Rio: The “Marvellous City”

The endless beauty of its people and its setting put Rio de Janeiro as one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere.
This article appeared in Vol. 8, No. 3 - 2015


Flanked by steep granite mountains that rise from the sea, rimmed by famous beaches, and neighbourhoods connected by tunnels through the mountains, Brazil’s second largest city, Rio de Janeiro, is like no other on the globe. Ever since the Portuguese founded the city in 1565, Rio has been an important commerce and administrative centre for the region. Now, this enchanting, multi-faceted city is in the middle of an oil related economic boom thanks to some of the world’s largest offshore oil and gas discoveries in over 30 years. These discoveries are making Brazil a major player in the world energy picture and once again Rio de Janeiro finds itself another prominent role in the country’s history. 

A view of all of Rio de Janeiro can be seen from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. Corcovado Mountain, which also offers unparalleled views of the city, is in the upper centre of the photo. Most notable of Rio’s landmarks the statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) sits atop Corcovado Mountain and can be seen from most parts of the city. (Source: Thomas Smith) Historically, while under the Portuguese, Rio was the administrative capital of Brazil and during the Napoleonic Wars, the King of Portugal moved his entire court to the city in 1808. In 1822, when Brazil became independent, Rio was again chosen as the capital. Primarily due to gold mining and a prolific coffee export industry, Rio de Janeiro became the largest and fastest growing city in Brazil. 

When coffee growing moved south to more fertile acreage in the São Paulo area during the late 1800s, the city went into an economic decline along with a loss of political power. It would not be until the 1940s that Rio would rebound, when large steel, naval and oil plants were opened, in part with help from the Americans and British who were looking to Brazil as an ally during World War II. When, in 1960, the national capital was moved to Brasilia, tourism and petroleum became the major economic activities that are even more evident today. 

Iconic Places and Events 

Towering Corcovado Mountain with its statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer); the cable cars working their way up Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar); the infamous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches; Maracanã Stadium, one of the world’s largest football venues; and the Sambódromo, the parade avenue used during Carnival – just a few of Rio’s ‘must sees’. 

Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer). Corcovado Mountain, rising 710m above the city, offers breathtaking views. Atop the mountain is the most recognized of Rio’s landmarks; the statue of Cristo Redentor. The 38m tall statue with outstretched hands is made from 1,038.5 metric tons of local granite. Corcovado Mountain is located in Parque Nacional de Tijuca, which preserves the last remaining Atlantic tropical rain forest around Rio and vicinity. 

Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) provides the other site for extraordinary views of the city and surrounding bays. Two cable cars are taken to reach the 396m high peak where a 360 degree panoramic view of the city, beaches, mountains, and bays can be enjoyed over a stout cup of Brazilian coffee. Rock climbers can be seen ascending some of the 350 established routes up the massive gneissic granite walls that formed over 570 million years ago. 

But do not forget the beautiful beaches of Rio, namely Copacabana and Ipanema. Enjoy the sparkling water, gleaming sand, and walk the art deco sidewalks, called Portuguese pavement, constructed in a distinctive design for each area of the city. On Sundays, some of the coastal streets are closed to traffic and the locals fill these avenues throughout the day. 

While each Sunday is an event, it pales in comparison to what the Guinness book of World Records calls the ‘biggest popular party on the planet’, the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro. This celebration occurs every year before the Christian tradition of Lent, in February or March. Parades, people dressed in masquerade, and street parties attract over 500,000 foreign tourists during the four day event. 

Two huge world events are coming to Rio. First is the 2014 FIFA World Cup that will feature the final match in the giant Maracanã Stadium and secondly, Rio will host the 2016 Summer Olympics, the first for a South American city. 

  • The colorful beachfront comes alive on weekends with music, volleyball games and people watching. If you are looking for something more tranquil, visit the Jardim Botânico (Botanical Gardens). Designed and established in 1808, this UNESCO biosphere reserve is regarded as one of the great tropical gardens in the world. (Source: Thomas Smith)

Base for Oil Operations 

The headquarters and extensive research facilities for the enormous state-owned oil company, Petrobras (third largest energy company in the world) are both located in Rio de Janeiro. Petrobras was established by the government in 1953 and has seen steady growth as Brazil’s sole oil company. A Constitutional Amendment in 1995 ended the Petrobras monopoly allowing other companies to acquire acreage. 

The 2007 discovery of huge subsalt reservoirs offshore (see Monsters of the Deep) has started a flood of new companies doing business in Brazil. Growing numbers of oil and oil service companies are increasing their operations in and around the city. Petrobras has enlarged port facilities in the beautiful bays around Rio to modernize and expand their deep water drilling capabilities. Production is just starting from the first of these new discoveries and potential is huge, giving Rio de Janeiro a bright economic future. With all this activity, local geoscientists are seeing increased opportunities in research and collaboration within the city, as well as Rio becoming a destination for international conferences. 

Outside Rio, nearly unlimited exploration of the beautiful islands, bays, waterfalls, and mountains is close by.


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