Furious Brazilians are blaming neglect and budget cuts for the fire that destroyed the 200-year-old National Museum

Buda Mendes/Getty ImagesThe fire destroyed nearly all the relics inside the museum.
  • A massive fire at Brazil’s National Museum, which housed over 20 million rare and ancient artifacts, has been blamed on years of neglect and budget cuts that left it in a vulnerable state.
  • The cause of the fire is still not yet known, though officials have said the blaze was a “tragedy” that could have been avoided.
  • Dozens protested in front of the museum’s gates, and police launched tear gas into the crowd.
  • Officials have estimated that as much as 90 per cent of the museum’s artifacts have likely been destroyed.

A massive fire at Brazil’s National Museum, which housed over 20 million rare and ancient artifacts, has been blamed on years of neglect and budget cuts that left it in a vulnerable state.

The fire began at 7:30 p.m. local time Sunday and ripped through the 200-year-old National Museum in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

The fire began after the museum closed for the evening and no injuries were reported. Authorities are still unsure about what exactly caused the fire, though many agreed it was a devastating blow to the preservation of arts and culture in South America that could have largely been prevented.

Brazil fireBuda Mendes/Getty ImagesA fire burns at the National Museum of Brazil on September 2, 2018 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The museum, which is tied to the Rio de Janeiro federal university and the Education Ministry, was founded in 1818 by King John VI of Portugal. It houses several landmark collections including Egyptian artifacts and the oldest human fossil found in Brazil. Its collection include more than 20 million items ranging from archaeological findings to historical memorabilia.

“Our community is very mobilized, and very indignant,” Roberto Leher, the rector of the Rio de Janeiro federal university, which administers the museum, said on Monday, according to Reuters.

“We all knew the building was vulnerable.”

Marina Silva, a candidate in the upcoming October presidential elections, wrote on Twitter that the building was obviously underfunded.

“Given the financial straits of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and all the other public universities the last three years, this was a tragedy that could be seen coming,”

Brazil’s culture minister Sergio Leitao told local media that the museum may have ignited after a small paper hot air balloon landed on the roof. He added that it was a “tragedy that could have been avoided.”

Brazil fire 1Buda Mendes/Getty Images

“There will be absolutely nothing left of the National Museum,” said its deputy director, Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte. “The country’s 200-year history has been burned.”

One official said as much as 90 per cent of the museum may have been completely lost in the blaze.

The museum, the oldest in Brazil and one of the largest anthropology and natural history collections in the Americas, had its budget slashed in recent years, a spokesman told Associated Press.

A modernisation plan was approved in June and would have helped improve the museum’s condition and install crucial safety equipment, like a sprinkler system, Dias Duarte told local media.

The museum is home to one of the world’s best collections of indigenous art, as well as dozens of dinosaur fossils and a 12,000 year-old skeleton considered the oldest human remains in all of the Americas.

Brazil fire destroyedBuda Mendes/Getty Images

Dozens of students and museum workers gathered in front of the museum on Monday, in protest of the ill-treatment of the iconic museum.

Police carrying batons and decked out in riot gear blocked the museum gates and shot tear gas into the unruly crowd.


For many protesting, the museum was an escape from the country’s rising violence, political corruption, and damaged economy. Its dilapidated state and its eventual destruction felt particularly poignant to Brazilian nationals who gathered in anger.

“This fire is what Brazilian politicians are doing to the people,” Rosana Hollanda, a 35-year-old high school history teacher, told the Associated Press.

“They’re burning our history, and they’re burning our dreams.”

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