Happy Birthday Brasília

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.

The Brasília Palace Hotel

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.

Centro Cultural da República

Centro Cultural da República

Catedral de Brasília

Congresso Nacional

Palácio do Itamaraty

Model of Brasília at the Espaço Lúico Costa

Teatro Nacional

Santuário Dom Bosco

Ponte JK, Lago Paranoá

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.

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23 Responses to Happy Birthday Brasília

  1. anna says:

    have you been to Florianopolis or Curitiba? if not you should….

  2. “The Royal Tulip”, wow – sounds like a Thai restaurant that went overboard in its interior decor.
    Speaking of which: any worthy Thai restaurants in SP?
    Oh, isn’t that first pic the place where the founder dude (JK) is buried? It’s by a hideous monument featuring his image. If I’m not mistaken said monument somewhat resembles a hammer and sickle – and was designed by his holiness Neimeyer, to honor his holiness JK. I think it looks hideous, and is an hommage to bad taste.

  3. It does sound like a Thai restaurant. In fact, I’m quite certain I’ve eaten at a Royal Tulip or two.
    I have not found a fantastic Thai restaurant in Sao Paulo. There are some that have a few Thai dishes, Marakutha is one (http://www.marakuthai.com.br/), but no straight up Thai restaurants, which suck because I love Thai (and Mexican, of which there are very few and nothing really outstanding in Sao Paulo). If anyone out there knows of a good Thai restaurant – please recommend.
    Yes! I do believe JK’s decomposing body was somewhere in that monument! We got there too late and it was closed so I can’t confirm. And yes, nearly everything in the original city plan was designed by Oscar N.

  4. anna says:

    in the 3rd picture , is that red thing on the wall a painting or a sculpture? seems 3D
    i want sth like that in my living room 🙂

  5. Paul Edholm says:

    Seriously, Brasilia is neither the first nor only planned city in the world…(Washington, DC, anyone?)great pics, but research that is lacking…and we are lucky to still have Niemeyer with us at age 104!

  6. Actually, in Brazil, Goiania, Teresina, Belo Horizonte, and Brasília were planned.
    In Belo Horizonte’s case there is a road which contours the town – called ” Av. Contorno” – and it designates the boundry separating the planned section ( that which lies within the contour formed by said avenue) and the unforseen developments beyond it not contemplated in said design.
    See the original project here.

    Sorry for being such a geek.

    • I’m talking totally planned city. Not planned neighborhoods. Apparently I need to narrow my definition of planned city. There was nothing there and then there was Brasilia. They planned every corner of the original Brasilia, even the residential neighborhoods. In Belo Horizonte, they planned the city center, but it had been settled in the 18th century.

  7. Brasília is the only city which I am aware of that was made from scratch. I would agrre with you on that.
    Don’t go hating on the geeks.

  8. Stephanie says:

    I really have enjoyed Brasilia each time I’ve gone to visit. It’s nice that we have friends and family there that we can stay with as we see a lot more for sure. It feels pretty safe there, I love the weather, I love that it’s easy to live in a huge house rather than an apartment…it’s a cool place, pretty organized by Brasil standards. I also had a “first” there a couple of weeks ago. Our flight arrived at 10:30am, it was right about the first of the month so I had to pay some bills at the bank as we were to stay for 4 days. The ITAU there didn’t open until noon (on Friday!) and there was no revolving, metal detecting security door, you just walked right into the bank. I give it a thumbs up!

  9. Love Brasilia… My 20 years there… Love the architecture. Thank you very much for honoring the city’s anniversary… Really cool… Here is one of my fav spots there. Hope you enjoy the photos! http://3rdculturechildren.com/2012/04/22/the-singular-city-of-brasilia/

  10. Gerson says:

    After being in Brasilia only a few hours to spare before a flight I have to say that I am utterly in love with the city… The best thing about it is that not one “parking for $20” all day or any traffic; keep in mind I was there at 8 a.m. till noon. No way I would go into any city in the U.S. of the same size, get to see so much in so little time and all I needed was my camera and not look for change to feed any meters? I was in heaven. The only draw back was not enough signs to the main attractions and if you don’t have a good gps watch out as you can easily get lost in the area of Brasilia called the superblocks and have no clue where you are… Come see Brasilia because there is a whole lot more of Brasil beyond Rio and Sao Paulo…

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