At a point that advanced on the sea, later known as “Ponta do Calabouço”, between the beaches of Piaçaba and Santa Luzia, in the historical center of Rio de Janeiro, the Portuguese built in 1603 the Fortress of Santiago, origin of the architectural group that now houses the National Historical Museum.
Throughout the centuries, other buildings were added to the Fortress, like the Calabouço prison (1693), destined to the punishment of slaves; the “Casa do Trem” (1762), for the guard of the "artillery train" (arms and ammunition); the War Arsenal (1764) and the barracks to house the military troops (1835).
Because of its strategic location for the defense of Guanabara Bay and the city itself, the region was a military area until 1908, when the War Arsenal was transferred to Ponta do Caju.
In the 1920s Ponta do Calabouço was grounded and reurbanized to host the international exhibition commemorating the centennial of Brazil's Independence. To integrate the event, the buildings of the former War Arsenal were enlarged and reformulated, with decoration characteristic of neocolonial architecture.
In 1922 two galleries of National Historical Museum were opened at the "Palace of the Great Industries", one of the most visited pavilions of the Centennial Exhibition. The museum was created by President Epitácio Pessoa to endow Brazil with a museum dedicated to national history.
Currently, the National Historical Museum occupies the entire architectural complex of Ponta do Calabouço and became the most important museum of history in the country, bringing together a collection of 258,000 items, including objects, documents and books, and being an institution of production and dissemination of knowledge.
Only the foundations from the Fortress of Santiago and the Calabouço prison remain. However, the Casa do Trem has remained until today, restored to its colonial aspect in the 1990s, and also the War Arsenal building and its imposing Patio of Minerva and the Pavillion of the Exhibion of 1922, current museum’s library, forming one of the most significant sets with an area of 20,000m² between Santa Luzia St. and Alfred Agache Avenue.
National Historical Museum maintains long-term and temporary exhibition galleries in a 9,000 m² area open to the public, as well as a library specialized in Brazil History, Art History, Museology and Fashion, and the Historical Archive with important manuscript documents, watercolors, illustrations and photographs, including Juan Gutierrez, Augusto Malta and Marc Ferrez. It also maintains programs to students, teachers, senior citizens and poor communities. Its storage rooms, conservation and restoration laboratories and numismatics (collection of coins and other printed figures) can be consulted by prior appointment. Picturesque inner courtyards and a friendly cafeteria offer pleasant options for relaxing moments.