on January 13, 2010
At risk of expounding a horrible cliché, Rio de Janeiro is very much a city of vivid contradictions - sharp cleavages between rich and poor, favelas and gated compounds, hectic city life and remarkable natural beauty, all mixed-up and poured out across the myriad bays and hillsides of this corner of south-east Brazil. Perhaps this close intermingling of the many facets of Rio life create its very individual brand of chaotic, visceral charm - however, when in the midst of the city, it can be hard to get a bit of perspective. Of course, the famed beaches offer some respite from the manic pace of the streets, but the best way to step back from the city and appreciate the scale and beauty that one loses sight of from close-range is to go upwards. Corcovado, at some 700-odd metres, is one of the taller peaks around and amongst which Rio is built and offers some astounding views of the city and bay. The vista, though, is perhaps not the primary reason tourists ascend the slope - atop Corcovado stands Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor), the iconic statue overlooking Rio. Completed in 1931 after a nine-year construction process, and until fairly recently the largest of its kind in the world, the statue stands at the very summit of Corcovado, along with the viewing platforms that surround and lead up to it. Situated in a national park but very much in the city, a rather more peaceful atmosphere surrounds the Redeemer, despite the considerable crowds that gather. The construction shows admirable restraint, fitting well into the leafy vegetation that would once have covered the area; although there are all the amenities one would expect of such an attraction - a restaurant, gift shops, visitor information - all of the development is of a neat, simple nature, complementing rather than detracting from the surrounding natural appeal. ~ Climbing Corcovado ~ Some thirty-plus metres tall, Cristo Redentor is visible across Rio; for visitors, the distinctive profile of Corcovado (the name meaning "hunchback") topped by the statue's outstretched arms is both a symbol of the city and a point of navigation. A public road leads most of the way up the mountain, ending a short way from the summit, where shuttle buses run the rest of the distance to the foot of the statue's steps. For those heading up to the Cristo Redentor, one of the best ways of making the journey is by taxi. Although this may sound an expensive option, it's normally possible to negotiate a reasonable rate with the driver for a tour encompassing a number of the must-see sites in Rio, including Corcovado, Sugar Loaf Mountain (Pao de Acucar), perhaps the Santa Teresa district and some of the beaches. Expect to pay somewhere in the region of 50+ Reals for several hours of the driver's services - not astoundingly cheap as a slice of a daily budget, but good value for what you get, especially if you're fortunate enough to secure yourself a taxi driver who fancies himself a tour guide. Additionally, most drivers will charge a flat fee irrespective of the number of passengers, so what might be an expensive excursion for solo travellers becomes a much better deal if there are several in your party. Alternatively, it's perfectly possible to walk up Corcovado, although one should be careful around the neighbourhoods near its base - there's nothing essentially unsafe about the area, but as with most others parts of Rio, it's always wise to be cautious. A train also runs up the side of the mountain, leaving from Cosme Velho station and costing around £5 up and down. ~ The Statue and the Belvedere ~ 200-plus steps lead from the drop-off point to the Belvedere, the viewing platform that surrounds and extends out before the Redeemer. If this sounds a bit too much of an exertion, the elderly, infirm and downright lazy will be pleased to see a series of lifts and escalators making the journey up the last hundred metres or so of Corcovado, installed in a period of improvements made to the complex in 2003. The view from the top is simply astounding; initially, you're not sure where to look - up at the beautifully rendered and cared-for statue, or down and out across the sprawling city and idyllic bays below. All the best-known sights of Rio are visible from the Belvedere - from left to right with the statue at your back, the Maracana football stadium, one of the largest in the world, Botafogo Bay, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Copacabana Beach and Ipanema beyond the lagoon. It's certainly worth waiting for a clear day to make the visit - the panorama seen through a cloud-free, sunlit sky really does make Rio appear the most naturally beautiful city in the world. The statue itself, approaching its eightieth birthday, is a stunning creation. Constructed out of concrete and soapstone, the Redeemer stands thirty-eight metres tall, measures another thirty metres between the tips of each of His fingers and weighs in at over six-hundred tonnes. The detail and craft with which the statue was created is testament to a skilled sculptor (Frenchman Paul Landowski), who painted an iconic serenity upon Christ's face and sculpted a series of great pleats and folds into His robes, lending a calm, powerful sense to the piece. ~ Many attractions in many cities are dubbed "must-sees", but if ever one merited the description, it must be Christ the Redeemer. It is the combination of a stunning piece of sculpture which has become a symbol of both city and country with the lofty perspective offered by its location which makes it quite such a proposition. The statue was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, and as strongly subjective (and, as some detractors feel, fundamentally flawed) as the list may be, it's hard not to feel that they called this one perfectly right. Rio, for good and bad, is like no other major city on earth, and the view taken in by Christ the Redeemer is similarly without compare.
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