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Brazil’s 200-year-old national museum hit by huge fire

Read the full article on the BBC website:

A fire has gutted the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro, the oldest scientific institution in the country.

Most of the 20 million items it contained, including the oldest human remains discovered in the Americas, are believed to have been destroyed.

Firefighters are working to put out the blaze. No injuries have been reported.

The museum, which once served as the residence for the Portuguese royal family, celebrated its 200th anniversary this year.

The fire started on Sunday evening, after the facility had closed for the day. The cause is not known.

Aerial images broadcast on Brazilian television showed it spreading throughout the building.

This isn’t just Brazilian history that’s gone up in flames. Many see this as a metaphor for the city – and the country as a whole.

Rio de Janeiro is in crisis. Growing violence, a deep economic decline and political corruption have combined to make the city a shadow of what it once was. It was only in 2016 that it was hosting the Olympic Games – an event into which Brazil poured billions of dollars.

But the hangover from the sporting event has hit Rio hard. Add to that the fact that federal spending has been slashed, and with violence on the rise, tourism numbers have also declined.

This was a museum that many saw as long ignored and underfunded – now, with devastating consequences for Brazil’s heritage.

Among the 20 million items it housed were archaeological artefacts, fossils and the largest meteorite discovered in the country.

The natural history collection included dinosaur bones and a 12,000-year-old skeleton of a woman known as “Luzia”, the oldest ever found in the Americas.

The building was also home to items covering the centuries from the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1500s to the declaration of a republic in 1889, as well as a vast archive on Brazil’s indigenous communities.

Portugal’s royal family transferred the court to the building in 1808, when the country faced with the threat of invasion from Napoleon.

Art and artefacts from Greco-Roman times and Egypt were also on display at the museum.

Employees had reportedly previously expressed concern about funding cuts and the dilapidated state of the building.

The institution was established in 1818 as the Royal Museum with the aim of promoting scientific research by making its collection available to specialists.