The Ladeira da Misericórdia was the first public street in Rio de Janeiro, and it led up to Morro do Castelo where the city was ultimately established in 1567. That’s when the then-governor general Mem de Sá transferred the city center there from Urca, along with about 120 Portuguese soldiers, as a strategic security measure to protect the city from invasion. The Ladeira was just a dirt path for the first 50 years until it was paved in 1617.
Morro do Castelo was demolished in 1922 to landfill other parts of Rio, but next to the existing Church of Nossa Senhora do Bonsucesso one can find a small, 40 meter initial stretch of the oldest Carioca street. Despite ending abruptly after the curve, it still features its original cobblestones (in a format known as “pé de moleque”), a job done by two slaves and a mule.
In September 2017, IPHAN will vote on whether the Ladeira da Misericórdia receives protection as a piece of Rio’s cultural heritage, since it has already given such status to important historical elements in the immediate vicinity. The obvious answer is that it should have had protected status a long, long time ago. At least it no longer looks abandoned as it did in the 1960s…
Below are a few historical images of the Ladeira, followed by a short educational video (in PT) on the street.