Updated on Oct.2, 2012
Parque Lage, at the foot of the Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, has preserved woods that are part of the Tijuca National Park, artistically designed gardens and a palazzo built by Brazilian entrepreneur Henrique Lage (1881-1941) for his wife, Italian opera singer Gabriella Besanzoni (1888-1962).
The mansion is now used by Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage (www.eavparquelage.rj.gov.br), part of the State Culture Secretariat. The park's green areas and architecture are protected heritage.
Located near the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, Parque Lage is a perfect place for plein air painting, sketching and photography. Explore the gardens, parts of which still retain some of the original 1840 design by British landscaping artist John Tyndale, commissioned by the property's previous owner, an Englishman.
The land, which had been the site of a sugar mill in colonial times, had previously belonged to Rodrigo de Freitas de Mello Castro, who lent his name to nearby Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas.
Antônio Martins Lage, founder of an important shipping company, bought the the property in the mid 19th century. It would later belong to his son Henrique, who had some sections of the gardens redesigned when the new was house built.
The house in Eclectic style designed by Italian architect Mario Vodrel has a facade with a portico, a central patio and pool and frescoes by Salvador Sabaté.
Rows of Royal Palms leading from the gates to the house, ponds, artificial caves, a water fountain, bridges, kiosks, and a playground are some of the attractions. From the park, there's a trail leading up to tramway behind the Paineiras Hotel complex. Don't take it alone, even if you're an experienced hiker; instead, look for local adventure travel companies that offer the tour, such as CaminhArte or Brasil Active.
The park underwent several improvements in 2002. It had been upgraded in 1920-30 and 1930-40. Songwriter Tom Jobim, a Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden enthusiast, and his son João Francisco once planted a palm tree in Parque Lage. The moment is portrayed in a bronze sculpture at the park.
About Henrique and Gabriella Besanzoni Lage:
Henrique Lage was one of Brazil's greatest entrepreneurs. The son of coal and shipping magnate Antônio Martins Lage, who died in 1913, he became the head of the family's business - Companhia Nacional de Navegação Costeira, widely known as Costeira - when one of his brothers detached himself from the company and two other brothers died, victims of the Spanish Flu pandemic.
Later joined by two brothers, then again alone at the helm of companies in several fields - shipping, coal, salt, marble - Henrique Lage became one of the country's richest men. An opera aficionado, he fell in love with Italian mezzo soprano Gabriella Besanzoni when she was performing in Rio de Janeiro.
After their marriage, she stopped performing professionally. They divided their time between the property that's now Parque Lage and a home in Santa Catarina.
Read more about the couple (in Portuguese) in Navios e Portos ("Ships and Ports"), under "Costeira".
The couple's story has been beautifully portrayed in Um Rei Chamado Henrique (A King Called Henrique), a 2005 documentary directed by José Frazão and Liliane Motta da Silveira and produced by Florianópolis-based SET Cinema & Televisão. Watch excerpts (in Portuguese) on YouTube.
Next page: The Café at Parque Lage
Daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Address & Contact InformationRua Jardim Botânico 414
Rio de Janeiro - RJ
Tijuca National Park website: www.parquedatijuca.com.br