Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro – beyond the Carnival and the Olympic Games

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most famous cities in the world. Samba, beach, and beautiful women – in one word, fun. The association is so powerful, that you can find, in different parts of the world, hundreds of brands who were named after or inspired by Rio. The Rio Carnival is the epitome of this state of mind.

And here you have it: in 2016, Rio de Janeiro becomes the host city of the Olympics. It’s a much bigger premiere than you may realize: because it’s the first time the Olympic Games took place in South America. The choice is appropriate: sports are fun too – at least for the hundreds of thousands of spectators.

But laying aside the carnival and the Olympics, which remain two punctual events, it is a city that might have something else hidden in the cupboard. The “skeletons” will be revealed to you in the following lines…

Rio de Janeiro – beginnings

is the year when Portuguese colonists lay the foundations of the Rio de Janeiro district.

The district was found in 1565 by a Portuguese army, which fought fiercely for two years to banish the French colonists who had settled a decade earlier on an island nearby.

You know that Portuguese like long names. So they called it São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro 1)Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the Western Hemisphere” by David Marley, book published by ABC-CLIO in 2008.

Nowadays, it’s enough to call it “Rio” and it becomes pretty clear what you’re talking about. If you speak a bit of Portuguese or Spanish, you must have figured it out that “rio” means “river”.

The place was the perfect choice – sunny beach, welcoming bay, woody mountains… Everything your heart desires, except for a river.

Those who found the place thought that the bay was situated by the mouth of a river. And they didn’t bother to actually find the river, for they had better things to do: butchering a French, bathing in the sun, these kind of things. But they did name the inexistent river nonetheless. They kept scratching their heads until the brilliant idea made its way out. And because it was January, they called it Rio de Janeiro, which means The River of January. Had they discovered it in April, it would have been called a prank.

If you got it, the district was actually called São Sebastião. But, somehow, Rio de Janeiro was more catchy. Maybe because it sounded funnier.

Rio de Janeiro was the capital of… Portugal

years lasted the colonial expansion of the Portuguese.

So, banishing the French, the Portuguese colonialists gained full control over the region, thus enlarging enormously the Portuguese Empire. Because, if you skipped History classes, I’ll tell you about it: Portugal was once a colonial empire, spanning all over the world. Moreover, it was the most long-lasting European empire, with colonies in possession between 1415 (the conquest of the Ceuta enclave located on the north coast of Africa) and 1999 (the concession of the Macau region to China) 2)Portuguese Empire” in New World Encyclopedia.

Portugal is relatively a small country, both by territory and by the number of people. But the Portuguese men have always been deft sailors. This, plus an outstanding curiosity, which urged most of them to become explorers. As soon as they landed on an unclaimed territory or where there was no massive force to stop them, they would declare it as the property of the Portuguese Empire. Just as children do: I found it, it’s mine.

That’s why there are places in the world where you can surprisingly hear people speaking in Portuguese. But the land where Brazil is today was no island or wilderness. The Portuguese found a wide area, full of resources, on the fat of which they lived off.

The Portuguese Empire was big and tough. So big and tough, that in 1807, when Napoleon Bonaparte threatened he would invade Portugal, the whole Court moved itself to… Rio de Janeiro. I’m not talking about the people who occupied the most important positions, but the almost 16,000 of subjects 3)Colonialism: An International Social, Cultural, and Political Encyclopedia“, book published by ABC-CLIO in 2003. For those times, this was an astonishing number.

So much so, that in 1808, Rio de Janeiro became the capital city of the Kingdom of Portugal. And so it remained until 1821. (If you didn’t get it, it is the year Napoleon Bonaparte died 4)Napoleon I” in Encyclopedia Britannica.)

Along with the coming of the Portuguese Court, the good part for Rio de Janeiro was that the city became more civilized and economically stronger, a landmark of the New World.

In 1822, Brazil obtained its independency. And Rio de Janeiro was its first capital city, because it already had all the needed administrative facilities.

The Brazilian flag makes a reference to Rio

It’s obvious for anyone that Brazil has one of the most original national flag in the world. Where did it come from?!

Brazil declared its independency on September 7, 1822, becoming the empire of Brazil. And, as a new-born country, it suits best a new flag.

Turbulent times were shaking the region. Secession wars, the battle for supremacy and other military past-times. Until Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca took hold of the power, turning Brazil into a military dictatorship. So much so, that on November 15th 1889, Brazil became a Republic. With a brand new flag, of course.

Ordem e Progresso
The motto on the Brazilian flag is the shorten version of the positivism motto given by Auguste Comte: “Love as a principle and order as the basis; progress as the goal.”

The flag preserves the previous background, as a symbol of continuity. But the blazon, with a medieval aspect, was replaced by a very modern one: a starry sky.

If you think that the stars were put there at random, you’re wrong. This is a flag as scientific as possible. It represents the most shining stars, as they could be seen in the night of the declaration of independency on the sky raising above the capital. Which means… Rio de Janeiro.

Rio de Janeiro has a much larger population than Portugal itself

In the last two centuries, Rio de Janeiro has grown faster than the heroes of fairytales. It simply attracts people like something given for free.

According to the estimations offered by Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (the governmental agency which deals with statistics, among other things), in 2015, Rio de Janeiro had 6,476,631 inhabitants. (But still it is the second largest city in Brazil, after São Paulo, with 11,967,825 inhabitants 5)IBGE divulga as estimativas populacionais dos municípios em 2015” – study released by Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística on the 28th August 2015.)

Don’t forget that Rio de Janeiro is not just a city, but also a metropolis. And if we also count in the suburbs, then we’ll obtain something much bigger. According to the statistics of the same institute, in 2015 the metropolis had twice the number of inhabitants: 12,280,703. (Of course, it was still outnumbered by the same São Paulo, with 21,090,791 inhabitants 6)IBGE divulga as estimativas populacionais dos municípios em 2015” – study released by Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística on the 28th August 2015. Actually, this is the biggest conurbation in the South America.

As a comparison, in 2015, the population in the “mother” Portugal was 10,825,309 7)Portugal” în The World Factbook. And it’s decreasing 8)Portugal’s birthrate plummeting, a signal of more economic trouble ahead” by Anthony Faiola, article published in The Washington Post on June 23rd 2013.

The culture rush

Since becoming the capital of a multi-continental empire, Rio de Janeiro has been aspiring to become a great… European city. It mimicked all it was there to mimic.

For example, Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, opened in 1909, was built after the Palais Garnier, the building of the Opera in Paris 9)Performing Brazil: Essays on Culture, Identity, and the Performing Arts” – book published by University of Wisconsin Press in 2015. Over the years, music shows featuring top names have taken place. And I’m not referring to samba.

Rio de Janeiro is also a city of museums. There are more than 50 of them.

Some of them are classic. As a foreign tourist, you can wake one morning in Rio, wander on the streets and find yourself in front of… an European palace!?! There is no time-space distortion by means of which you arrived in Paris overnight. You are at the former summer palace of the imperial times, which is now Museu Imperial de Petrópolis. Nowadays, it has a historical purpose, but it is also hosting a large gallery of art. It is one of the most visited museums in Brazil.

On the other hand, the more recent built museums in Rio are truly astonishing because of their modern aspect. When you lay your eyes on such precious architectural jewels, you forget that you actually came to see what’s inside of them.

The face of Christ the Redeemer was sculpted by a Romanian

Probably the most well-known symbol of the metropolis is the huge statue that watches over the Rio de Janeiro: Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). But how did it get there?

Everybody knows that Rio means beach. A lot of it. Day and night.

Not many foreigners realize that Rio also means mountains. True, those are not the highest mountains that one has ever seen. But there are a lot of them and they start from the sea level. Some of them are rising up from the sea itself.

The highest peak is Corcovado – 710 m 10)Rio: The Story of the Marvelous City” by Orde Morton, book published by FriesenPress in 2015. The translation of the name is “The Hunchback”. The name originates from the impressive form of the granite cliff.

The suggestions began to arise – especially on behalf of some Catholic groups – to build a monument on the Corcovado. The suggestion from 1920 actually took roots, being supported both by signatures, as well by donations, by a great number of Catholics.

The construction began in 1922, the difficult task being assigned to Heitor da Silva Costa, a Brazilian engineer.

For the artistic part was hired Paul Landowski. He was a French sculptor, with Polish origins – as the name suggests. At that time, he was living and working in Paris.

There he met Gheorghe Leonida, a Romanian sculptor. He was from Galati, member of a large family, among which you can find other important names, such as Elisa Leonida Zamfirescu (one of the first engineer women, renowned on an international scale) and Dimitrie Leonida (the creator of a technical museum).

After graduating from the Conservatory of Fine Arts of Bucharest, Gheorghe Leonida fought in the Great War. Afterwards, he continued his studies in Italy. Receiving prize after prize, he then arrived in Paris, where he quickly became known for the expressiveness of the faces he sculpted.

So much so, that Paul Landowski subcontracted to Gheorghe Leonida the most interesting part of the monumental sculpture: the head of Jesus. Because another part of the bodymay fail to attract the eye, but not the face, which everyone’s looking at.

The monument of Cristo Redentor was inaugurated on November 12, 1921. It has 30 m in height, without the 8-meter pedestal, being the world’s tallest Art Deco work (but not the tallest sculpture representing Jesus). It has been illuminated at night-time ever since.

The sculpture can be entered – for maintenance reasons only. Or, at least, this should be the case, unless some fearsome explorer decides otherwise:

Rio hosted the greatest football games in the history of all times

Everybody knows that Brazilian people love football. But Rio de Janeiro has something special. It’s the birthplace of Zico, Ronaldo, Romário, Jairzinho, and other football players that turned into legends. Moreover, here you can find the navel of the world: Maracanã Stadium.

The Temple of the Brazilian Football was inaugurated in 1950, for the occasion of the FIFA World Cup. Despite the fact that it was not finished. Not matter how much the organizers rushed, they failed to complete the huge structure in only two years.

In due time, the stadium was usable. Except that the great majority of the spectators had to stand. The Colosseum of Rome could offer better conditions.

I don’t know if you realized, but this was a huge advantage: thus could fit in more spectators. So much so, that the organizers sold 173,850 tickets for the final match between Brazil and Uruguay. The score was 1-2. You can imagine the grief. Especially that all the Brazilians were convinced that they couldn’t lose the game. A sorrow of such huge proportions even got a name of its own: Maracanazo. But the record remained: it was a FIFA World Cup game that had the largest attendance; if we count only those who purchased an entrance ticket, because, back then, many would jump over the fences to go in 11)World Cup Rewind: Largest attendance at a match in the 1950 Brazil final” by Mike Janela, article published by Guinness World Records on June 14 2014.

The construction of the stadium was completed no sooner than 1965, thus many other games disputed in similar conditions. In 1954, the record was broken by an international game: Brazil vs. Paraguay, 183,513 tickets sold. Later, in 1963, an attendance of 194,603 was recorded at a game between two local rivals: Flamengo and Fluminense.

Presently, such records are no longer possible to set. Maracanã became a modern stadium, with very good conditions for the spectators. But with half of the capacity.

Rio became famous to the beat of the music

When you say “Rio”, you say samba“. In fact, for the local people, samba means music, dance, and sport, all in one.

But the Rio Carnival is not all about samba. For the 1935 edition, André Filho composed “Cidade maravilhosa”. The song caught up pretty fast. And Rio de Janeiro was nicknamed Cidade maravilhosa (The Wonderous City). The song even became the city’s anthem.

The popularity of Rio de Janeiro grew considerably with the releasing of the song “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”).

Ipanema is the headquarters of one of the beaches of the metropolis. And also from here originates the musical genre known as bossa nova, a combination between samba and jazz.

Around 1962, a 17-year-old teenage girl would make a stir in the neighborhood with her beauty. When she entered a coffeeshop to buy cigarets for her mother, the men whistled at her. Back then, Vinicius de Moraes was writing the text for “Dirigível” and, witnessing the moment, thought it would be nice to include it as well: an older man expresses his admiration for a girl, but with a bitter smile, for she doesn’t have eyes for old coots. Antônio Carlos Jobim put the text on bossa nova rhythms and Pery Ribeiro released the recorded song.

Later on, givind the tremendous success of the song, Norman Gimbel translated the lyrics into English, with the title of “The Girl from Ipanema”. In 1965, the version interpreted by Astrud Gilberto & Stan Getz would bring the song a Grammy prize for the Record of the Year 12)7th Annual Grammy Awards” in Wikipedia.

Subsequently, the song has been interpreted by big names – from Frank Sinatra to Andrea Bocelli and from Nat King Cole to Michael Bolton, without even mentioning other hundreds of interpreters. Thus, the song became popular all over the world. Once in a while, one asks himself: “Where in the hell is Ipanema?!” Now you know!

The Brazilian wax is original from Rio

The hair from the intimate areas became a problem for women around 1946, when the classic bathing suits started to be replaced by bikinis. And for that, you need to wax.

As the local women have the beach in their nature, this type of waxing became quite the norm. To go the whole way, some of the ladies preferred getting rid of the pubic hair completely. In 1987, the idea was brought into the United States by the so-called J Sisters (Jocely, Jonice, Janea, Joyce, Jussara, Juracy, and Judseia Padilha), a group of Brazilian women from Rio who opened a beauty shop in New York. They were the ones who first called it “Brazilian wax”. How long do you think it took for such a sexy thing from Brazil to catch up?!

But back “home” it was no novelty. Péro Vaz de Caminha, one of the first Portuguese colonists to arrive in Rio de Janeiro, mentioned the native women in a letter: “Their private parts were so exposed, so healthy and so hairless, that looking upon them we felt no shame.” (Having seen no woman in such a long time, the sailors must have thought they reached Heaven or something similar.)

But Rio is not only about fun. It is also about history and politics, wealth and poverty, passion and hopelessness. All these in such amplified contrasts that can sometimes be quite shocking – or astonishing.

In fact, Rio is an entire world compressed in itself. With good and bad things altogether.

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Article witten exclusively for Miratico by Lucian Velea
Lucian Velea is the founder of Miratico and many other online projects.


1 Wars of the Americas: A Chronology of Armed Conflict in the Western Hemisphere” by David Marley, book published by ABC-CLIO in 2008
2 Portuguese Empire” in New World Encyclopedia
3 Colonialism: An International Social, Cultural, and Political Encyclopedia“, book published by ABC-CLIO in 2003
4 Napoleon I” in Encyclopedia Britannica
5, 6 IBGE divulga as estimativas populacionais dos municípios em 2015” – study released by Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística on the 28th August 2015
7 Portugal” în The World Factbook
8 Portugal’s birthrate plummeting, a signal of more economic trouble ahead” by Anthony Faiola, article published in The Washington Post on June 23rd 2013
9 Performing Brazil: Essays on Culture, Identity, and the Performing Arts” – book published by University of Wisconsin Press in 2015
10 Rio: The Story of the Marvelous City” by Orde Morton, book published by FriesenPress in 2015
11 World Cup Rewind: Largest attendance at a match in the 1950 Brazil final” by Mike Janela, article published by Guinness World Records on June 14 2014
12 7th Annual Grammy Awards” in Wikipedia

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