Arts & Entertainment

Influential Brazilian tropical garden inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List

By Carlos A. Moreno

Rio de Janeiro, Jul 27 (EFE).- The Roberto Burle Marx Site, a Brazilian botanical garden that boasts one of the world’s largest collections of tropical and subtropical plants and is known for its innovations in landscape design, says it is prepared for an anticipated increase in visitors following its inclusion Tuesday on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

That country’s 23rd World Heritage Site is a 40.5-hectare (100-acre) country retreat on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro that Burle Marx (1909-1994), a Rio-born modernist landscape architect and painter, purchased in 1949.

He later donated the property to the Brazilian government in the mid-1980s to ensure that its botanical riches would be maintained and to create a space for the dissemination of knowledge about conservation.

The site is covered by plants of 3,500 different species, with an emphasis on tropical plants native to Brazil. Many of them are rare and exotic and some can no longer be found in their original habitats.

Scattered across the property are five reflective pools and seven greenhouses, while visitors can also tour Burle Marx’s residence and a museum holding 3,000 items, including works of art, books, architectural plans and antiquities.

The most remarkable aspect of the site, however, are the tropical garden designs created and pioneered by the Brazilian, who lived there between 1973 and 1994.

Working at a time when Brazilian gardens typically were populated by flowers imported from Europe, he experimented with variations of colors, confections, combinations and textures drawing on the plants he collected during his travels through Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Also preserved at the site are the experiments Burle Marx carried out before designing the nearly 3,000 public and private gardens that constitute the most visible part of his legacy, as well as his vast output in other artistic disciplines, such as engravings, serigraphs, drawings, sculptures, tapestries, ceramic panels, jewelry and theatrical sets.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which has been meeting since last week in Fuzhou, China, on Tuesday inscribed the site on its World Heritage List in the Cultural Landscapes category.

Although the Roberto Burle Marx Site currently only receives a maximum of 140 visitors per day, partly because it was little known in Brazil before being nominated for the UNESCO honor and also due to restrictions aimed at preserving its botanical riches, plans are under way to increase that capacity.

“What we expect with UNESCO’s recognition is for there to be a larger number of people, an uptick in demand,” the site’s director, Claudia Storino, told Efe in an interview.

“We normally received, prior to the pandemic, a maximum of 140 people per day. We’re looking at the site’s capacity, and we think it can be expanded, but not by much. We think around 200 people per day would be the maximum,” she added.

Storino said the site also is working to provide high-quality virtual access to the tropical garden and other areas.

Most notable at the site are bromeliads, heliconias, arecaceae, orchids, palms, cycads and other species with landscape potential, as well as 34 species linked to Burle Marx, including two that he discovered and 16 named after him.

Despite the site’s natural wealth and collection of unique and threatened species, Brazil’s National Institute of Historic and Artistic Heritage (Ipham) chose to nominate the Roberto Burle Marx Site as a place of cultural significance, rather than as a natural or mixed (both natural and cultural values) candidate site.

That decision was made in recognition of the landscape architect’s success in pioneering a new form of tropical garden and a movement that brought an end to centuries of European hegemony in landscape design. EFE


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