Brasilia – The Purpose-Built Capital of Brazil
Brasilia is a triumph of 20th Century urban architecture and design. It was inaugurated as the new capital of Brazil, replacing Rio de Janeiro, in 1960. The whole city was planned, designed and constructed in a breathtaking five years, essentially to capitalise on the huge resources of Brazil’s interior. It was a demonstration of how Brazil could become a major economic force in the world. Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer took his inspiration for the designs from the sensual curves that he saw in the hills and bodies of Brazil, and from the shape of the clouds above the land, and the ocean waves that fall upon the shores. His vision became such a successful reality that the city is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was built alongside the man-made Paranoá Lake, and its buildings, including the Palace of Congress, are arranged in the shape of a flying bird. Brasilia is also home to many fascinating museums.
Around the new city of Brasilia are many older colonial towns such as Goias Velho and Pirenópolis, which sprang up during the 18th Century gold rush. At times, they don’t appear to have changed much at all, with narrow cobblestone streets lit by gas-lamps. The towns are set amongst the hills of the Serra Dourada.
A trip to Brasilia is an impressive experience, whether by bus or by air. From above, you can see the whole bird design spread out below you. Most of the architecturally significant buildings are situated in the beak of the bird, closest to Paranoá Lake. Watching sunset from the roof of the Palace of Congress is one of Brasilia’s famed activities, and it is also possible to visit the Office of The President, the Palacio do Planalto, but only on a Sunday. The Juscelino Kubitschek Memorial has photographs and documents about the construction of the new city in a building named after the president who commissioned it. The TV Tower has an observation deck from where it is possible to see the whole city, including the magnificent modern cathedral and Santuário Dom Bosco, the building named after the Italian monk who dreamt of the new capital in the 19th Century. Both use stained glass windows and arches to maximum effect. The National Park of Brasilia is the place to relax on the outskirts of the city.
Even further away in distance and architectural styles are the well-preserved towns of Goias Velho and Pirenópolis. Both have baroque churches and colonial buildings dating back to the days before the Brasilia Dream. The night-time Easter Procession in Goias Velho is a spectacular occasion, while Cavalhadas in Pirenópolis is a famous re-enactment of a Christian battle.
Brasilia is an interesting city to visit although most people only stay a short while or visit for non-tourist reasons. It serves well as a base to visit the surrounding hills.
Goias - Colonial Gold-Rush Towns
The state of Goias is home to a couple of hill-towns which offer a nice colonial contrast to modern Brasilia. Pirenopolis and Cidade de Goias are within a few hours drive of Brasilia and Goiania, state capital of Goias. Both have baroque churches and colonial mansions amongst the hilly country of gold-rush times. There are also hills and mountains outside of town for hiking and climbing. Caldas Novas is a mountain town with hot springs, including the world's only thermal-water river.
Suitable Destination For: Lovers of modern architecture and modern capital cities; as the gateway to historic mountain towns Goias Velhas and Pirenopolis, and the Chapada dos Veiadeiros National Park.
Best Time to Visit: Brasilia sits high on the central plateau, making it a hot, dry city. Temperatures will top 30˚C most days, especially in the wet season of December to March. Nights are a little cooler than the tropical coast of Brazil, but should only dip below 20˚C during the winter months of June to August.
Essential Sights & Activities: The city design from the air; Sunset from the roof of the Congress building; Wandering around on the roof of the Presidential Palace; the city view from the TV Tower; the cathedral and Santuario Dom Bosco buildings. Colonial towns of Pirenopolis and Cidade de Goias.