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There are little corners of history scattered in the most unlikely of places across Rio. Blink-and-they're-gone buildings of beauty and intrigue that you pass every once in a while and resolve to visit and learn more about but just as often remain forgotten until the next time you pass by.
Ilha Fiscal is a case in point. The peppermint-green neo-gothic wonder that inhabits its own little island off the port area of Centro looks so incongruous as to be almost unreal; perfectly preserved, accessible only by thin road or boat, its an absolute must for anyone looking to complete their knowledge of Rio's intriguing history.
The boat Nogueira da Gama provides the access to the palace (on occasions when it is not running a mini-bus takes over), and believe it or not the 80-seat vessel fills up year round. Getting your ticket early from the Espaço Cultura da Marina is therefore a good idea, at the back of Praça XV in downtown with three departures per day setting off between midday and 4pm.
Conceived by Emperor Dom Pedro II in 1882 to be used a customs house, construction was completed seven years later. What had first been intended as a simple government building was turned into something considerably finer after the Emperor insisted that any building with such a location must be a 'dazzling jewel' to befit the 'dazzling jewel box' in which it sat.
Fittingly then, the last ball of the empire was held here the very same year it was inaugurated, 1889 being when the Empire fell and the Republic of Brazil was declared. Two thousand guests were honoured to attend the last royal event before the building was turned over to the government, who in turn gave it over to the Navy in 1914.
It now houses a Naval museum as well as a complete history of the Island, and its restoration in 2001 turned it in to one of the most popular attractions of its kind in the city. The stunning architectural details, columns, flooring and carvings remain, and guided tours lasting an hour and twenty minutes bring even more colour to the remarkable history within.
14 May 2012.