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In the foreground, a statue of the Roman goddess Justizia in Brazil's capital Brasília. A group of police officers stand in the background.
The rioters left a slur on the sculpture 'A Justica' that honors justice: It reads, 'Perdeu, Mane' or 'Lost, old man'Image: Joedson Alves/AA/picture alliance

UNESCO to help in recovery of Brasilia's cultural assets

Torsten Landsberg
January 12, 2023

After cultural assets were damaged by rioters who stormed Brazil's government quarters, UNESCO will join efforts to determine which artworks require restoration.


UNESCO has joined the Brazilian Ministry of Culture in the recovery of Brasilia's cultural heritage after rioters stormed the government quarters on January 8, 2023, damaging artworks and destroying architectural features of international importance. 

UNESCO published its statements following media reports that the mob in Brasilia damaged numerous works of art, including sculptures, paintings and a stained glass window, when they stormed government buildings.

Brazil's Lula vows justice for capital attack

"These are criminal acts that damage our public heritage," Jose Nascimento, former president of the Brazilian Institute of Museums (IBRAM), told the Folha de S. Paulo daily. According to media reports, the rioters could be investigated for looting public property and desecrating listed property. 

Aim to overthrow elected government

Almost two years to the day after the storming of the US Capitol in Washington, thousands of supporters of Brazil's former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro stormed the government district in Brasilia on January 8, entering the Congress and other buildings. Once inside the Congress, they vandalized the buidling, graffitied walls and flooded parts of the building.

The attack is considered an attempted coup: While organising the attack, the rioters had formed chat groups under names like "seizure of power."

"The terrorists who invaded the Planalto Palace this Sunday devastated and destroyed an important part of the artistic and architectural collection there, which represents a significant chapter of our national history," a statement from the presidential office read.

Although many of the invaders had wrapped themselves in Brazilian flags or were wearing the jersey of the national football team, they clearly didn't care much for their country's culture or history. In the gallery of all Brazilian heads of states, pictures were torn off walls, thrown onto the floor and "destroyed completely."

What was destroyed?

Among the damaged artworks is the stained glass window "Araguaia," designed by Marianne Peretti in 1977. The artist, who died last year, was the only woman on the team of architect Oscar Niemeyer, the pioneer of modern Brazilian architecture.

Di Cavalcanti's 1962 painting "As mulatas," the main work in the Nobility Hall of the Planalto Palace, sported seven cracks of varying sizes after the rioters' attacks.

The bronze sculpture "The Pied Piper" by Bruno Jorge was completely destroyed and found scattered around the hall, officials say. A wooden wall sculpture by Frans Krajcberg was damaged in several places. The desk of former President Juscelino Kubitscheck, during whose tenure Brasilia was founded and became the capital, was used by the rioters as a barricade.

"The value of what was destroyed is immeasurable because of the history it represents. The collection as a whole represents all the presidents who have represented the Brazilian people during this long period," Portuguese news agency Lusa quoted the director of the Board of Trustees of the Presidential Palaces, Rogerio Carvalho.

The sculpture
Alfredo Ceschiatti designed the sculpture "A Justica" ("To Justice") on the Praca dos Tres Poderes in 1961Image: Franck Camhi/PantherMedia/picture alliance

The Square of the Three Powers ("Praca dos Tres Poderes") is home to the Planalto Presidential Palace, the National Congress and the Supreme Court, representing the three branches of a democratic government: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Architects Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa began designed the square in the late 1950s, and the buildings in this square were included in the list of the Institute of National, Historical and Artistic Heritage in 2007.The capital city of Brasilia has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1987.

This article was originally written in German. 

On the DW History and Culture Youtube channel you can learn more about the destruction of cultural heritage, for example in Afghanistan.

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