Read the first part of The Airplane Shaped Brasília here.
The Utopian Brasília is an architects’s wet dream. Planned and developed by famous Brazilian architects Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, the city is a modern art piece, a great study on city planning and a designated Unesco World Heritage site. Tourism in Brasília is all about stunning architectural sites.
I traveled to Brasília with my girlfriend to attend a wedding. Luckily there was time to explore the extraordinary city.
Where is Brasília?
The city of Brasília was built from scratch in 1956-1960 in the middle of absolutely nowhere. It is located in the highlands in the central-western part of the country around 1200 km from Rio de Janeiro, the old capital city.
And yes, Brasília is the capital of Brazil. Not Rio or São Paulo and definitely not Buenos Aires!
The capital was moved from Rio to Brasília and the city was built to bring progress to the interior of Brazil and to populate the desert areas of the highlands. During our stay it got extremely hot, like mentioned in the previous post.
Is that an airplane?
Brasília is shaped like an airplane: the wings (Asa Norte and Asa Sul) accommodate the residents of Brasília while the main body is reserved for more commercial and governmental purposes. This unusual city plan is called Plano Piloto, the Pilot Plan.
Lake Paranoá, an artificial lake, is located in the eastern part of the city. Brasília hosts over 130 foreign Embassies, from which most are situated on the shores of the lake.
The residents in the Pilot Plan live in large blocks called superquadras. The idea of the structure was to have basic needs in the proximity of your own home. The area between the superquadras is reserved for such businesses like shops and restaurants. Addresses in Brasília are like futuristic codes since you use the numbers of the blocks instead of street names. For example, the seafood restaurant Bargaço is located at SCLS 405, bloco D, loja 36, 3443-8729.
Originally the blocks were supposed to host schools, churches and clubs. The city was originally planned for 500.000 people, but since the city grew rapidly (current population is 2.5 million), some adjustments had to be made.
I found that the blocks offer a great deal of green space, the basic services are nearby and the way the low-key apartments were situated, make the block a soothing and calm environment to live.
Brasília was built during the boom of car and road transport and the city was built to be traversed by car. Road crossings for pedestrians are nonexistent and most of the time you feel like you’re in the 80’s arcade game The Frogger: a frog crossing a road while dodging the traffic.
Points of Interest
Brasília TV Tower
Brasília TV Tower is a 224 meters high tower used for broadcasting old analog TV frequencies. The tower is free of entrance and it offers the best views of the city and the Pilot Plan. There is a small market across the street from the tower where you can buy souvenirs and local products.
The main avenue of the city, Monumental Axis, is one of the widest roads in the world, with a total of twelve lanes. In the first part of the blog post, we got to ride our bikes in the middle of the avenue due to the road being closed because of the protests in the city.
Flor do Cerrado
Another broadcast tower, Brasília TV Tower’s digital cousin, is called the Brasilia Digital TV Tower or Flor do Cerrado (Savannah Flower). The tower is located outside the Plano Piloto in Sobradinho around 30 mins drive from the city.
The tower was projected by Niemeyer (like many other attractions in the city) and it stands at 180 meters tall.
Cathedral of Brasília
The Cathedral of Brasília is a Roman Catholic cathedral situated in the Monumental Axis not too far from the National Congress. The entrance is a dark and murky tunnel but once inside the cathedral, you’re greeted by a flood of natural light.
The cathedral is shaped like a cone, which makes for some fun acoustics! If you stand on the other side of the cathedral, facing the wall and talking with a regular voice, you can hear someone as if they were next to you. Oddly enough, the confession box is situated quite near the wall. Niemeyer must have been trolling.
Santuário Dom Bosco
From outside, Santuário Dom Bosco looks like a huge concrete block. Inside the church, thousands of blue stained glass pieces make for a remarkable play of blues, pinks and purples. I’m not a big fan of church sightseeing but this is worth the visit!
You should book this church at least five years before the “big day” to make sure you get the spot.
Juscelino Kubitschek bridge
Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge (Ponte Juscelino Kubitschek) is a modernist concrete-steel bridge designed by Alexandre Chan. It crosses the River Paranoá, connecting the city center and Monumental Axis to the eastern shores of the city. After completion in 2002, the bridge became almost instantly the most important symbol of the city.
Lake Paranoá is a good place to spend a sunny day. The beachfront has a lot restaurants and you can rent a supboard for small money. You may also encounter some wild capybaras: let them roam free and enjoy the cooling waters of the lake!
Brasília is a place like no other. It’s coldness and artificial habitus is something you cannot find anywhere else in the country. Vast “soviet-style” avenues, modernist architecture, the bold city planning and the city’s many landmarks make it exciting and worth visiting.
P.S. And again, Buenos Aires is not the capital of Brazil.