A History Of Copacabana Beach: Rio's Picturesque Paradise

Copacabana beach
Copacabana beach | © Christain Haugen/WikiCommons
Sarah Brown

A striking four kilometer stretch of fine sand and incredible visuals, Copacabana Beach is a whirlwind of movement; beach vendors relentlessly stroll up and down in the heat selling their goods, bronzed bodies soak up the sun, tourists drink coconuts and there’s countless games of football and volleyball. We scratch the surface to uncover the history of this iconic and beloved beach.
Copacabana beach is located in the neighborhood of the same name and stretches along Avenida Atlantica from posto 2 (lifeguard point 2) to a key military and tourist point, Copacabana Fortress. One of the most unmistakable features of Copacabana beach is the black and white wave motif that weaves up the entire promenade and also serves as inspiration behind many of the beach’s best-sold souvenirs. The design had been used on Portuguese pavements since the 1930s and was replicated in Copacabana by designer Roberto Burl Marx in 1970.

The famous black and white wave prints of the Copacabana promenade

Copacabana beach came to life in the 1970s when a large landfill increased the area of the beach. While this was due to more practical reasons (such as extending sewers and preventing the sea from reaching the houses during storms), it actually created the aesthetics that Copacabana is known for today. Prior to this, the sea almost reached the road and the beach was a thin sliver of sand, unable to support sunbathers and sports lovers.

Copacabana beach

One of the most historical and symbolic monuments of Copacabana Beach is Copacabana Palace, an extravagant and magnificent building that has hosted icons such as Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana. Built as a casino before gambling was outlawed in Brazil in 1923, it became one of Rio’s most luxurious hotels. Inspired by Hotel Negresco in Nice and the Carlton in Cannes, Copacabana Palace was beautifully decorated with Carrara marble and Bomeia glass. It was thrust into stardom in 1933 when it became the location for the movie Flying Down to Riostarring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Interestingly enough, the movie was actually filmed in the United States and not in the Copacabana Palace.

New Year’s Eve attracts millions of people, making it one of Copacabana Beach’s largest celebrations. Annual celebrations started there in the 1950s when groups of African origins, such as Candomle and Umbanada, came down robed in white for ritual celebrations. Nowadays, this happens alongside one of the world’s largest and most impressive annual firework display.

New Year’s Eve at Copacabana

It is estimated that the end of the year festivities attracts around two million people just for that one night. However, with ideal all-year-round sun and a warm climate, Copacabana continues to bring in tourists throughout the year, adding to its world-class status as one of the world’s most famous beaches.

landscape with balloons floating in the air


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