Modern, orderly, architecturally homogeneous Brasília was conceived as a symbol of national unity, located in the geographical center of the country, to replace Rio as the country’s capital. It was intended to provide the impetus to populate the west; but Brasília today, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010, still has few links with the wild country (the Center-West) surrounding it.
For more than two centuries, the aim of Brazilian visionaries was to fill the vacuum in the center of their country with a new city. Yet until the election of president Juscelino Kubitschek in 1955, Brasília remained simply an idea. Kubitschek made the development of Brasília the centerpiece of his campaign to modernize the country. He selected as his architect Oscar Niemeyer, a Communist and student of Le Corbusier, to design all the major public buildings, while an international jury selected the city plan, by controversial architect Lúcio Costa.
Work began in September 1956. By April 1960, the city housed 100,000 people and was ready for its inauguration as capital. In 1987 it was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, and in 2014 it will host a number of the matches to be played in the FIFA World Cup.
Present-day Brasília is trapped in a 1950s vision of the future. Built around the automobile, its urban core is a complex of super-highways, which creates a hostile environment for pedestrians. While under construction, Brasília captured the world’s imagination, but soon afterwards, the world lost interest, and Brasília became synonymous with technocracy run wild. Yet to this day, the building of the city remains a matter of great pride among Brazilians. It was the only post-war project intended to serve the people, not industry; and it was entirely financed and built at the behest of an elected president, in a time of democracy.
The 224-meter (735ft) Torre de Televisão stands at the highest point of the Eixo Monumental (Monumental Axis) that runs through the center of the city. An informative map at the foot of the tower explains how the streets are laid out. An elevator to a viewing platform 75 meters (245ft) up the tower gives a bird’s-eye view of Lúcio Costa’s plan: two gently curving arcs indicating the residential areas of the city, bisected by the Eixo Monumental containing the buildings of government.
This memorial to Kubitschek was the first building in Brasília that the military allowed Niemeyer to design after their takeover in 1964. The curious sickle-shaped structure on top of the monument, in which the statue of Kubitschek stands, seems more like a political gesture by Niemeyer than a symbol of Kubitschek’s beliefs. Inside the monument is Kubitschek’s tomb and a collection of memorabilia about his life and the construction of Brasília. One showcase contains a summary of the unsuccessful entries in the competition to design the city, including a proposal to house most of its population in 18 enormous tower blocks over 300 meters (1,000ft) high – and housing 16,000 people.
The esplanade consists of a row of 17 identical pale-green box-shaped buildings which run down both sides of the vast open boulevard. Each building houses a different government department, whose name is emblazoned in gold letters on the front. Since every ministry has long since outgrown its original quarters, they have sprouted additions at the back, connected in mid-air by concrete tubes to their mother ship. Flanking the end of the Esplanade are Niemeyer’s two finest buildings: the Palácio do Itamaratí, now housing the Foreign Ministry, which floats in splendid isolation in the midst of a reflecting pool; and the Palácio da Justiça, whose six curtains of falling water on the exterior echo the natural waterfalls around Brasília.
Twin towers and offset domes signal the Congresso Nacional, the building whose silhouette is the signature of Brasília. Even the former monarchy has a place in the plaza: the rows of tall imperial palms behind the congress building were transplanted from the Botanical Garden that Dom João VI created in Rio de Janeiro.
Brasília’s spiritual life is as unusual as its social mores. Niemeyer’s concrete cathedral along the Eixo Monumental represents Catholicism, the official faith. But closer to the city’s true faith is the cult of Dom Bosco, an Italian priest and educator who prophesied in 1883 that a new civilization would arise in a land of milk and honey on the site of present-day Brasília. Now, Brasília’s most striking church is the Santuârio Dom Bosco, a cubic chapel with walls made entirely of blue-and-violet stained glass.
Setor Hoteleiro Sul, Quadra 1, Bloco A
tel: 61-3321 7575
The Nacional is old-fashioned but it still delivers. Opened in 1961 as the city’s first luxury hotel, over the years it has hosted kings, queens and other heads of state, including Jimmy Carter when he was the US president.
Setor Hoteleiro Norte, Trecho 01, Conjunto 1B, Bloco C
tel: 61-3424 7000
A modern hotel by the lake, previously the Blue Tree Park, with excellent facilities and a convention center. One of the best hotels in the city.
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