It is famous for its spectacular natural setting, its Carnival celebrations, samba and other music, hotel-lined tourist beaches, such as Copacabana and Ipanema, paved with decorated black and cream swirl pattern mosaics known locally as “pedra portuguesa”. Some of the most famous local landmarks in addition to the beaches include the giant statue of Jesus, known as Christ the Redeemer (‘Cristo Redentor’) atop Corcovado mountain, which has recently been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World; Sugarloaf mountain (Pão de Açúcar) with its cable car; the Sambódromo, a giant permanent parade stand used during Carnival; and Maracanã stadium, one of the world’s largest football stadiums. Rio also boasts the two world’s largest forests inside an urban area. The first is the forest in Parque Estadual da Pedra Branca, or White Stone State Park. The second, almost connected to the first, is the famous Floresta da Tijuca, or ‘Tijuca Forest’. The Galeão – Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport connects Rio de Janeiro with many Brazilian cities and also operates several international flights.
Despite its charm and beauty, Rio is reputed to be one of the most violent cities in the world.
Rio de Janeiro is located at 22 degrees, 54 minutes south latitude, 43 degrees 14 minutes west longitude. The population of the City of Rio de Janeiro is about 6,136,652, occupying an area of 1,182.3 square kilometres (456.5 sq mi). The population of the larger metropolitan area is estimated at 11-12 million. It was Brazil’s capital until 1960, when Brasília took its place. Residents of the city are known as Cariocas. The city’s current mayor (2006) is Cesar Maia. The official song of Rio is “Cidade Maravilhosa” (translated as “Marvelous City”).
Rio has a Tropical climate. The temperature occasionally reaches over 40°C (104°F) in inland areas of the city, and maximum temperatures above 30°C (86°F) can happen every month. In the main tourist areas (south side, where the beaches are located), the temperature is moderated by the cool sea-breezes from the ocean. The average annual minimum temperature is 20°C (68°F), the average annual maximum temperature is 26°C (79°F) and the average annual temperature is 23°C (73.5°F). The average yearly precipitation is 1,086 mm. The minimum temperature ever registered was 4°C (40°F) in July 1928, but temperatures around 7°C (54°F) are rare in most of city, the absolute maximum reached 43.8°C (110°F) in January 1984.
Centro is the historic centre of the city, as well as its financial centre. Sites of interest include the Paço Imperial, built during colonial times to serve as a residence for the Portuguese governors of Brazil; many historic churches, such as the Candelária Church, the colonial Cathedral and the modern-style Rio de Janeiro Cathedral. Around the Cinelândia square there are several landmarks of the Belle Époque of Rio, such as the Municipal Theatre and the National Library building. Among its several museums, the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) and the Museu Histórico Nacional (National Historical Museum) are the most important. Other important historical attractions in central Rio include its Passeio Público, an 18th century public garden, as well as the imposing arches of the Arcos da Lapa, a Roman-style aqueduct built around 1750. A bondinho (tram) leaves from a city center station, crosses the aqueduct (converted to a tram viaduct in 1896) and rambles through the hilly streets of the Santa Teresa neighbourhood nearby. Downtown remains the heart of the city’s business community. Some of the largest companies in Brazil have their head offices here, including Petrobras and Vale (formerly Companhia Vale do Rio Doce), the two largest Brazilian corporations.
The South Zone of Rio de Janeiro is composed of several districts, amongst which are São Conrado, Leblon, Ipanema, Arpoador, Copacabana and Leme, which compose Rio’s famous Atlantic beach coastline. Other districts in the South Zone are Glória, Flamengo, Botafogo and Urca, which border Guanabara Bay and Santa Teresa, Cosme Velho, Laranjeiras, Humaitá, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico and Gávea. It is the richest region of the city and the most famous overseas. The neighbourhood of Copacabana beach hosts one of the world’s most spectacular New Year’s Eve parties (“Reveillon”), as more than two million revelers crowd onto the sands to watch the fireworks display. As of 2001, the fireworks have been launched from boats, to improve the safety of the event. To the north of Leme, and at the entrance to Guanabara Bay, is the district of Urca and the Sugarloaf Mountain (‘Pão de Açúcar’), whose name describes the famous mountain rising out of the sea. The summit can be reached via a two-stage cable car trip from Praia Vermelha, with the intermediate stop on Morro da Urca. It offers views second only to Corcovado mountain. One of the highest hills in the city is the 842 metres (2,762 ft) high Pedra da Gávea (Crow’s nest Rock) near the botanical gardens. On the top of its summit is a huge rock formation (some, such as Erich von Däniken in his 1973 book, “In Search of Ancient Gods”, claim it to be a sculpture) resembling a sphinx-like, bearded head that is visible for many kilometers around. Hang gliding is a popular activity on the nearby Pedra Bonita (Beautiful Rock). After a short flight, gliders land on the Praia do Pepino (Cucumber Beach) in São Conrado. Since 1961, the Tijuca Forest (“Floresta da Tijuca”), the largest city-surrounded urban forest and the second largest urban forest in the world, has been a National Park. The largest urban forest in the world is the Floresta da Pedra Branca (White Rock Forest), which is also located in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The Catholic University of Rio (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro or PUC-Rio) is located at the edge of the forest, in the Gávea district. The 1984 film Blame it on Rio was filmed nearby, with the rental house used by the story’s characters sitting at the edge of the forest on a mountain overlooking the famous beaches.
The North Zone of Rio is home to the Maracanã stadium, once the world’s highest capacity football (soccer) venue, able to hold nearly 180,000 people, as it did the World Cup final of 1950. In modern times its capacity has been reduced to conform with modern safety regulations and the stadium has introduced seating for all fans. Currently undergoing renovation, it has now the capacity for 95,000 fans; it will eventually hold around 120,000 people. Maracanã was site for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and football competition of the 2007 Pan-American Games. Besides the Maracanã, the North Zone of Rio also holds other tourist and historical attractions, such as ‘Manguinhos’, the home of Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, a centenarian biomedical research institution with a main building fashioned like a Moorish palace, and the beautiful Quinta da Boa Vista, the park where the historical old Imperial Palace is located. Nowadays, the palace hosts the National Museum, specializing in Natural History, Archaeology and Ethnology. The International Airport of Rio de Janeiro, the main campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro at the Fundão Island, and the State University of Rio de Janeiro, in Maracanã, are also located in the Northern part of Rio. This region is also home to most of the Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro such as Mangueira, Salgueiro, Império Serrano, Unidos da Tijuca, among others. Some of the main neighbourhoods of Rio’s North Zone are Tijuca — which shares the Tijuca Rainforest with the South Zone — Grajaú, Vila Isabel, Méier, São Cristovão Madureira and Olaria among others.
The West Zone is the region furthest from the centre of Rio de Janeiro. It includes Barra da Tijuca, Jacarepaguá, Recreio dos Bandeirantes, Vargem Grande, Vargem Pequena, Realengo, Padre Miguel, Bangu, Campo Grande, Jardim Sulacap, Paciência and Santa Cruz. Neighbouring districts within the West Zone reveal stark differences between social classes. The area has industrial zones, but some agricultural areas still remain in its wide area. Westwards from the older zones is Barra da Tijuca, a flat expanse of formerly undeveloped coastal land, which is currently experiencing a wave of new construction. It remains an area of accelerated growth, attracting some of the richer sectors of the population as well as luxury companies. High rise flats and sprawling shopping centres give the area a far more American feel than the crowded city centre. The urban planning of the area, made in the late 1960s, resembles that of United States suburbs, though mixing zones of single-family houses with residential skyscrapers. The beaches of Barra da Tijuca are also popular with the city’s residents. Barra da Tijuca is the home of Pan-American Village for the 2007 Pan American Games. Beyond the neighbourhoods of Barra da Tijuca and Jacarepaguá, another district that has exhibited economic growth is Campo Grande. Some sports competitions in the Pan-American Games of 2007 were held in the Miécimo da Silva Sports Centre, nicknamed the ‘Algodão’ (Cotton) Gymnasium, and others in the Ítalo del Cima Stadium, in Campo Grande.
The Brazilian Carnaval is an annual festival in Brazil held 4 days before Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of Lent. During Lent, Roman Catholics are supposed to abstain from all bodily pleasures, including the consumption of meat. The carnival, celebrated as a profane event and believed to have its origins in the pagan Saturnalia, can thus be considered an act of farewell to the pleasures of the flesh.Brazilian Carnival as a whole exhibits some differences with its counterparts in Europe and other parts of the world, and within Brazil it has distinct regional manifestations. Brazilian citizens used to riot until the Carnival was accepted by the government as an expression of culture. That was because the Brazilian carnival had its origin in a Portuguese festivity called “entrudo”.
Rio de Janeiro has many Carnival choices, including the famous Samba school (Escolas de Samba) parades in the sambadrome exhibition centre and the popular blocos de carnaval, which parade in almost every corner of the city. The most famous ones are:
Cordão do Bola Preta: Parades in the centre of the city. It is one of the most traditional carnavals. In 2006, it gathered 200,000 people in one day.
Suvaco do Cristo: Band that parades in the Botanic Garden, directly below the Redeemer statue’s arm. The name, in English, translates as ‘Christ’s armpit’, and was chosen for that reason.
Carmelitas: Band that was supposedly created by nuns, but in fact it is just a theme chosen by the band. It parades in the hills of Santa Teresa, which have very nice views.
Simpatia é Quase Amor: One of the most popular parades in Ipanema. Translates as ‘Friendliness is almost love’.
Banda de Ipanema: The most traditional in Ipanema. It attracts a wide range of revellers, including families and a wide spectrum of the gay population (notably spectacular drag queens).
In 1840 the first Carnaval was celebrated with a masked ball. As years passed, adorned floats and costumed revelers became a tradition amongst the celebrants. Carnaval is known as a historic root of Brazilian music.
Modern Brazilian Carnival finds its roots in Rio de Janeiro in 1845, when the city’s bourgeoisie imported the practice of holding balls and masquerade parties from Paris. It originally mimicked the European form of the festival, over time acquiring elements derived from Native American and African cultures.
In the late 19th century, the cordões (literally laces or strings in Portuguese) were introduced in Rio de Janeiro. These were groups of people who would go paradeing through the streets playing music and dancing. Today they are known as blocos (blocks), consisting of a group of people who dress in costumes or specials t-shirts according to certain themes or to celebrate the Carnival. Blocos are generally associated with particular neighbourhoods or suburbs and include both a percussion or music group and an entourage of revellers.
This “blocos” have become a big part of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival. There are more than 100 “blocos” nowadays and each year this number increases. Some are big, some are small, most concentrate in square and later parade though the streets and a few stay in the same place all the time. Each “bloco” has its place or street to parade and the big ones usually close the streets for car traffic. They usually start in January and last till the end of Carnival, so since the beginning of the year you can see a group of people dancing samba in any street of Rio in the weekends and during Carnival every day.
“Blocos” parade in Copacabana, Ipanema, Leblon, Lagoa, Jardim Botânico, and in the centre of Rio. Usually the people who organize the “bloco” write their own music, which is played at all time during the parade, along with old carnival favourites called in Portuguese “Marchinhas de carnaval”, and sambas that have become classics. Some important “blocos” are “O cordão do bola preta”, that goes through the heart of Rio’s historical center, and “Suvaco do Cristo” (Christ’s armpit in Portuguese), in the neighbourhood, near Rio’s Botanic Garden. Monobloco is another bloco that has become so famous that their band plays all year round in parties and small concerts.
Samba schools are very large, well-financed organizations that work year round in preparation for Carnival. Parading in the Sambadrome runs over four entire nights and is part of an official competition, divided into seven divisions, in which a single samba school will be declared that year’s winner. Blocos deriving from the samba schools also hold street parties in their respective suburbs, through which they parade along with their followers.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, the carnival or Carnaval of Salvador de Bahia is the biggest street party on the planet. For an entire week, almost 2 million people celebrate throughout 25 kilometers (15 miles) of streets, avenues and squares. The direct organisation of the party involves the participation of 25 thousand people. Its dimensions are gigantic. Salvador receives an average of 800 thousand visitors from municipalities located as far as 150 kilometers (93 miles) away, from several States of Brazil and from a number of other countries (Europe, USA and many others).
The music played during Carnaval includes Axé and Samba-reggae. Many “blocos” participate in Carnaval, the “blocos afros” like Malé Debalé, Olodum and Filhos de Gandhi being the most famous of them. Carnival is heavily policed. Stands with five or six seated police officers are erected everywhere and the streets are constantly patrolled by police groups moving in single file.
The three Carnival Circuits are:
The Campo Grande – Praça Castro Alves Circuit, also called the “Osmar” Circuit, or simply the “Avenidas”;
The Barra – Ondina Circuit, also called the “Dodô” Circuit;
The Pelourinho Circuit, also called the “Batatinha” Circuit.
There are several major differences between Carnival in the state of Bahia in Brazil’s Northeast Region and Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The musical styles are different in each carnival; in Bahia there are many rhythms, including samba, samba-reggae, axé, and others, which are performed on a truck equipped with giant speakers and a platform where musicians play called a trio-elétrico. Massive numbers of people follow the trucks singing and dancing. The “Indian” groups were inspired by Western movies from the United States. The groups dress up as Native Americans and take on Native American names. Blocos Afros, or Afro groups, were influenced by the Black Pride Movement in the United States, independence movements in Africa, and reggae music that denounced racism and oppression. The groups inspired a renewed pride in African heritage.
The state of Pernambuco, another Northeast Region state, has a unique Carnival in its capital, Recife and in the near city of Olinda with the main rhythms called frevo and maracatu and the Galo da Madrugada, the biggest carnival parade in the world considering the number of participants, according The Guinness Book of World Records, as well as in other cities like Olinda and on the island of Itamaraca. Frevo is a type of music from Pernambuco especially typical.
Unlike the Carnaval in Salvador or Rio, Pernambuco’s festivities do not include competitions between parade groups. Big groups in magnificent parades dance side by side with improvised others. Troças and maracatus, mostly of African influence, begin one week before Carnival and end on the Sunday after Carnival up until Ash Wednesday. There are well-known groups with funny names such as: Tell me you love me, damn it, The Midnight Man (with a famous giant dancing doll that leads the group), Crazy Lover, Olinda’s Underpants and The Door.
herokas also holds some important carnival parades, mainly in the historic, baroque stylized cities like Ouro Preto, Mariana and Diamantina. There are also other major carnivals in the region, such as the one in Pompéu. Carnival em Minas Gerais is often characterized by blocos carnavalescos (carnival blocks) with varying themes and fantasy styles, almost always acompanied by fanfares (having at least fanfare on practically every town is a musical characteristic of the state). However, Minas Gerais carnival received firstly influence from Rio de Janeiro Carnival (several cities have their own samba schools) and later, some Axé groups from Bahia came to play in the state every carnival.