Teresópolis Railway and the Development of Guapimirim
By Daniel Athias de Almeida and Sergio Fagerlande
This post is adapted from the conference paper and presentation that the authors developed for the 2016 meeting of T2M in Mexico City.
Daniel is a graduate student and a researcher in the Architecture Postgraduate Department of Architecture in the field of Project and Heritage at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (PROARQ – UFRJ), focusing on the study of history, mobility and tourism in the city of Guapimirim, Brazil.
Sergio is a PhD lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism and researcher at LAURBAM in the Urbanism Postgraduate Department at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (PROURB – UFRJ), lecturing on Urbanism, landscape architecture and the history of the cities, researching tourism in slums.
This post examines the historical process around the development of the city of Guapimirim, Brazil, and its relationship with transportation. The goal is to provide new strategies and possibilities in order to revive the old path of the railway and, at the same time, improve mobility through modal integration with the existing railway, bicycle systems and the current bus network. In order to understand the importance of the railways to local urban development, one must examine the whole region between the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area and Serra dos Orgãos mountain range, where Guapimirim is located. Originally, these spaces were connected by railroad in the nineteenth century, which promoted greater development in the area and fostered strong connections between the port with farming and mining zones.
The region played an important role in the development of railway systems in South America. In the area, the first rail line was built in 1856, connecting Mauá Port to Raíz da Serra de Petrópolis. A few years after the construction of the Mauá Railway, another line was built to connect Teresópolis, a popular destination, to Mauá Port, in the process passing through Guapimirim, stimulating the city’s growth.
Construction began on the Teresópois Railway in 1898 and was completed in 1906, after successfully crossing the Serra dos Orgãos mountain range. The endeavor imported tracks from Swtizerland to finish. Once opened, the line became a landmark for modernization, and spurred urban development and integration among the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Teresópolis, and Guapimirim. The railway served as a mode of transportation for commuters as well as tourists. Passing through the Serra dos Orgãos mountains provided scenic views of lush natural landscapes, pristine waterfalls and huge granite formations covered with vegetation. e, a place with scenic views, lush nature, pristine waterfalls and huge granite blocks covered with dense vegetation. The picturesque spaces and incredible biodiversity around Guapimirim made this place into a popular destination for famous artists, travelers, and explorers, including the famed German botanist Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius, even before the construction of the first railroad. Later, Henrique Bernardelli, a well-known painter, moved to Guapimirim in 1900, and lived there for thirty years, creating artwork inspired by the natural landscape of the region.
In 1956, the federal government launched a new program of national economic integration based on the construction of new highways and the development of the country’s automotive industry. As a result, the federal road, BR 116, was built passing just outside Guapimirim’s urban area. Under the guise of so-called modernity, one consequences of this program was the decommissioning of the local railway in order to promote automobile travel. The social impact of the railroad’s closure had a direct impact on Guapimirim’s economy, leading to a recession, and making it dependent on Rio de Janeiro and neighboring cities. Moreover, due to the vast majority of its territory considered a natural conservation reserve, Guapimirim has long faced limited economic possibilities.
The history of the train was forgotten, including the economic forces that had been promoted by the railway’s activity. In many ways, residents of Guapimirim had begun to deny the city’s own history of mobility, forgetting the link between the rail line and its past significance as part of a broader historical process. As John Urry has observed, drawing on work by Schivelbusch, “the railway in the late nineteenth century provided new ways of moving, socializing and seeing the swiftly passing landscape.” (Schivelbusch 1986 ; Urry 2007).
According to Urry, out of an urban context, the pedestrian becomes present only after the construction of the first railways, which made it possible for passengers to try to escape the problems of big cities. Promoting and developing rail opened the surrounding area to greater mobility. The desire to connect with nature results in the first leisure trips by railroad, created under the idea of seeing and exploring distant places. It helped to promote tourist activity. After the destruction of the railway to Guapimirim, the final destination became an almost abandoned line.
Tourism in Guapimirim has a limited historical perspective, largely focused on viewing nature with little connect to the city’s local culture, traditions, or history. In a way, it demonstrates that the city has been losing contact with its past. At the same time, this gap has been a lot opportunity to help the city to generate greater revenues. The remaining element of the railway could work as an important connection between the vibrant past and the impoverished community in the present. Revitalizing this line could promote new possibilities of development, such as articulating community tourism, strengthening local services, and reincorporating cultural dynamics related to Guapimirim’s past and local traditions.
In its time, the railway played a decisive role in the development of Guapimirim. Understanding this relationship becomes as an important node that connects history, transportation, tourism and development of the city. In the future, it could promote new possibilities to reinforce the local identity and also generate a more dynamic sustainable economy.