Meet Rio de Janeiro's Sandcastle King Who Has Avoided Rent for Decades

| © Filipe Costa / Culture Trip
Sarah Brown

For the last 24 years, Brazil’s Marcio Mizael Matolias has avoided paying rent, or any bills for that matter, in one of Rio de Janeiro’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, Barra da Tijuca. How? By living in a sandcastle that he built himself.

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For over two decades, 46-year-old Matolias, known by locals as ‘King Marcio’, has lived in a sandcastle on the beach of Barra da Tijuca. Living up to his name, Matolias built a royal throne for himself outside his sandcastle and can always be seen wearing a plastic crown and carrying a makeshift staff.

Decorative sandcastles or statues are a common sight along the main beaches in Rio de Janeiro, which are made into tourist attractions by the locals who exchange photo opportunities for loose change. However, Matolias is the first to build a sandcastle as a home, and his efforts reflect the reality of high housing costs for many of Rio’s people.

Matolias appears content with his choice of living. “I grew up in the Bay of Guanabara, I always lived on the beach,” Matolias told the UK’s The Mirror. “People pay exorbitant rents to live in front of the sea, I do not have bills and here I have a good life.”

To maintain the sandcastle’s walls and turrets, Matolias needs to regularly water the sides of his castle to prevent the fine sand from crumbling in the city’s year-round tropical climate. He needs to have patience, too – a single tropical storm can destroy the entire sandcastle in a matter of minutes, forcing him to rebuild the structure from scratch. Having done this for over 20 years, he has become well-adapted at swiftly and efficiently reconstructing his sandcastle, and his work has caught the attention of a local shopping mall that sometimes hires him to build decorative sand pieces for their displays.

Matolias was reported as saying he learned to build sandcastles through a friend and through reading books – one of his biggest passions. His other hobbies include golf and fishing, and he keeps collections of books, golf clubs and fishing rods. And while the sandcastle appears to be grandiose on the outside, its facade masks the tiny room inside. Matolias’s three-square-metre (32-square-foot) bedroom, which is piled from floor to ceiling with his few possessions (mostly books), is supported by wooden beams. His bathroom is a nearby lifeguard shack where he is also able to take a shower.

King Marcio has become a local celebrity and attraction; curious tourists pass by to take photos of the ‘king’ and his unusual home. Matolias lets them sit on the throne or he happily takes a seat and poses for photos. Sometimes, tourists leave money (though not always), which is how he makes some money.

His love of books also helps him make a small income. Just next to his castle, a table sits piled with books where passers-by can shop and buy, giving whatever price they feel is reasonable. Above the books is a sign that reads: “Pick up a book and contribute in the box so that this initiative doesn’t end.”

Matolias reportedly said that the only downside to his castle is that the sand holds in heat, and with summer temperatures in Rio soaring to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), sleeping can become impossible. On the hot days, he stays with a friend, though he prefers to be by the sea and doesn’t intend to leave his palace on the shore any time soon.

Additional reporting by Cassam Looch.
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