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Rio de Janeiro is a city of incredible contrasts, with Christ the Redeemer and stunning beaches on one hand, and the famous favelas on the other. Yet there is so much more to Rio than sand, statues and crime stories. Here are 12 fascinating facts about Rio de Janeiro.
Rio de Janeiro is not the capital city of Brazil – but it was from 1763 until 1960. In 1960, the capital status was transferred to Brasilia which is located in the centre of the country.
With a population of 6.3 million people, Rio is the second largest city in Brazil. Yet it pales in comparison to Brazil’s largest city Sao Paulo with its population of 12.04 million people.
Rio de Janeiro means January River in English. It was named when the first explorers arrived in Rio, in January, and mistakenly thought the bay they arrived at (nowadays known as Guanabara Bay) was the mouth of a river.
In 2006, TV researcher Anya Hohnbaun visited 20 countries, including New Zealand and South Africa in search of the country with the bluest sky. Using a spectrometer developed by scientists at the British National Physical Laboratory, she scientifically concluded that it was Rio de Janeiro that had the bluest sky.
The Tijuca rainforest spreads from the centre of Rio and is considered the largest urban forest in the world, covering an area of 32 kilometers squared. Within the forest is the Corcovado mountain, the base point for the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. It is also home to hundreds of plant and wildlife species, many that are endangered and unique to the Tijuca forest habitat.
The cultural icon is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, representing a symbol of Christianity across the world and a significant tourist attraction in Rio de Janeiro. Christ the Redeemer stands a stunning 30 meters tall, on top of an eight meter pedestal, that overlooks the city.
In recent years, street art was made legal and openly encouraged, leading to a thriving art scene that has turned grey, blank walls into colourful canvases that express emotions, talents and current social issues. The street artists can paint on any construction, wall or surface as long as they have the owner’s permission and it is not a designated historical building.
Maracanã Stadium holds the record for the largest football game attendance in history, although it’s not something Brazilians like to dwell on. The record was set in the 1950 World Cup final when nearly 200,000 fans packed into the stadium, in addition to the thousands of people surrounding it. The match was between Brazil and Uruguay but Uruguay won 2-1. This tragedy for Brazil was nicknamed Maracanazo.
Rio has been lovingly given the nickname, Cidade Maravilhosa, meaning Marvellous City. It’s combination of urban culture, stunning coastline, rugged peaks and impressive forest are some of the reasons behind this name.
The Christ the Redeemer statue repeatedly defies the age-old saying that lightning never strikes twice. Several times a year, the statue is struck by lightning and as a result requires continuous repairs. In 2014, a particular powerful storm broke off a piece of the Christ’s thumb and damaged his head.
Favelas, locally referred to as communities due to the negative image the word ‘favela’ brings, are not all the crime-riddled areas that the media and films paint them to be. The majority are filled with hard-working people and some, especially in the south zone of the city, are safe for tourists. Vidigal has some of the most popular weekend parties at Alto Vidigal Hostel which is located at the peak of the hill with incredible views overlooking Ipanema. Rocinha, one of Rio’s largest communities, has plenty of volunteer opportunities for visitors.
Most people know that carnival in Brazil is a huge event, but it’s Rio de Janeiro that has the largest carnival in the world. In addition to the 6.3 million residents, an extra 1 million tourists flock to Rio each year, to take part in the carnival celebrations.