From Carioca to Guandu (Part 1)

A short history of the water supply at Rio de Janeiro

By Museu Histórico Nacional

From Carioca to Guandu

St. Anthony river dam by Marc FerrezMuseu Histórico Nacional

Museu Histórico Nacional - MHN makes this exhibition available to the public on a theme that has afflicted residents of the city of Rio de Janeiro since the beginning of the 18th century and continues to be a more than current issue: water supply in Rio de Janeiro.

News about complaints against water shortages (Hemeroteca da Biblioteca Nacional collection) (1889-06-25) by UnknownMuseu Histórico Nacional

“the complaints about the lack of water continue (...). In some houses on Senador Dantas street there has also been a shortage of the precious liquid.
If this happens, now in winter, imagine what awaits us for the calm season.” (GAZETA DE NOTÍCIAS (RJ) - 1880 to 1889. Rio de Janeiro: edition 176, p.1, June 25, 1889.)

Caricature of Rodrigo Silva on the cover of Revista Illustrada (Hemeroteca da Biblioteca Nacional collection) (1889-03-09) by UnknownMuseu Histórico Nacional

“Mr. Rodrigo Silva is finding himself seriously confused. When he thinks he is free of the rock issue, he stumbles over the water issue, which is not good at all!" (REVISTA ILLUSTRADA (RJ) 1876 to 1894. Rio de Janeiro, edition 539, p.1, March 09, 1889.)

Photo album of the temporary canalization works of St. Peter river (1889) by Marc FerrezMuseu Histórico Nacional

Given the diversity of our collection, we highlight some images from three albums that make up some of the collections in the MHN Historical Archive. First, the album “Obras de Canalização Provisória do Rio S. Pedro - 1889”, from the Iconographic Albums Collection, with photos by Marc Ferrez (1843-1923), photographer who documented major transformations in the city of Rio de Janeiro, in the field of architecture , urbanism and engineering.

Photo album about Rio de Janeiro's water supply (1900/1909) by Marc FerrezMuseu Histórico Nacional

The other two albums, “Abastecimento D'Água do Rio de Janeiro”, composed of phototypes, with images by Marc Ferrez, and “Abastecimento D'Água – Obras executadas de 1907 a 1909”, are part of the Miguel Calmon Collection.

Photo album of water supply works at Federal District (1907/1909) by UnknownMuseu Histórico Nacional

Miguel Calmon du Pin Almeida (1879-1935) was responsible for important works in Brazil and also distinguished himself in politics, having been Minister of State during the First Republic (1889-1930) and senator elected by Bahia until the Revolution of 1930.
For more information about the MHN Historical Archive collections, access our Digital Library through the website

Marrecas Fountain (1830/1839) by Armand Julien PallièreMuseu Histórico Nacional

Colonial period and first half of the 19th century  

The city of Rio de Janeiro, when settling on Morro do Castelo in 1567, faced a challenge: water supply. Its inhabitants bought water from Indians and black water workers who went to fetch it from the Rio Carioca, which ran in the valley that we know today as Laranjeiras and flowed into Praia do Flamengo. With the “Hy! Hy!” – a word that means water in the Tupi language – the precious liquid was announced to the population.

Carioca river (2021-08-28) by Maria Isabel Ribeiro LenziMuseu Histórico Nacional

Section of Rio Carioca, in Cosme Velho/RJ, where it runs in the open.

Wooden pots for water (1835) by Jean-Baptiste DebretMuseu Histórico Nacional

“Black women, in general, are dedicated to selling water from public fountains, a product that they advertise loudly, just like the milk sellers in London. When requested, the sellers stop, dump the contents of their vases into the buyer's bowl, receive payment for the service (a "vintém", which is about half a penny) and walk to the fountains to restock. I was surprised to see the size of the vases the sellers carry, completely crammed with water on the top of their heads. Some resemble wooden vats and can hold up to ten gallons of water.” (James Hardy Vaux, 1807 - pickpocket, forger and English writer).

Water fountains at the Largo do Paço Fountain in Rio de Janeiro (1827) by Johann Moritz RugendasMuseu Histórico Nacional

Tijuca waterfall at Rio de Janeiro (1840/1849) by Alexis Victor JolyMuseu Histórico Nacional

In 1673, during the government of João da Silva e Souza, work began on adduction of water from the Rio Carioca, but the so-called Arcos Velhos da Carioca, made of wood, would only be completed at the beginning of the following century. In 1723, under the government of Aires Saldanha, the crystalline water was taken to the Carioca fountain. The government of Gomes Freire de Andrade carried out major reforms to the aqueduct which, inaugurated in 1750, still retains the features of that time.

Aquedut & Convent of Sta. Teresa (1844) by William Gore OusleyMuseu Histórico Nacional

“... there is an engine powered by horses; its construction is similar to a waterwheel, and it raises, to a height of a hundred feet, a quantity of water that is distributed to several fountains, passing through several gardens. Not far from there, there is a large aqueduct worthy of the traveller's attention: it consists of eighty arches, in two series of some forty feet each, and makes a beautiful impression seen from the bay, rising majestically above the tallest buildings. of this neighborhood of the city."

[Rua do Rezende] (1890/1899) by Juan GutierrezMuseu Histórico Nacional

The aqueduct was built to transport water over a floodplain from a plentiful spring in a nearby hill. I think it would have been a lot less expensive if it had been done by pipes; but actually, money is a minor issue in this country, where gold is so abundant and labor so cheap."

[The Arches of Lapa] by UnknownMuseu Histórico Nacional

"With this aqueduct, the inhabitants are fully supplied with water, as are the numerous merchant fleets that frequent this port to trade and restore forces." (O’NEIL, Thomas, 1808 - he was in the English squadron that accompanied the flight of the kings from Portugal to Brazil).

Tijuca waterfall (1830/1839) by Leon Jean Baptiste SabatierMuseu Histórico Nacional

With the move of the Portuguese court to Rio de Janeiro and the consequent increase in population, water became scarce, forcing the authorities to look for other sources. If, until then, the Corcovado slope of Maciço da Tijuca was the most used, from the beginning of the 19th century, the rivers of the Tijuca slope would also bring water to several new fountains and spouts that were installed in the city.

Lagarto Fountain (1939) by Armando PachecoMuseu Histórico Nacional

The first river from this slope to be used was the Comprido river, which supplied the Santana, Catumbi and Lagarto fountains. Later, the waters of the Maracanã River also supplied these fountains.

[Washerwomen by the river] (1835) by Jean Baptiste DebretMuseu Histórico Nacional

The Santana Fountain was also known by the nickname Washerwomen Fountain. There, several women met and, to the sound of work songs, soaped, beat and put on the costumers' clothes to dry.

Campo de Santana fountain, taken from the Church of Sant'Ana (1835) by Carlos Guilherme ThereminMuseu Histórico Nacional

In the Santana countryside, there was plenty of space to hold clothes until 1873, when the countryside was renovated with Glaziou's landscaping and the Washerwomen Fountain was demolished.

News about the water supply at Rio de Janeiro (Hemeroteca da Biblioteca Nacional collection) (1889-06-27) by UnknownMuseu Histórico Nacional

“Despite the large amount of water that the Carioca source used to supply the city, the arrival of many thousands of people, and the prodigious extension that has increased, will make that abundance insufficient. The Paternal Heart of His Majesty, sensitive to destitution, which his faithful Vassalos will suffer, immediately projected to pour into this city the good water of the Maracanã River, which flows in the Andaraí farm, taking it two leagues away (...) and so, within 5 months, he had the pleasure of putting a 10-spout fountain in Campo de Santana, which ran on May 13 of the following year.” (GAZETA DO RIO DE JANEIRO (RJ) 1809 to 1822. Rio de Janeiro, edition 51, p.1, 27 jun. 1818).

Fountain at Largo da Carioca, in Rio de Janeiro (1920/1926) by UnknownMuseu Histórico Nacional

Carioca Fountain

This is the third Carioca fountain. The first one, inaugurated in 1723, was made of marble and had 16 bronze spouts. In 1820 it was demolished and, in its place, a temporary one, made of wood, was built. The fountain in the photograph, designed by Grandjean de Montigny, began operating in 1848 when water began to spurt from its 35 spouts. It was made of granite, had tanks for the washerwomen and a drinking fountain for the animals. In 1925, it was destroyed due to the expansion of the Largo da Carioca.

Morro Inglês dam by Marc FerrezMuseu Histórico Nacional

Ladeira da Ascurra water tank (Morro do Inglês) (2021-08) by UnknownMuseu Histórico Nacional

Morro do Inglês Reservoir  

The water tank at Morro do Inglês, in Cosme Velho, had the capacity to store four million liters. It was concluded in 1868 to receive water from springs reactivated by the reforestation of the Tijuca Forest – such as the Silvestre spring – and distribute it to houses in Laranjeiras and Cosme Velho. Today, those who pass by Ladeira do Ascurra and come across this old water tank, may not imagine that this old construction is a witness of the process of collecting, treating and distributing water in Rio de Janeiro, as well as of the urban occupation of the city.

Tijuca waterfall and dam by Marc FerrezMuseu Histórico Nacional

Over time, other rivers on the Tijuca slope were incorporated into the city's supply: the São João, the Trapicheiro, the Andaraí (or Joana) and also the streams of Cascatinha, Gávea Pequena, Hotel Aurora, A. Taylor, Caranguejo, Soberbo, Morcego, Amaral and Machado.

Tijuca's old reservoir by Marc FerrezMuseu Histórico Nacional

This increase in water came to enable some houses and public buildings to start receiving running water, a modality that made the vital liquid a commodity.

Carioca's old reservoir by Marc FerrezMuseu Histórico Nacional

This good, so fundamental to life, was no longer free, but definitively incorporated into the economy. Public institutions and people with greater purchasing power, as a consequence, were the pioneers in having tap water at home.

Praça XV (1880/1889) by Alberto Henschel & CiaMuseu Histórico Nacional

Second half of the 19th century: search for new sources

At the same time that water, little by little, reached the taps of the houses, the workers that used to take the water from the public fountain became increasingly scarce... continue on Part 2

Credits: Story

Adriana Bandeira Cordeiro
Barbara Deslandes Primo
Daniella Gomes dos Santos
Maria Isabel Ribeiro Lenzi

Arquivo Nacional
Museu da Maré
Antonio Carlos Pinto Vieira
Cláudia Rose Ribeiro da Silva
Claudio Figueiredo
Maria do Carmo Teixeira Rainho
Paula Aranha

MHN website:
MHN Digital Library:
Iconographic Albums Collection

Miguel Calmon Collection (albums):

Information on the collection of the MHN Historical Archive:

Bibliographic references
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AMOROSO, Mauro. Rola-rola da favela. In: KNAUSS, Paulo; LENZI, Isabel; MALTA, Marize. História do Rio de Janeiro em 45 objetos. Rio de Janeiro: Jauá Editora: FGV: FAPERJ, 2019
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BURGI, Sérgio. Uma homenagem aos 175 anos de Marc Ferrez (7 de dezembro de 1843 - 12 de janeiro de 1923. Brasiliana Fotográfica. 2018. Available at: Acesso em 09 ago. 2021.
CEDAE - COMPANHIA ESTADUAL DE ÁGUAS E ESGOTOS. Guandu. Available at: Acess at 12 ago. 2021.
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FRANÇA, Jean Marcel Carvalho. Visões do Rio de Janeiro Colonial, antologia de textos, 1531-1800. Rio de Janeiro: EdUERJ: José Olympio Editora, 1999
FRANÇA, Jean Marcel Carvalho. Outras visões do Rio de Janeiro Colonial, antologia de textos, 1582-1808. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio Editora, 2000
GAZETA DE NOTÍCIAS (RJ) 1880 a 1889. Rio de Janeiro, edição 176, p.1, 25 jun. 1889. Available at: Acess at 16 jul. 2021.
GAZETA DO RIO DE JANEIRO (RJ) 1809 a 1822. Rio de Janeiro, edição 51, p.1, 27 jun 1889. Available at: Acess at 09 ago. 2021.
KURY, Lorelai Brilhante et al. Rios do Rio. Rio de Janeiro: Andrea Jakobsson Estúdio, 2020.
LENZI, Maria Isabel; BEZERRA, Rafael; JOÃO, Cristiane. Tão importante e tão esquecido, o bairro da Misericórdia. Rio de Janeiro: MHN, 2016
O’NEIL, Thomas. A vinda da família real portuguesa para o Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Prefeitura do Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio Editora, 2007
REVISTA ILLUSTRADA (RJ) 1876 a 1894. Rio de Janeiro, edição 539, p.1, 09 mar. 1889. Available at: Acess at 16 jul. 2021.
REVISTA ILLUSTRADA (RJ) 1876 a 1898. Rio de Janeiro, edição 541, p.2, 23 mar. 1889. Available at: Acess at 17 ago. 2021.
RIO DE JANEIRO - MORRO DO INGLÊS. Ipatrimônio. Available at:!/map=38329&loc=-22.943025167149482,-43.20391702326462,17 Acess at 13 ago. 2021.

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