of the coordinates of the main points of the work, demarcating the perimeter of the fortification and marking the locations of the domes and towers. He then went on to choose the location for laying the cornerstone. This was submitted to the approval of Brigadier General Modestino Augusto de Assis Martins, then Director of Engineering, who ratified the crossing of the central gallery with the existing corridor between the future domes of l90 and 305 mm.

The works of the fortress at Ponta da Igrejinha in Copacabana began in 5 of January of 1908, under the direction of Major Arnaldo Pais de Andrade, in the presence of the then president, Afonso Pena, and the Minister of War, Marshal Hermes da Fonseca. The pieces came dismantled from Germany, in five thousand crates, transported by ships and landed on a pier specially built for this purpose on the site, where their remains can still be seen today.

The work was inaugurated as Copacabana Fort in 28 of September of 1914, at a cost of 2,946: 951 $ 408 reis (GARRIDO, 1940: 124), by the then president, Marshal Hermes da Fonseca. Ranked 1st Class by Notice No 1761 of 29 of September of 1914, was considered at the time the most modern warfare square in South America and a landmark for the military engineering of its time. Its first commander, appointed in 1912, still under construction, was Major Antônio Carlos Brasil.

After the inauguration of the fort, in 1919 the adjacent land was acquired from Mitra, and the small church that dates back to the first half of the 18th century was demolished, to give way to the Peace Barracks, completed in October 1920 (BARRETTO, 1958: 245-246). The entrance porch to Praça Coronel Eugênio Franco, as well as the entrance to the Praça de Armas, were designed by Wolmer da Silveira, built from 1918 to 1920. The Portico originally had accommodation for the guard, bathrooms and a small reserve for ammunition and weaponry. On the façade, centered is its designation at the time: “Forte de Copacabana”; on the opposite side (inside the fortress), the Latin inscription “SI VIS PACEM PARA BELLUM “(” If you want peace, prepare for war “) (Flávio Vegécio, Epitoma Rei Militaris, 390). The old iron gates are no more today.

Artillery park
The museum has several exhibits focusing on different periods and events in the history of the army in Brazil. The Brazilian Expeditionary Force’s participation in the Italian campaign in World War II gets only limited treatment, and Brazil’s involvement in World War I receives no treatment.

Outside the museum there are several artillery pieces from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For instance, one field piece is a 5-barrel quick-firing gun, each barrel being of 37 mm (1 1⁄2 in). Brazil purchased this Hotchkiss revolving cannon in 1876. Another field piece is a British-made Vickers-Armstrong Mark XIX 6-inch (152.4 mm) gun, made in 1918. Brazil purchased this piece in 1940 for use in coastal defense. There are also three 75 mm (3 in) Schneider M1919 mountain guns.