A Brief History Of Cinelândia Square, Rio De Janeiro

Cinelandia square
Cinelandia square | © youtube
Sarah Brown

Cinelândia Square is a major feature and meeting point in the city center of Rio de Janeiro. Previously part of a major city revamp in an effort to modernize the city, it remains an important cultural area in Rio to this day, and more recently, a base point to stage several protests regarding political decisions and actions.
Cinelândia Square’s official name is Praça Floriano Peixoto in honor of Brazil’s second president, yet to ask for directions using its formal name will be met with mostly blank stares. In the colonial period, the square was simply the area that housed the Ajuda Convent built for women in 1750. The appearance of the square today only began to take shape in the early 20th century when Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil. The government decided the city needed a renovation to represent its capital status and project a stronger, more positive image, leading to a series of reforms.

Cinelândia square in 1919

Besides the square, another key focus of the city center renovations was the long, main street that runs alongside the square, known today as Avenida Rio Branco. The old colonial houses that once made up the city center were destroyed and the early decades of the 20th century saw monumental public buildings constructed facing and surrounding Cinelândia Square.

The most significant buildings in the area that remain in the square today are the Teatro Municipal (Municipal Theater), Biblioteca Nacional (Brazilian National Library), Palacio Pedro Ernesto (Rio de Janeiro Municipality), Tribunal Superior (Higher Court), and the nearby Museu Nacional de Bela Artes (The National Museum of Fine Arts). Most of the buildings’ façades and interiors reflect the French Beaux-Arts architectural style, a design that was considered symbolic of Rio de Janeiro’s modernization. These buildings concentrated on the important political and cultural life in Brazil which is still predominant today.

Municipal Theater

Other key monuments in the square include the bronze statue constructed in 1910 of Marshal Floriano Peixoto, the second Brazilian president that the square is officially named after. It was designed by Eduardo Sa and portrays fascinating scenes of important events that have occurred throughout Brazilian history. There is also the bronze statue of Carlos Gomes, an iconic Brazilian composer whose stardom lies in the 19th century.

Statue dedicated to Floriano Peixoto

An important addition to the square was the Cinelândia metro station in 1979, one of the first five stations in the subway network. Nowadays, there is also a tram system recently built to accommodate the additional visitors to Rio during the 2016 Summer Olympics. The tram runs alongside the square and has arguably further improved the beauty and modernity of the area.

The Ajuda Convent, that stood the test of time since 1750, was finally demolished in 1911 and was replaced by several large, tall buildings that housed some of the city’s best cinemas. Nowadays, the cinemas are mostly all closed yet they have left their mark: thanks to this concentration of cinemas and theaters, the square became known as Cinelândia, or in other words, cinema land.

Nowadays, the area remains a lively spot with cultural attractions such as museums and theaters, and numerous nearby bars and restaurants. Since the World Cup in 2014, the square became a popular meeting point for groups of political protestors with its ample space, nearby governmental buildings and easy metro access. The square regularly sees small, peaceful protests against a number of issues ranging from political actions to social injustices, such as women’s rights. These activities keep the square alive and continue to make it a focal point in Rio’s downtown area.

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