Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rio de Janeiro II: A private tour made all the difference

by Richard L. Weaver II

We are on a private tour of Rio de Janeiro with Carla Hecke Gaiser, our tour guide. We covered so much territory and saw so many sights, that it was impossible to cover it all in a single essay.

In the first essay, we left the tour at the beautiful Parque Do Flamengo, but we saw so much more. We drove through the Museum of Modern Art (Museu de Arte Moderna)—by Affonso Eduardo Reidy in Parc do Flamengo. Roberto Burle Marx was the landscape architect, and the Museum was built in 1953. Our tour guide wanted us to see the unique architectural style (all supports for the building were on the outside). The Museum is located in Guanabara Bay on land reclaimed from the sea with the devastation of the "hills," as part of an urban planning on the coast of Rio that was carried out under the direction of Roberto Burle Marx. This new land, too, created a large public park that surrounds the Museum and, thus, offers a great view of the Bay with the city skyline of Rio as well as mountains in the background. The museum is in a position of exceptional beauty.

The building contains over 11,000 art works. The film library is also extensive. After it was gutted by a fire in 1972, hundreds came to repair and enhance the project.

We walked inside the richly decorated, neo-classical Candelaria Church while Carla circled in her van. It is one of the most beautiful and historical churches in the Rio area. Built in the 18th century, it combines a Baroque facade with a Neoclassical and Neo-Renaissance inner decoration. It has bronze-engraved doors, and the history of the church has been painted on panels in the interior. Carla told us that the goal of the early church was to humble parishioners with the power and presence of the church.

As an aside, the Candelaria church history began in the 17th century when a ship called Candelária almost sank during a storm on the sea. When it arrived in Rio, the Spaniards built a small chapel, dedicating it to Our Lady of Candelaria. By the 18th century, the church was in need of repairs and Portuguese engineer, Francisco Roscio built the new church that was dedicated in 1811.

Even more impressive because of its gold leaf interior, was the Sao Bento Monastery and Church founded in 1590 (built between 1617 and 1802)—one of the finest Benedictine complexes—with gilded wood panels—in Brazil. This church is a treasure not usually on visitors’ radar and quite difficult to locate. If you want to see the very plain exterior along with a contrasting photo of the lavish interior go to: saobentomonastery.html>. Beside the church is a large monastery. A mass was being performed in the church (about 10 parishioners in a church that would hold several hundred), so Carla had to hold down her voice as she described a number of statues (with seraphims) decorating the side walls and the hand-painted tiles in the vestibule.

We drove through the cultural heart of Rio to get to the Cathedral Metropolitana do Rio de Janeiro or Catefral de Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro (The Metropolitan Cathedral). The current church was built between 1964 and 1979 and replaces a series of old churches that had served as cathedrals since 1676, is the seat of the archbishop of the city, and is dedicated to Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of the city. It is located in the center of Rio. Conical in form (it looks like an upside down, honeycombed megaphone with its mouthpiece on top). It has an overall height of 246 feet, contains four rectilinear stained-glass windows that soar 210 feet from the floor to ceiling (one window is predominantly in blue, one is red, one is yellow-orange, and the fourth one is green—all with many figures with their attendant, symbolic meanings), and has a standing-room capacity of 20,000 people. The church requires no air conditioning. Heat is funneled upwards and escapes through the thousands of honey-combed vents in the sides of the cone all the way to the top.

Between 70 and 75% of the citizens of Brazil are Roman Catholic. Brazil has the largest number of Catholics in the world, and, as you might expect, the largest number of lapsed Catholics as well.

We drove through the Neighborhood Centre Teresa (a small, two-lane road up the mountain) where locals were beginning (at noon) to prepare for "Carnival," which was to begin at 2 p.m. (It was to take place all of next week, and we were leaving tomorrow!) One road was closed, so we had to choose another route up. We stopped at Dona Marta (or "Favela Santa Marta") which is a slum located in Botafogo in the South Zone with about 8,000 residents—one of the steepest city slums, where we walked to a stone lookout to see the "Christ the Redeemer" statue. Walking down from the lookout, we saw monkeys moving among the bamboo trees.

We drove to the other side of the mountain and down through "Parque Nacional da Tijuca." Here is what it says about the park at :

"Parque Nacional da Tijuca, also known as the Tijuca National Park, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is an 8000 acre rainforest that was once stripped bare of it’s native vegetation by coffee and sugar cane plantations. A tribute to the ecological mind of King Don Pedro II, Tijuca National Park is one of the last few remnants of the Atlantic Rainforest that at one time dominated the Southern coast of Brazil.

"Replanted over ten painstaking years by engineer M.G. Archer, Tijuca National Park was result of the project ordered by King Don Pedro II in 1861. Concerned that the erosion and deforestations caused by the sugar and coffee plantations combined with a dramatic decrease in rainfall in the area would severely reduce drinking water available to his subjects, the King began the reforestation of the area.

"Today, Tijuca National Park is the largest urban forest in the world, home to 30 waterfalls, hundreds of plants and trees and at least 100 different species of animals. The park actually reduces the medium temperature of the city by approximately nine degrees. A spectacular tourist attraction, Tijuca National Park surrounds the Cocovado Mountain and the Statue of Christ. It is also home to Gavea Rock also known as Pedra da Gávea, Beautiful Rock or Pedra Bonita and Tijuca Peak which is the second highest peak in Rio de Janeiro at 3350 feet."

The line of people who wanted to ascend Corcovado (2,300 feet) to see the statue of Christ the Redeemer—finished in 1931—was too long, so we did not climb it. It took 10 years to erect the statue, which is 100 feet high with a 20-foot pedestal. It weighs 700 tons and can be seen from most points in Rio. The cogwheel train to the top costs R $10/person. Although you can drive, walk, or take a taxi to the top, it would have taken too much time out of our tour. We stopped at a Chinese pagoda for one more overview of Rio on our way out of the national park. Carla and I exchanged business cards, and we departed at the Sheraton Hotel at 2:35 p.m. To have well-educated, intelligent, knowledgeable tour guides who speak excellent English, and who are passionate about their city or country, make the choice of taking a private tour a no-brainer. We certainly achieved a real feel for this enormous city in a mere 6-hour tour.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The most informative website on Rio de Janeiro is at Wikipedia.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Copyright February 21, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC


  1. dear Richard, can you help me out with Carla Heckes e-mail-address.
    I lost here address. She was also my guide when I have been in Rio de Janeiro.
    Thank you very much for your help.

  2. It was an amazing trip for us, we stayed there two weaks and it was a such fun experience. I would back again if i have the opportunity


Essays, SMOERs Words-of-Wisdom, Fridays Laugh, book reviews... And Then Some! Thank you for your comment.