Portuguese Museum Arises Like a Phoenix

Six years after it went up in flames, Brazil’s Museum of the Portuguese Language has reopened at the Estação da Luz station in the heart of São Paulo. The museum originally opened in 2006 but was destroyed in December 2015, in a fire that claimed the life of a firefighter.

It is now opening its doors to the public once again six years later in the heart of São Paulo, offering a historically rich and socially inclusive tour of the world’s fifth-most widely spoken language.

Three levels of São Paulo’s Estação da Luz, an iconic train station built in 1901 and used by hundreds of thousands of people every day, have once again become an interactive space for celebrating the language spoken by 260 million people across nine countries. Isa Grinspum, one of the curators of the museum’s permanent exhibition, told EFE, “It was a tremendous shock, an enormous loss, but it gave us the chance to rethink the museum, which is a unique opportunity.” Back-up copies enabled the museum’s almost entirely digital collection to be recovered, but the structure designed by famed Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha (1928–2021)— winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2006—and his son Pedro was lost.

About 86 million reals ($16.5 million) were spent on an “intense reconstruction process” that took years and enlisted the contributions of artists, intellectuals, and musicians, the museum’s technical director, Marília Bonas, said.

The museum’s goal remains the same— celebration of the diverse forms of the Portuguese language spoken around the world. Those different dialects are the result of Indigenous and African cultural influences, as well as the incorporation of linguistic elements from a variety of other languages, including Japanese, Spanish, and Italian.

The museum traces the history of the Portuguese language from its Latin origins to its multiple present-day varieties, ranging from the types of Portuguese spoken in rural areas to those found in the favelas (shanty-towns) of Brazil’s largest cities.

“The idea is to propose a space for dialogue, reflection, and discovery of all that potential of the Portuguese language. Ultimately, it’s about answering the question, ‘what does this language want and what can it do?’, paraphrasing Caetano Veloso,” Grinspum said in reference to the famed Brazilian composer and singer’s song “Lingua.”

The museum also sheds light on the darker history of Portuguese through its examination of the violent colonization process and the brutal toll it exacted on Indigenous peoples and the thousands of slaves brought from Africa.

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