Ilha Fiscal – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Atlas Obscura

Ilha Fiscal

This Brazilian palace island was once the site of the last grand ball before revolution. 


This island and its fairytale-like palace, which once housed the offices of the Guarda Fiscal in Rio de Janeiro, serve as a reminder of a time when the city was the capital of the Brazilian Empire.

Located in Guanabara Bay, Ilha Fiscal is an island that was used by the local government to build a palace that would serve as the offices of the Brazilian customs authority. The building was devised by Pedro II of Brazil who commissioned his engineer, Adolfo José del Vecchio to develop the project.

The works resulted in a small palace inspired by the works of French architect Viollet-le-Duc with a Gothic-Provence style, it was inaugurated on April 27th, 1889 in a ceremony attended by the Emperor and several foreign guests.

The palace itself served as the scene for the last ball offered by the imperial government some months later, on November 9th. The event was planned to celebrate the silver anniversary of Princess Isabel and the Count of Eu. Some (fairly questionable) sources state that between 3,000 to 5,000 people were invited to the party and that the extravagant celebration was fueled by national resources originally intended to sustain the victims of a severe drought in the northeastern state of Ceará.

Six days after the Ball, the monarchy was overthrown by a military and political alliance giving birth to the Republic of Brazil. Some later accounts tell the story of a boat passing by the island with Del Vecchio and some other republican supporters and officials on board. When one of the passengers remarked that the coat of arms of the fallen empire was still present in the façade of the palace and that it should be destroyed in order to remove any imperial symbols on republican buildings, Del Vecchio convinced his fellow passengers that the coat of arms was made by an old craftsman who was blind and living in poverty, asking that the sculpture not be removed nor destroyed, a pledge that was surprisingly honored.

Today, the palace is home to a museum, but it has lost little of its extravagant style. 

Know Before You Go

Boats leave from Espaço Cultural da Marinha at Av. Alfredo Agache s/n , near Praça XV in downtown.

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