A History of Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer Monument

Christ the Redeemer | © Noel Portugal/Flickr
Christ the Redeemer | © Noel Portugal/Flickr
Photo of Sarah Brown
31 January 2017

Standing with his arms spread and casting a watchful eye over Rio de Janeiro from the 700m- (2,296.6 ft.) tall Corcovado Mountain, Christ the Redeemer is one of the most recognised and photographed monuments in Brazil. It has been crowned one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and is the fourth-largest statue of Jesus in the world (the largest being the Christ is King statue in West Poland).

After its Polish rival, Christ the Redeemer is the largest Art Deco statue in the world. It was designed by Polish-French sculptor Paul Landowski, before being constructed by Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa in collaboration with French engineer Albert Caquot. The face was the work of Romanian artist Gheorghe Leonida.

The face was designed by Romanian artist, Gheorghe Leonida | © Liam Geoghegan/Flickr

The idea of building a Christ statue was first suggested in the mid-1850s to honor Princess Isabel, the princess regent of Brazil and the daughter of Emperor Pedro II, but the idea was dismissed. It wasn’t until 1920 that the idea resurfaced from the Catholic community, and was finally accepted and put into practice.

The statute stands at a mighty 30m (32.8 yds.) tall on top of an 8m (8.7 yds.) pedestal base. It has an arm span of 28m (30.6 yds.) and weighs a hefty 635 metric tons (699.9 short tons). This is made even more impressive by the fact that it was constructed in parts before being carried up Corcovado Mountain.

The design of the statue was chosen as a symbol of peace among a selection of possibilities. Other options included a Christian cross, Jesus with a globe in his hands and a pedestal symbolising the world.

Christ the Redeemer stands high on Corcovado mountain | © Diego Torres Silvestre/Flickr

The construction began in 1922 and took nine years to complete. It cost $250,000 (£200,000 – equivalent to $3,300,000 [£2,643,716] in 2015) to build, and was funded by the Catholic community in Brazil.

Since then, it has needed several renovations due to weather exposure, noticeably in February 2008 and January 2014, when lightning strikes damaged parts of the statue including dislodging a finger. The original pale stone of the Christ is no longer available in sufficient quantities to renovate it, so replacement stones are an increasingly darker hue.

Christ the Redeemer | © Noel Portugal/Flickr

A recent development to the Christ the Redeemer statue was on its 75th anniversary in October 2006. A chapel underneath the Christ was consecrated by the Archbishop of Rio, Cardinal Eusebio Oscar Scheid, allowing baptisms and weddings there. It is also an important tourist attraction in Rio de Janeiro, attracting approximately 1,800,000 people per year. The record number of tourists in a single day was at Easter 2011, when 14,000 people went to see the statue.

Along with being a top contender on everyone’s bucket list, this new-crowned man-made wonder of the world can also be reached by hiking through one of Rio de Janeiro’s natural wonders: the spectacularly biodiverse and fascinating swathe of rainforest in the Tijuca Forest. You can either reach the statue via a small train, or enjoy a 50-minute trek accompanied by a menagerie of exotic butterflies, monkeys, lizards and plants, which will help put the man-made wonder of the statue in its stunning natural context.

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