I was looking at a large number of Fon Fon magazine covers from the 1920s when I came across this one from November of 1921. I didn’t recognize the street, which is odd, but I did recognize the name at the bottom – Praia de Santa Luzia. Still, a beautiful tree-lined street near the beach? So I did what any armchair historian would, and pulled the thread, as it were. Here’s what unraveled.
It seems quite likely that street in question, Rua Santa Luzia, is the one on the left of the photo above, beside the Hospital da Misericórdia, which dates back to 1582. There was, of course, a time when there were no trees (1856) and a time when the trees were starting to grow (1895).
Regarding the trees themselves, a blog with an even more narrow topic than mine called Árvores Cariocas, says the following:
“Originally from India, the Figueira-religiosa (Ficus religiosa) was introduced in Brazil by the French landscape artist Glaziou, in the second half of the 19th century. The tree impresses with its size, which can reach 30m high, but also by the sculptures formed by its adventitious roots. In Buddhist culture it is considered a sacred tree, being that under its canopy, Buddha discovered the secrets of life.
Although exotic, the species acclimated well here, being found in several points in the city. A highlighted collection is located on Rua Santa Luzia, in downtown, in front of Santa Casa de Misericórdia. The seedlings were planted in November 1873, by the botanist Francisco Freire Alemão (possibly a German preist).”
Here’s a 1950’s photo of the street:
These days, you’ll find that the street still exists, located near Rio’s domestic airport, Santos Dumont. There are less trees now but you can still get a feel for what it was. And when you try to look to the edge of the city, like so many must have done hundreds of years ago, at the water’s edge, the image is no longer that of man versus the sea, but rather of people spreading their wings.