Rio de Janeiro

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This article is about the city called Rio de Janeiro. For the state with the same name, see Rio de Janeiro (state).
Ipanema beach
Ipanema beach
Rio de Janeiro's waterfront and the Morro de Castello from the Ilha das Cobras in 1919 by Harriet Chalmers Adams
Rio de Janeiro's waterfront and the Morro de Castello from the Ilha das Cobras in 1919 by Harriet Chalmers Adams
A NASA satellite image of Rio de Janeiro
A NASA satellite image of Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro (meaning River of January in Portuguese) is the name of both a state and a city in southeastern Brazil. Commonly known as just Rio (particularly in English), the city is considered by many to be among the most beautiful cities in the world. It is famous for the hotel-lined tourist beaches Copacabana and Ipanema, for the giant statue of Jesus, known as Christ the Redeemer ("Cristo Redentor") on the Corcovado mountain, and for its yearly Carnival celebration. It also has the biggest forest inside an urban region, called Floresta da Tijuca. The current mayor is Cesar Maia.

Rio de Janeiro is located at 22 degrees, 54 minutes south latitude, 43 degrees 14 minutes west longitude (22°54′ S 43°14′ W). The population of the city proper of Rio de Janeiro is about 6,150,000 (as of 2004), occupying an area of 1256 km² (485 sq. miles). The larger metropolitan area population is estimated at 10-13 million. It is Brazil's second-largest city after São Paulo and was the country's capital until 1960, when Brasília took its place.



The area where Rio de Janeiro is now was reached by Portuguese explorers in an expedition led by Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos in January of 1502. Since the Europeans thought at first the Guanabara Bay was actually the mouth of a river, they called it "Rio de Janeiro", which means January River.

The actual city wasn't founded until March 1st, 1565 by Portuguese knight Estácio de Sá, who called it São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro (St. Sebastian of the January River), in honor of King Sebastian I of Portugal. For centuries, the settlement was commonly called São Sebastião - or even St. Sebastian - instead of the currently popular, second half of its name. It was frequently attacked by pirates and privateers, especially by then enemies of Portugal, such as the Netherlands and France. In the late 16th century, the Portuguese crown began treating the village as a strategic location for Atlantic transit of ships between Brazil, the African colonies, and Europe. Fortresses were built and an alliance was formed with nearby native tribes to defend the settlement against invaders - neighbor Niterói, for instance, was founded by a native chief for supporting defence.

The exact place of Rio's foundation is at the foot of Pão-de-Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). Later, the whole city was moved within a palisade on top of a hill, imitating the medieval European defence strategy of fortified castles - the place has since then been called Morro do Castelo (Castle Hill). Thus the city developed from current Downtown (Centro, see below) southwards and then westwards; an urban movement which continues today.

Until early in the 18th century, the city was threatened or invaded by several - mostly French - pirates and buccaneers, such as Jean-François Duclerc, René Duguay-Trouin, and Nicolas de Villegaignon. After 1720, when the Portuguese found gold and diamonds in the neighbor captaincy of Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro became much more useful port to transport out the wealth than farther Salvador. In 1763, the colonial administration in Portuguese America was moved to Rio.

The city remained mostly a colonial capital until 1808, when the Portuguese Royal Family and most of the Lisbon nobles, fleeing from Napoleon's invasion of Portugal, moved in. The kingdom's capital was transfered to Rio, which then became the only European capital outside of Europe. Since there was no physical space or urban structure to accommodate hundreds of noblemen who arrived suddenly, many inhabitants were simply evicted from their homes.

When Prince Pedro proclaimed the independence of Brazil in 1822, he decided to keep Rio de Janeiro as the capital of his new empire, yet the city region was losing importance - economic and political - to São Paulo.

Until the early years of the twentieth century, the city was largely limited to the neighborhood now known as Centro (see below), currently the business district of the city located towards the north. The city's center of the gravity shifted south to the so-called Zona Sul (South Zone) in the early part of the twentieth century when the first tunnel was built under the mountains located between Botafogo and the neighborhood now known as Copacabana. That beach's natural beauty, combined with the fame of the Copacabana Palace Hotel in the 1930s as the luxury hotel of the Americas, helped Rio to gain the reputation it still holds today as a beachy party town (although it is worth noting that this reputation has been tarnished in recent years by the favela violence due to the narcotics trade).

Rio was maintained as Brazilian capital after the military overthrew the monarchy and imposed a republic in 1889. However, plans for moving the nation's seat city to the territorial center were considered, until president Juscelino Kubitschek was elected in 1955 and took office in 1956 with a promise to build a new capital. Though many thought it was campaign rhetoric, Kubitschek managed to have Brasília built, at great cost, by 1960. On April 21st that year, the capital of Brazil was officially moved from Rio to Brasília.

Between 1960 and 1975, Rio was a city-state (such as Hamburg in Germany) under the name State of Guanabara (after the bay it borders). But, for administrative and political reasons, a presidential decree known as A Fusão (The Fusion) removed the city's federative status and merged it with the state of Rio de Janeiro in 1975. Even today some cariocas claim the return of municipal autonomy.

City districts

The city is commonly divided into the historic downtown (Centro); the tourist-friendly South Zone, with world-famous beaches; the industrial North Zone; the West Zone; and the newer Barra da Tijuca region.


Centro is the historic downtown of the city. Sites of interest include both the historic Church of the Candelaria and the modern-style cathedral, the Municipal Theater, and several museums. Centro remains the heart of the city's business community. The "Bondinho", a trolley car (tram), leaves from a downtown station, crosses a former Roman-style aqueduct - the "Arcos da Carioca" built in 1750 and converted to a tram viaduct in 1896 - and rambles through the hilly streets of the Santa Teresa neighbourhood nearby.

South Zone

A view of Ipanema from Corcovado. The Cagarras Islands can be seen on the background
A view of Ipanema from Corcovado. The Cagarras Islands can be seen on the background

The southern zone of Rio de Janeiro is composed of several districts, amongst them are São Conrado, Leblon, Ipanema, Arpoador, Copacabana and Leme which composes Rio's famous beach coastline. Other districts in the southern zone are Botafogo, Flamengo and Urca which border Guanabara Bay and Lagoa, Jardim Botânico and Laranjeiras which are inland.

The neighbourhood of Copacabana beach hosts one of the world's most spectacular New Year's Eve parties ("Reveillon"), as more than two million revellers crowd onto the sands to watch the firework display. As of 2001, the fireworks have been launched from boats, to improve the safety of the event.

Passing Copacabana and Leme, on the district of Urca lies the Sugarloaf Mountain ("Pão de Açúcar"), whose name characterises the famous hump rising out of the sea. The top can be reached via cable car, accessible from the Hill of Urca ("Morro da Urca"), and offers views second only to Corcovado mountain. One of the highest mountains in the city, however, at 842 meters, is the Pedra da Gávea (Topsail Rock), in São Conrado. Hang gliding is a popular activity in the nearby peak called Pedra Bonita (Beautiful Rock) - after a short flight, they land on the Praia do Pepino beach in São Conrado.

Since 1961, the Tijuca forest ("Floresta da Tijuca"), the largest urban forest in the world, has been a National Park.

North Zone

A picture of the north zone of Rio de Janeiro taken from NASA's Landsat 7
A picture of the north zone of Rio de Janeiro taken from NASA's Landsat 7

The North Zone of Rio is home to the Maracanã stadium, still the world's highest capacity football (soccer) venue, able to hold nearly 200,000 people (the biggest stadium of any type is located in Prague, Czech Republic, however it is not suitable for football). In modern times, the capacity has been reduced to conform with modern safety regulations, and the introduction of seating for all fans. Currently undergoing renovation, it will eventually hold around 120,000. Maracanã will be the site for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and soccer competition of the 2007 Pan American Games.

Besides the Maracanã, the North zone of Rio holds many tourist and historical attractions, such as Manguinhos, the home of Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, a centenarian biomedical research institution, with its main building fashioned like a Moorish castle, and the beautiful Quinta da Boa Vista, the old imperial palace (Paço) which is now the National Museum.

The International Airport of Rio de Janeiro (Galeão–Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport), the main campus of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro at the Fundão Island, and the Governador Island are also located in the Northern part of Rio.

West Zone

The West Zone is the region furthest from the Center of Rio de Janeiro. It includes Barra da Tijuca, Jacarepaguá, Campo Grande, Santa Cruz and Bangu. 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.

To the west of 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 apartments and sprawling shopping malls give the area a far more Americanized feel than the crowded city center. 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 which has exhibited good economic growth is that of Campo Grande. Some sports competitions in the Pan-American Games of 2007 will be held in the Miécimo da Silva Sports Center, nicknamed the "Algodão" (Cotton) Gymnasium, and others in the Ítalo del Cima Stadium, in Campo Grande.

Social Conditions

Main article: Favela

A Rio de Janeiro favela
A Rio de Janeiro favela

Rio is typical of the rest of Brazil in that there are enormous disparities between rich and poor. Though the city clearly ranks among the world's major metropolises, a significant proportion of the city's 13 million inhabitants live amidst poverty. The worst of the poorer areas are the slums and shanty towns known as favelas, often crowded onto the hillsides where sturdy buildings are difficult to build, and accidents, mainly from heavy rainfall, are frequent. The favelas are troubled by widespread drug related crime and gang warfare and other poverty-related social issues.

A unique aspect of Rio's favelas is their incredible proximity to the city's wealthiest districts. Upper-class neighborhoods like Ipanema and Copacabana are squeezed in between the beach and the hills, the latter of which are covered with slum housing. It is worth noting that it is common for an apartment in a wealthy district to face the ocean and beach from the front and to face poor slums from the back. The American School of Rio, the most expensive private school in the city, is located literally within a stone's throw of Rocinha, South America's largest slum, with an estimated population of 200,000; the school's basketball courts and classrooms are visible from the slum.


The carnival in Rio de Janeiro has many choices including the famous Escolas de Samba parades in the sambódromo exhibition center and the popular "blocos de carnaval" that parade in almost every corner of the city. The most famous ones are the following:

  • Cordão do bola preta: Parades in the center of the city, it is one of the most traditional "bloco de carnaval".
  • Ipanema's Gand: Gay parade that goes through the ipanema beach.
  • Suvaco do Cristo: Band that parades in the Botanic Garden, right below the Redeemer statue's arm. The name in English translates to "Christ's armpit", and was chosen for that reason.
  • Carmelitas: Band that was supposedly created by nuns, but in fact it is just an theme chosen by the band. It parades in the hills of Santa Teresa, which have very nice views.


Sports are a very popular pastime in Rio de Janeiro. The most popular is futebol (football/soccer). Rio de Janeiro is host to four traditional Brazilian football clubs: Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco.

Other popular sports are volleyball and beach volleyball, surfing, hang gliding, auto racing, ju jitsu, recreational sailing, and sport rowing. The peculiarly Brazilian dance/sport/martial art capoeira is also popular.

Rio de Janeiro is also a paradise for rock climbers, with hundreds of routes all over the town, ranging from easy boulders to highly technical big walls climbs, all inside the city. The most famous, Rio's granite mountain, the Sugar Loaf (Pao-de-Açucar), is an example, with routes from easy 3rd grade (american 5.4, french 3) to really hard 9th grade (5.13/8b) up to 280 meters.

Rio de Janeiro will host the 2007 Pan-American Games. More notable sports events in Rio includes the MotoGP Brazilian Grand Prix and the World Beach volleyball finals. Jacarepaguá was the place of Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix into 1978-1990.


Famous cariocas

The cariocas as residents of Rio de Janeiro are popularly called in Brazil, have made extensive contributions to Brazil's history, culture, music, literature, education, science, technology, etc. -- particularly when Rio de Janeiro was the federal capital and a great hub of Brazilian growth and innovation in all these areas. Some important cariocas who were born in Rio:


In 1992 the city hosted the UNCED Earth Summit on Sustainable development.

In the near future it will host the 2007 Pan American Games from July 13-29, 2007. Copacabana beach will be the site of the triathlon and beach volleyball with yachting competitions held in Guanabara Bay. The city is building a new stadium near the Maracanã, to hold 45,000 people. It will be named after Brazilian ex-FIFA president João Havelange. Rio de Janeiro was also a candidate for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Rio has also been used as a backdrop for many films, such as 007 Moonraker (1979), Blame it on Rio (1984), Bossa Nova (2000), and City of God (2002).

In The Simpsons' episode Blame it on Lisa, the family visited Rio de Janeiro, only to encounter a myriad of ludicrously exaggerated problems. The episode angered several tourist officials and they threatened to sue the producers of the show.

The Harbor of Rio de Janeiro was declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World by CNN.

See also

External links

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