The City Museum of Manaus

The city of Manaus, in northern Brazil, is called "The Gateway to the Amazon" because it is smack in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. Its boom age was the late 19th/early 20th century, when it was at the center of the rubber industry. The rubber barons brought a lot of European sensibilities to the city as well as opulent displays of insane wealth. It feels a little weird, looking around Manaus, as it does sort of give the impression that several shiny European buildings were plopped in the middle of the jungle. Which, fair, I guess.

The City Museum is housed in the old city hall building, constructed in 1879. And it's frickin' neat. The museum is tech-heavy, at least tech-heavier than I'm used to in a history museum, and it's done really well. You don't even have to take my word for it: The museum has an app. You can go download it now (it's called Museu da Cidade de Manaus). It's got an English setting.

If you're actually at the museum, you're definitely going to want the app. If you don't have it in advance, the museum has free WiFi, in addition to museum-grade air conditioning (yaaasssssssssss).

First up is the Mayors Room, which displays the portraits of Manaus's civic leaders through the years. The app will have the biographical data on these guys, and the decor of the room itself is very Euro-jungle.

The ceiling of the Mayors Room

Next up, the room of Growth Rings! This is an interactive display about the growth of the city of Manaus. You can trigger the projection of the history images by moving your hand over the tree rings where the maps are projected. You can see the relationship between the city's growth and deforestation. If this all sounds very informative and you are wishing you could read more about it and see the projections yourself, you totally can because the museum has them on Youtube and the app links right to it.

The room of growth rings

Next up is the room of Flying Rivers. Yes, all the rooms sound like they're in Hogwarts.

See how the Amazon rainforest fits into the water and carbon cycles (including the impact of Manaus's pollution). The forest's role in water circulation is known as the "flying rivers," according to the museum. I do love it when some good poetic turn of phrase is applied to science stuff. Again, the room's video is linked in the app.

Time for archaeology!

The area around Manaus has been occupied for at least 11,000 years. There's been a lot of research in the region, and this room lets you take a peek, not only through the glass floor but also through VR headsets.

The video is introduced and narrated by a Brazilian university professor with a pretty good speaking voice, which is great for Spanish speakers as it makes him easier for them to understand. For other non-Portuguese speakers, you're a bit out of luck, as the VR has no translation. But it is still a very rad (heh) look at the sites and artifacts. You can see the introduction portion, with English subtitles, through the app.

And now, my second favorite room: the market!

The market

Can't really do better than the app's description: "The marketplace is where the cultural identity of a community manifests itself best--full of life, flavors, aromas, words, and sounds."

You can scan, with your phone, many of the plant labels for recipes and folk stories (also guess what ALL THERE IN THE APP YOU CAN DOWNLOAD RIGHT NOW), although the folk story animations also play in the bottom of a barrel in the room. Which sounds kind of weird but actually really works.

Story barrel

Wandering back over to the other side of museum, there is my favorite room, Affluent Rivers.

The room houses a representation of the rivers around Manaus (in the form of water-filled models), principally the Rio Negro and the Solimões (they join at the Meeting of the Waters to make the Amazon River).

As you move along the water, the history of Manaus in photos is projected onto the surface. Once again, I can't do better than the app: "A timeline is like a river: flowing uninterruptedly, carrying different layers of time, which sometimes overlap, sometimes become separated and then reconnect."

Again, the images are interactive, and can be triggered by the visitor's hand movements. It is such a clever and gorgeous concept, which makes it my favorite room.

Finally, I'm going to mention briefly the Bath of Origins room, which was too difficult to photograph and bit hard to describe, but you stand in the middle of several screens with projections of locals, who give their stories in turn. They are all standing at the river's edge, and after they talk, they dive in, and then you see them swimming on the floor you're standing on. The affect is cool, but there are no English subtitles. HOWEVER, you can see the videos with English subtitles through the power of your imagination. Just kidding, you can totally see them through the museum app, too.

The City Museum is amazingly well done. The interactive elements are creative and well designed. I can't speak highly enough of the museum's app--it's the best museum app I have ever seen. The museum has clearly been heavily invested in, and I hope it continues to be. If the shop had been open, I would have bought a lot of swag because the museum frickin' earned it.

The City Museum is free (FREE!), open from 9am to 430pm Monday through Friday, 9am to 1230pm on Saturday, and the second Sunday of every month from 5pm to 9pm.

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Amy Thorne

Amy Thorne lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she speaks terrible Spanish. She spends a considerable amount of time visiting the museums of the city--big, small, and oddly specific--and writes about them at