Brazil’s Sítio Roberto Burle Marx has been selected as world heritage under the category cultural landscape by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science, and Culture (Unesco). This is the 23rd Brazilian location on the world heritage list. Located in Barra de Guaratiba, western Rio de Janeiro, the 407 thousand m³ forested space is home to a collection of more than 3.5 thousand tropical and subtropical plant species.
Brazil’s candidacy was considered during the 44th session of Unesco’s Heritage Committee, which started last Saturday (Jul. 24) and should last until July 31 in Fuzhou, China. Unesco’s grant was announced Tuesday (27).
On one of its social networking pages, the Sítio declared that the registration on the world heritage list means that these sites, so special for Brazil, also hold “exceptional universal value” for humankind. “The World Heritage is crucial for the memory, identity and creativity of the people and the wealth of cultures, as it seeks to promote the identification, protection, and preservation of the cultural and natural heritage of the whole planet.”
The Sítio is a special unit of Brazil’s National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN), an autonomous federal agency linked to the Special Secretariat for Culture and the Ministry of Tourism. In the opinion of Claudia Storino, the Sítio’s director, the place itself is a work of art, where landscapes are the main highlight keeping all its elements connected and providing them with their powerful personality.
“The Sítio’s garden areas materialize both the landscape principles of Burle Marx’s work and the processes of analysis, cultivation, and experimentation that boosted the creation of the modern tropical landscaping,” Storino declared in a note.
For IPHAN President Larissa Peixoto, the title makes Brazil, IPHAN, and the Brazilian people proud. “The recognition builds a commitment to cherish exceptional values that make this place important to all humanity. We have the mission to preserve this space of learning and of the promotion of knowledge about nature, landscaping, art, and botany for future generations,” she said.
The old Sítio Santo Antônio da Bica, a ranch acquired in 1949 by Roberto Burle Marx and his brother Guilherme Siegfried, gave rise to the present-day Sítio Burle Marx. The location features lush mangrove, restinga, and Atlantic Forest vegetation, preserved by the Pedra Branca State Park. Later on, the brothers purchased other properties that were annexed to the Sítio.
The area underwent interventions before it was transformed into the laboratory planned by Burle Marx. In 1985, the landscape architect donated the place to the federal government, to ensure the continuity of studies, the dissemination of acquired knowledge, and the sharing of the space with society. IPHAN took over the management of the Sítio in 1994, after Burle Marx’s death.
Gardens, plant nurseries, seven buildings, and six lakes make up the site, which also offers the public a museum archive of over 3 thousand items, including collections of Cusco, pre-Colombian, and Brazilian religious and popular art, in addition to works by Burle Marx himself.
To vie for the Unesco’s world heritage title, the Sítio was subject to a re-qualification process that started in October 2018 and was concluded in February this year. By means of the Cultural Incentive Law, Brazil’s National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) has invested approximately R$ 5.4 million in local interventions, aiming to enhance visiting areas, implement accessibility, expand public access, and optimize research efforts.
Known worldwide as one of the main landscaping names in the 20th century, Roberto Burle Marx was also a visual artist, a painter, a sculptor, a jewelry artist, a costume and set designer, a potter, and a tapestry weaver.
Born in São Paulo, he was raised in Rio de Janeiro, where he died on June 4, 1994. Having devised thousands of projects scattered across the world, Burle Marx conceived major landscapes, like the gardens in the Complexo da Pampulha, in 1942; the garden at the Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, in 1954; the landscaping at the Aterro do Flamengo, in 1961; the gardens at the Unesco headquarters in Paris; and the famous patterns of the Copacabana promenade, in 1970; among others.
Burle Marx introduced modern landscaping in Brazil and was one of the first landscaping architects to use native Brazilian plants in their projects. Being one of the pioneering environmentalists to advocate for the conservation of tropical forests in Brazil, he organized a range of expeditions and excursions through Brazilian biomes, where he discovered over 30 new plant species which were later on named after him.
Burle Marx lived in the Sítio from 1973 through 1994, and gathered plants from a number of locations the world over, some threatened with extinction.