Largo do Boticário, Rio de Janeiro – A Hidden Neocolonial Relic

The colorfully painted frontages of Largo do Boticário

photography by: Omri Westmark

Far off the swarms of Copacabana’s tenacious touts or Sugarloaf Mountain’s endless queues, Largo do Boticário is one of Rio de Janeiro’s well-hidden gems. With a smattering of beautifully designed houses steeped in a luxuriant tropical greenery, the place offers a laid-back alternative to the otherwise hustle and bustle of Brazil’s most visited city.

Less than 2 kilometers away from the throngs of tourists around South America’s most famous monument, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, lies a well-kept secret, where a dash of sumptuous architecture offers a glimpse into Rio’s lesser-known facets.

 

Located in the affluent neighborhood of Cosme Velho, Largo do Boticário (Apothecary’s Square) owes its name to Joaquim Luís da Silva Souto, a local pharmacist who moved here in 1831, relocating his successful medicine-selling business from downtown Rio. At its heyday, Silva Souto’s drugstore was pilgrimed by illustrious figures of the city’s elite, including members of the Brazilian royal family.

 

Almost a century later, the place was purchased by Edmundo Bittencourt, the wealthy owner of Correio da Manhã Newspaper, who embellished the hidden plaza with a series of neocolonial buildings. Interestingly, some of the brightly colored façades were constructed using salvaged materials of colonial-era edifices that were demolished across the city.

 

In the following decades, these intricately ornamented houses became a magnet for key-figures and celebrities from Brazil and all over the world, including Walt Disney. In fact, story has it that the fictional character of Jiminy Cricket (Grilo Falante) who starred in Pinocchio, was born during Disney’s visit when a small cricket perching on the arm of Edmundo’s daughter, Sybil, caught his attention.

 

Largo do Boticário’s days of glory were short lived as somewhere around the late 20th century it was abandoned, subsequently descending into decrepitude, so much so, that at one point, a group of homeless people squatted one of the buildings. In 2018, this secluded nook was bought by the French hospitality company Accor which restored the entire complex and opened the Jo&Joe hotel and restaurant.

 

As of today, Largo do Boticário is open for visitors who wish to soak up its rich historical and architectural heritage. Running alongside the multi-chromatic houses is the mostly underground Carioca River, visible in only few spots throughout Rio, one of which is the iconic plaza of Largo do Boticário.

The hidden complex is accessible via the aptly named “Beco do Boticário” alley

photography by: Omri Westmark


Neatly lined along the square are the lavish façades of the neo-colonial houses

photography by: Omri Westmark


An ornamental arched sculpture in the inner courtyard

photography by: Omri Westmark


The courtyard along with the complex itself are open for visitors all year round

photography by: Omri Westmark


The place’s restaurant

photography by: Omri Westmark


Often brimming with activities, the inner courtyard

photography by: Omri Westmark


Designated for hotel guests and private events alike, the swimming pool

photography by: Omri Westmark


The renovated buildings and the swimming pool

photography by: Omri Westmark