Not sure why I haven’t gotten around to writing about our trip to Brasília yet. But today, the official birthday of Brasília, seems as good a time as any.
The city is an easy flight from Sao Paulo, only a couple hours. Arriving in the city and driving away from the airport, the first thing that hits you is its vastness. There is a single road that sails you from your arrival point to your destination, or the main city center, which ever you hit first. This highway is lined with expansive lawn and on one side a lake, and it feels as though you’ve happened upon the palace grounds of a mighty, fairy tale prince.
Sao Paulo, as about as unplanned as a city gets, is crowded almost anywhere you go, if not with people, than with buildings and cars. So landing in a place that provide the visitor with space, and an almost eerie quiet, is both comforting and disturbing at the same time.
Brasília is a totally planned city from start to finish – though it has had developments on the outskirts that were not part of the original plan. (Here I’ve needed to update my definition of planned city due to some debate. I’m not talking about a planned neighborhood in an already established community or a “satellite” city. I’m talking there was nothing there – and then there was Brasilia.) It is the nation’s capital and the fourth largest city in Brazil. The city center was designed to resemble an airplane when viewed from above by urban planner Lúcio Costa, who won the right to do so in a contest. The buildings were designed by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, who used straight lines and geometric shapes and curves to create a sort of surreal exterior viewing experience.
We stayed at the Brasília Palace Hotel, a time machine to the 1960’s – that is if you don’t glance east at the monstrosity it calls a neighbor – a metallic red “resort” called the Royal Tulip. The Brasília Palace Hotel was built to house the visiting dignitaries for the inauguration of the city. Oscar’s signature style, which you will find throughout the hotel, and the feeling of isolation (other than the eyesore next door) truly transports you back to another era.
We hired a tour guide from Turismo Brasília to take us to see the must-see spots.
One of the most interesting things about the city are the “blocos” or the neighborhood blocks built into the plan. There are eleven blocos, each labeled by letter from A to K. Each bloco has eleven buildings, labeled A to K. This intentional number eleven leaves the blocos to end with the initials J. K. – the initials of the Brazilian president in whose honor the city was erected – Juscelino Kubitschek.
After our tour, we had the driver drop us at a strip of restaurants on the other side of the lake from our hotel. Walkikng along the waterfront before heading to dinner, it was difficult not to contemplate the contrast of the landscape, centered on the man-made lake, the center of this planned city, and other major cities in Brazil, which seem to thrive on chaos.
Brasília is a must-see for those who are spending any extended time in this country. It encompasses both the aspirations and achievements of a previous era and all the possibilities for a contemporary Brazil to proceed… in an orderly fashion.