By Michela DellaMonica, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Established on April 21, 1927, the Clube de Regatas Vasco da Gama football (soccer) stadium is most recognized as São Januário, the name of one of the main streets that leads to the stadium located in the neighborhood of São Cristóvão in Zona Norte (North Zone). Built on an area of 56,000 square meters, it houses the stadium, two gymnasiums, an aquatic park with an Olympic sized pool, official Vasco da Gama Penalty store, a chapel and hotel.
São Januário was the largest stadium of Rio de Janeiro between 1927 and 1950 before the inauguration of the Maracanã Stadium. Between 1927 and 1940 before the inauguration of the Pacaembu in São Paulo, São Januário was the largest in Brazil and between 1927 and 1930, was the largest in South America.
Founded by devoted Vasco da Gama football fans who raised funds for their own stadium to cheer on their beloved team, São Januário was constructed in just eleven months. The sports complex was later registered by the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Foundation.
The aquatic park was built on August 30, 1953, and is composed of four pools including an Olympic sized pool for swimming competitions, another pool for laps and two smaller pools for aquatic training for the Vasco da Gama athletes.
Between the football field and the aquatic park there are two gymnasiums that seat up to 2,500 people and the Chapel of Our Lady of Victories, patron saint of the soccer club. The chapel was built on August 15, 1955 and offers religious services like baptisms, weddings and of course, Sunday mass.
“I’ve lived here all my life and have gone to Vasco games since I can remember and this neighborhood has always been a tight knit community,” Philippe Sampaio proudly told The Rio Times. “There’s been an increase in security near the stadium this past year and with the port area changing, [unfortunately as a result] traffic patterns have been confusing.”
The stadium is not only a historical landmark of football, but was also a major part of history for the city of Rio and the rest of the country. Former President Getulio Vargas used the stadium to speak to the Brazilian people (when Rio was the national capital). The first labor laws of Brazil, for example, were announced first-hand at São Januário.
Vasco da Gama was also the first Brazilian football team to accept black players as part of their team in 1923 and they commemorated this by painting the hand-prints of each player part of the team at that time. With the second largest fan following for a Rio football team, Vasco da Gama devotees are born fans.
Migrants from Brazil’s northeast first began to settle in São Cristóvão in the 1940s to work in construction, following a wave of industrialization. Today, the neighborhood is growing with less expensive properties available along with easier access to transportation with the metro station and various buses that make stops there.
Avid fans can find less expensive living here than in Zona Sul (South Zone) neighborhoods like Copacabana. “This neighborhood is conveniently located near Centro and a few tourist destinations outside of the famous beaches like Quinta Boa Vista,” says Rogerio Cassiano, owner of RCJ Imóveis in São Cristóvão. “We’ve seen an increase in residential buildings get constructed as well after announced plans for the renovated Port area.”