Brasília, 50 Years as the Capital

By Davi Baldussi, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO – Fifty years ago the region where Brazil’s capital, Brasília, exists, was a barren plain known as Planalto Central (Central Plateau). Today more than 2.5 million people live there, the fourth largest city in Brazil.

Palácio do Planalto, the president's office, photo by Werner Zotz/Embratur.

Palácio do Planalto, the president's office, photo by Werner Zotz/Embratur.

The capital of Brazil before this was Rio de Janeiro (1763-1960) and before then it was located in Salvador (1549-1763). The idea of building a new capital in the center of the country had been idealized as early as 1891, however, it was only in 1956 that the construction began to take form.

Then, amazingly, Brasília was constructed in just 41 months, from 1956 to April 21, 1960, when it was officially inaugurated. It was Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira (JK), President of Brazil from 1956 to 1961, who launched the “Plan of National Development”, also known as the “Plano de Metas (Goal’s plan)”, famous by the motto: “Fifty years of progress in five”.

By 1957, thousands of workers occupied the area, building what Lúcio Costa (as the main urban planner), and the famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, had designed for the country’s capital. The cost of approximately $19.5 billion dollars, in today’s numbers, transformed an empty plain into a metropolis.

Lúcio Costa’s main concept for the city’s design was the Plano Piloto, imagining Brasília in the form of an airplane, which won him the job in a 1957 public competition. Although named as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, the city is notorious for its windswept emptiness and anti-pedestrian layout.

National Congress, desgined by Oscar Niemeyer, photo by Christian Knepper/Embratur.

National Congress, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, photo by Christian Knepper/Embratur.

Oscar Niemeyer also played a part in the competition for the lay-out of Brasília with his old friend, Costa. In the space of a few months, Niemeyer designed a large number of residential, commercial and government buildings.

Among them were the residence of the President (Palácio da Alvorada), the House of the Deputy, the National Congress of Brazil, and the Cathedral of Brasília. From above, the city’s architecture has elements that repeat themselves in every building, giving it a formal unity.

As a visitor, Brasilia’s main highlights are the modern structures, architecture and design of the city itself. City-tours are recommended as walking from one point to another is not easy; although taxis and buses are readily accessible.

Following the Plano Piloto, the largest structure in the city, the Television Tower, is in the “business class” section of the plane, while the “first class” and “cockpit” sections (east) house a parallel row of 19 government buildings that lead to the twin towers of the legislative branch of government.

Flanked by a large cup and saucer, the towers begin the circle of Three Powers Square (Praça dos Três Poderes) made up of the legislative, judicial and executive buildings. Here too are historical buildings and a museum.

Between the tail and the cockpit on both sides of Eixo Monumental (Monumental Asix) are the planned sections designated for hotels, banks, businesses or cultural activities. The north and south wings of Eixo Rodaviario (Axis Rodaviario) are the residential sections where important government officials reside. Each is divided into super-quadras and is totally self-contained, with schools, shops, cinemas, athletic facilities and restaurants.

There are multiple flights from Rio every day on both Gol and TAM for about R$500. It takes only two hours to get there but four hours for the return flight.