Eugene Holley, Jr.
The many worlds that this South American capital offers you
all the year long.
I. Rio de Janeiro is known as the “Cidade Marvilhosa” (marvelous city) thanks to its cool and cosmopolitan beaches Leme, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon; and its world-famous Carnaval, which occurs in the last week of February. It marches with the pompand pageantry of its Portuguese/Roman empire origins and swings with the African beat of the samba. To get to Carnaval requires booking no less than a year in advance.
II. But if you visit this Brazilian city of about six million people in November, when the temperature averages about 85 degrees, you might discover a Rio beyond Carnaval; a Rio of many worlds forged by five centuries ofAmerindian, European, and African historical and cultural interaction. The city’s bairros (districts) offer a variety of contrasting landscapes and buildings.
III. There’s the neocolonial Parque das Ruinas (Ruins Park), the converted Murtinho Nobre Palace of Laurinda Santos in the hills of Santa Teresa, the sailboat and kayak friendly Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, and the futuristic cylindrical,pyramid-shaped Metropolitan Cathedral in the Centro - the business district.
Urbanity and Nature
IV. Urbanity and nature have embraced since the city was founded January 1, 1502, by the Portuguese captain André Gonçalves Coelho, who christened the land surrounding Guanabara Bay “Rio de Janeiro” (River of January), because he thought he had discovered the estuary of a great river.
V. The 1,296-footSugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Azucar), which shadows the bay, offers a spectacular view of the city via its cable car ride. The Botanical Gardens house over 5,000 species of plants with a number of prize sculptures from Brazilian sculptor Mestre Valetim.
VI. It’s a united nations of flora founded in 1809 by Prince Dom João VI, the Portuguese monarch who relocated his court to Rio one year earlierto escape Napoleon.
VII. The gardens are located next to the Tijuca Forest, the world’s largest urban forest. The Tijuca National Park abounds with waterfalls, grottos, peaks, and lookout points that make it a perfect spot for hiking, hang-gliding, and family picnics. | |
VIII. The highest destination of the forest is the 2,310-foot peak Corcovado (hunchback). Topping this mountain is thehaunting 1931 statue of Christ the Redeemer, which rises 131 feet into the sky.
Old Brazilian Capital
IX. Rio has many churches, like Our Lady of Candelaria Church, built in 1775, with its baroque and Byzantine architectural influences in the downtown district. The sparse, but equally impressive Our Lady of Rosario Church houses a moving moving slave museum.
X. From 1889 to 1960, Rio was thecapital of Brazil and the seat of the Portuguese empire. The 2,200-seat Municipal Theater, which opened in 1909, is a neoclassic masterpiece designed like the Paris Opera House down to its Louis XV-style golden foyer. It’s the country’s most prestigious venue, and its lunch hour opera recitals are a moving feast of sound. The National Museum of Fine Arts, the Casa Franca-Brasil, and the dazzlingBelle Époque decor of the Confeitaria Colombo Restaurant also show strong Gallic influences.
XI. Then there’s the culinary Rio. Feijoada is the Brazilian version of African-American “soul food.” It’s a tasty dish made of pork, sausage, and beef served with farofa, fried onion and egg mixed with manioc flour and rice. Guaraná is the national soft drink that tastes like ginger alewith a pinch of strawberry. Then there’s churrasco (barbecue) which you can enjoy at excellent Churrascarias.
XII. The people of Rio call themselves cariocas, and their festive character is best expressed by their energetic samba schools: large working class ensembles that represent the city’s neighborhoods during Carnaval. Try to observe a rehearsal of a samba school like the Unidos da Tijuca...