The colossal statue Christ the Redeemer, or in Porguese Cristo Redentor, is probably the most important landmark of Rio de Janeiro. It rises on top of the Corcovado Mountain, overlooking most of the city. A trip to Rio is not complete without a visit to this topmost monument, either by cog train or by the steep hairpin roads leading to the very top.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 23 JAN 2020
Shortly after arriving at our Rio hotel, Windsor Plaza Hotel (affiliate link to Booking.com), we book one of the sightseeing tours offered in the hotel lobby. It is a morning tour where the prime sight is Christ the Redeemer, the immense Rio statue on top of the Corcorvado Mountain.
The impressive Art Deco statue was raised in 1931 on the summit of the mountain way above the streets of Rio de Janeiro. The mountain peak is 704 metres high (2,310 feet) and the Rio de Janeiro statue is 30 metres (98 feet) tall. It is likely to overwhelm most visitors by its size and appearance.
It was designed by the Polish-French monument sculptor Paul Landowski and subsequently built by the Brazilian civil engineer, designer and constructor Heitor da Silva Costa in collaboration with the French engineer Albert Caquot and the Romanian sculptor Gheorghe Leonida.
The guide picks us up at our hotel in a tour minivan. The vehicle fills up fast with the dozen of people from other nearby hotels who have also booked this tour.
The prime site will be the Rio de Janeiro statue Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado. Before reaching the statue, the tour will take us to a number of other important Rio sights.
First stop is the Maracanã Stadium, officially called Estádio Mário Filho, built for the 1950 FIFA World Cup. The outcome of the final match was not quite what the successful football nation Brazil had hoped for since they most unexpectedly lost to Uruguay!
It was at the time of construction intended to be the largest stadium in the world. Actually, around 200,000 spectators watched the World Cup match on it. However, in the 1990s its capacity was greatly reduced due to new safety measures. Up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup it again underwent significant changes which amounted to 500 million dollars.
We are dropped right outside the impressive building. Persevering street vendors try to catch our attention with their abundant knick-knacks, including a bunch of Brazilian football merchandise-like items. It is seemingly also a place to show off. While being there we get the opportunity to observe a couple of eye-catching personalities strolling around or even roller-skating. This is real, Brazilian culture!
Our guide prefers to give the picture-postcard impression of the stadium, which she presumes we have come for, omitting the downsides from recent years.
What is tragic to the football universe in Brazil is the state of the stadium subsequent to the World Cup. The stadium wasn’t returned in acceptable conditions or even at all maintained after the Cup. It was left with seats torn out and broken inventory here and there. Within a few months it turned from a glorious stadium into a dangerous site with risks of robbery and other safety concerns. The green pitch turned brown due to an invasion of worms and the power was cut off leaving the stadium in complete darkness. The state of Rio de Janeiro, which owns the stadium, was left in a financial disastrous position. All in all Maracanã was shockingly soon light years from its splendor and recent heyday.
Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro
Ten minutes later we find ourselves in front of the modern Cathedral of Rio de Janeiro. It is significantly different from other cathedrals I have visited – and a lot newer. It was constructed during the years 1964 – 1979 and dedicated to Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro.
The internal diameter of the iconic structure is 106 metres (348 feet), and its height is 96 metres (315 feet). Deeply fascinated by the extraordinary construction, we take in all impressions. Four massive stained glass windows from floor to ceiling play with the sun light and the ambiance inside the colossal church room. They unite into a cross at the top of the cathedral, forming the roof of a place of worship.
The cathedral is unusually spectacular for a concrete building, but the interaction with the glass, the light and the lines makes it remarkably unique. It is one of Rio’s more recent landmarks.
It doesn’t quite reach the capacity of the original Maracanã Stadium, but still a tenth! With a standing-room capacity of 20,000 people it is absolutely impressive. Once inside, we, nevertheless, find it hard to believe that there can really be that many visitors simultaneously in the beautiful church.
One of the locations I have looked very much forward to seeing in Rio is the Selarón Stairs on the border between the two neighbourhoods Lapa and Santa Teresa, respectively. It is a colourful piece of art, designed and built by the Chilean ceramist artist Jorge Selarón. In 1990 he started to renovate the stairs in front of his house with blue, yellow or green coloured ceramic tiles – representing Brazil’s flag. The tiles were actually used as a tribute to the Brazilians for the FIFA World Cup.
Red is also a dominant colour along the steps, this being a tribute to his Chilean background and the Chilean flag. Little by little visitors started bringing him tiles from their home countries, and a recent count arrives at 2000 tiles from around 60 countries! It is awesome to be here and ascend the vivid steps of worldwide origin!
Our guide draws me to the side and whispers to me that under no circumstances should we go beyond the group of samba dancing Brazilians performing on the steps half way up. The situation is awful for the people living here, and it could be very dangerous to go too far up due to the risk of robbery – and even murder! From where we stand everything looks peaceful and we enjoy the native rhythms and music, but we’d better listen to her!
Sporadically, she commands us to come along with a determined ‘Vamos’. It is not the first time today that we hear this word from her! She has noticeable problems controlling her diversified group of visitors with each their country-specific mentality. Time frames given are subject to individual interpretation, and some nationalities are seemingly more demanding than others to be in charge of! Moreover, there is also a likelihood of misunderstanding her, since her English is not really that brilliant.
We pass the colonial Carioca Aqueduct from the 18th century, a music school and the military academy on our way to the renowned Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí, home of the magnificent Rio Carnival. The sambradrome is 700 metres (2300 feet) long and specific location for the annual parade of the Brazilian samba schools. It was inaugurated back in 1984, designed by the Brazilian architect Oscar Neimeyer.
Even if we know that it is not parade season at the moment, we may have imagined that there are just a few interesting carnival related objects to see here. Colourful carnival costumes, splendid parade props or something else related to the recurring event. However, when we get out of the van, there is just the sheer concrete sambadrome behind an iron fence. We cannot enter it, but only view it through the grid. Anyway, we get to see the place and will definitely remember this as a point of reference when we see the carnival parade on TV the next time.
After leaving the sambadrome our driver takes us through the neighbourhood of Tijuca to get to the main sight of the tour, the Rio de Janeiro statue Christ the Redeemer.
The Rio de Janeiro statue Christ the Redeemer
Our minivan now starts climbing the hairpin bends of the mountains. It is so steep that we without warning experience wheelspin! We pass through the lush rainforest which is a sight of its own! All of a sudden our guide turns our attention to a monkey climbing just in front of us (or a ‘monk’ which she confuses us with, until we realise what it in fact is!). It comes as an unexpected surprise and really amazes us since it hasn’t at all occurred to us that we could get to see neither monkeys nor other animals on this tour.
Impressive statue Christ the Redeemer
A less known and pretty demanding option is to hike all the way to the top. The trail starts at Parque Lage and continues through the lush rain forest, just like the Iguazú rain forest we come from. The second half of it is the most requiring including a real climb with a rope to hold on to. However, the experience and views are very rewarding approaching the top. Anyone who opts for the hike, should be aware of the risk of robbery which is substantial. It is not rare that hikers report robberies on this stretch of the trail. We have therefore deliberately bypassed this alternative and chosen the safer, guided tour in a minivan!
The van finally makes it as close to the top as it can get, and we do the remaining bit on foot (using the elevator/escalator for the last metres before the monument). This is the moment we have been looking forward to. We are not disappointed! The statue is colossal. Christ the Redeemer stands with his arms over the city of Rio in a both protecting and exalted position. It is impressive towards the blue sky.
The history of the Rio de Janeiro statue Christ the Redeemer
Already in 1824 a path was opened through the previously inaccessible forest to reach the summit of the steep mountain overlooking Rio. In 1884 a railroad followed, inaugurated by Emperor Peter II of Brazil. However, it was not until around 1922 that a monument was decided for the celebration of Brazil’s centenary of independence. The sculpture was chosen through a competition, won by the Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa. His statue was a huge Christ bearing a cross and holding a celestial globe.
Several locations were discussed for the erection of the Rio de Janeiro statue, among others Sugar Loaf Mountain, Santo Antonio and Corcovado. The latter was finally chosen due to being the highest! Funding was obtained from the Catholic public! However, the project was redesigned due to various reasons. Christ himself would be the cross and the material would not be bronze, but reinforced concrete which had begun to be popular for constructions. The French sculptor Paul Landowski had the special knowledge of this technique and was therefore chosen as the responsible for the vast statue Christ the Redeemer, to be visible from central Rio!
Although it is slightly misty today, we have the most gorgeous view over Rio de Janeiro from up here. It is funny to see the Maracanã Stadium from this angle, and still it is very impressive even in the distance. We actually have a great 360-degree view of Rio from the summit, including some of the locations we have just visited: the sambadrome, the metropolitan cathedral, the botanical garden, the Sugar Loaf Mountain and, of course, the beaches. Also a corner of the biggest favela, Rocinha, is within sight.
The statue Christ the Redeemer is most impressive. Right above it fascinating eagles soar into view. Our guide takes the weirdest and most amazing photos of all of us in front of it with my camera. It is not until later that we see the magic she has exercised with it. She has in some strange way managed to swap us around and integrate several photos into one! I still don’t know how she did that!
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