A marvelous view enchants tourists and Cariocas* upon arriving in Rio de Janeiro. Way up there, still on the plane, or even from the ground, it is possible to behold the statue on top of the Corcovado Hill, in the midst of Tijuca National Park. It is the statue of Christ Redeemer, a Brazilian tourism icon, which was the highlight in 2007 when it was chosen as one of the wonders of the world. It had already been blessing the lives of Cariocas for the past 76 years, besides welcoming all visitors to Rio de Janeiro.
This “young” monument, 76 years old, located 710 meters above sea level, which catches the eye due to its exuberance and due to the panoramic view of the city is 38 meters high, of which eight meters make up its pedestal. It was opened on October 12th, 1931, and it became one of the main postal cards of Rio de Janeiro, and one of the Brazilian tourism symbols, which now parades amongst the Seven New Wonders of the World.
The idea to build this statue was masterminded before the 1930’s. Dated to the 19th Century, when in 1859, during a visit to the city, father Pedro Maria Boss suggested that a religious monument should be erected on top of the Corcovado Hill – at that time it was named Temptation Pinnacle. The suggestion was taken to attention of princess Isabel who, according to historian and professor Milton Teixeira, provided the first official support to the idea, but the project did not advance.
“In 1891, the Republic separated Church and State. In 1912, Cardinal Dom Joaquim Arcoverde started to pursue the idea to build a Christ, as a way to show that the Church is present within the Brazilian people, in spite of having a laic Republic”, Milton reveals.
With the construction of the Sugar Loaf Hill’s trolley in that same year, there arouse the possibility to build an image of Jesus Christ on top of the Sugar Loaf Hill, but only in 1921 the project was retaken, bearing as focus the celebration of Brazil’s one hundred years of Independence. Besides the choice of the monument, it was up to the Catholic Circle to also decide upon the place, given that the Sugar Loaf Hill was facing some competition from Santo Antônio Hill (proposed in 1918, where today stands the Santo Antônio Convent, downtown) and Corcovado Hill. An assembly created by the Circle decided in favor of the latter option, due to being the highest peak.
In 1922, a list of signatures with more than 20 thousand names requested from President Epitácio Pessoa that the statue would be built. According to the historian, given that President Epitácio Pessoa, “a frivolous catholic”, was friends with Cardinal Arcoverde and with his successor, Cardinal Dom Sebastião Leme, the President donated the summit of the Corcovado Hill to the construction of the statue. In that same year, on April 4th, the corner stone of the construction was laid down.
In 1923, through a public tender, the project from engineer Heitor da Silva Costa was chosen. The statue was designed by plastic artist Carlos Oswald and projected by French architect Paul Landowsky, brought from Europe specially to conduct the project, particularly the building of the head and the hands, where the skills of a sculptor was crucial.
For the longest time, it was believed that the Christ Redeemer monument was the Frenchman’s making, but a recent study carried out by moviemaker Maria Izabel Seabra de Noronha (Bel Noronha), great-granddaughter of Heitor Costa reveals the authenticity of the Brazilian engineer’s work.
At that time, in September, it was instituted in Rio de Janeiro, by the Catholic Church – the Monument Week, a national campaign with the goal to leverage funds for the construction. The campaign lasted ten year and gathered enough money to perform the work. According to Milton Teixeira, the amount stipulated was two hundred réis (approximately R$ 0.20), an amount considered low, which enabled participation from all social classes. During the research, which gave birth to the short-film Christo Redemptor”, Bel Noronha found characters who were part of this history, such as a student who played piano in school in order to raise some cash; a couple who recalled some people parading around with open bed sheets through the streets of Cosme Velho while others would throw money out the window; and some boys scouts who raised money for the campaign, such as the current honorific president of Fifa, João Havelange. Those facts alone put an end to the idea that the statue was a gift from the French government”, highlights Izabel.
After four years from the laying of the corner stone, in 1926, the construction was actually begun, and the delay was due to changes endured by the maquettes and due to the studies performed in order to define the best material.
Before reaching the statue form we know now, the idea of the Christ’s statue underwent many reformulations. The project approved by Heitor Costa constituted the image of Jesus, holding a cross on his left hand and a globe on his right, which according to Izabel “were material attributes and more important in the engineer’s view”. But during that year, until 1923, the Cardinal asks from the engineer that he would rethink his project so that, from afar, the monument would be seen as something religious.
“In 1922, something curious happened. Due to the celebration of one hundred years of Independence, 40-meter high radio antennas are fixed (by Roquete Pinto) on the top of Corcovado Hill, with horizontal crossbars, which from the Botafogo Beach, Heitor sees a cross and given that he was already rethinking his project, the idea to transform the Christ into a cross itself arouse, and the world starts to be represented by the city of Rio de Janeiro”, Bel Noronha states, referring to one of the texts left by Heitor himself in a special column of the Cruzeiro Magazine when the monument was inaugurated.
According to historian Milton Teixeira, there are controversies and that history is denied by some, who say that the third place of the public tender, architect Morales de Losvis, had already presented the image of Christ with arms wide opened.
Once the format was defined, there came the study of a new form for the monument, erected on top of an eight-meter high pedestal. The studies revealed that Silva Costa lived in Europe between 1924 and 1927 in order to participate in all the details of the studies until its conception. What fascinated him was that the Christ, differently from many other monuments around the world, acquired special highlight due to being positioned overlooking the city, sharing its attention with none, standing in harmony with its surroundings for there is nothing around the statue that would pollute or render its visualization difficult.
It was only in 1924, with the presentation of the final maquette that Heitor Costa decides to go to Europe to seek after professionals to design the final external lines and then he meets Landowsky and Albert Caquot, responsible for the structural calculations that assured the stability of the Christ with almost 30 meters between one hand and the other “and the capacity to support up to 200 kilometers of wind”, as Milton Teixeira adds, wind that has never been seen in the city of Rio de Janeiro.
In order to reach the image perfection of a Christ Redeemer, it was necessary to adopt a quadriculated technique where 163 points were demarked in order to assist in the precision of the construction. With erect body and opened arms, the construction of a man was begun; a God who would bless the entire city and so would welcome its visitors. The face tilted downward and to the left was also strategically planned so that it could be seen from the city and to provide the statue with the softness of those who bless and protects. In the same manner, the expression upon his face, the tunic and the cloak were elaborated so to provide the Christ with mighty respect.
Many projects and studies were also carried out for the choosing of the material to be used. In the initial project there was the use of bronze, however, an episode that took place in Russia – at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, in which the Soviet government ordered to melt down all saint statues of metallic construction in order to reuse the material – made the project idealists take a couple of steps back. In order to build the structure, the use of reinforced cement was used instead of metallic framing, and for the coating, soap stone was chosen – material incredibly resistant to climatic variations.
The statue construction was of great boldness, both regarding its structure and its localization. To hoist cement blocks, iron, tools, equipment and water up 300 meters, without mentioning the moving of all the material up to the top of the hill, was a work of recognized difficulty. The parts were transported by trains over the Corcovado Railroad and assembled high up in the hill. It is worth highlighting that the railroad was opened thanks to a visit made in 1824 by Dom Pedro I to Corcovado (name given to the hill in the 17th Century due to its resembling a “corcunda” hunchback), who upon gazing the view with great awe, requested that a path would be opened to the summit of the hill, which gave start to the railroad tracks. However, only in 1884, Dom Pedro II granted permission to engineers Francisco Pereira Passos and João Teixeira Soares regarding the construction of the railroad, which first portion, Cosme Velho – Paineiras, was opened in 1884 and the second portion, Paineiras – Corcovado, was opened in 1885, totaling 3800 meters of railroad tracks.
Another part of history told wrongly for the longest time is that the Christ had been made in France and brought to Brazil. According to Izabel Noronha, the Christ Redeemer was entirely modeled on top of Corcovado Hill. “The first maquette designed in Paris presented a refined tunic around the body that Heitor did not approve because it would be impossible to model in loco”, she explains. “Upon attaining the final maquette, which was known, Heitor asks Landowsky to make another maquette, this time with four meters in height which was cut up into blocks in order to serve as basis for the blueprints, in the statue’s original size, to be modeled in Rio de Janeiro. The only things that were built in France were the head and hand moulds, but those were built in plaster, natural size, which were cut up and brought to Brazil, and finally rebuilt here with reinforced concrete”, the moviemaker concludes.
According to Milton Teixeira, in 1925 Art Déco’s exhibit is held, which comes as a prelude to modernism, and from then on, the Christ’s appearance is remodeled. “The interesting thing is that the Christ is the first Art Déco monument of the world, a style that preconized the contrast between vertical and horizontal lines and there is nothing more perfect than the Christ Redeemer’s statue.
As the legend goes, told by the historian, a student of Paul Landowsky, named Margarida Lopes de Almeida, a pianist, bearing long fingers, was the inspiring force behind the Christ’s hand mould. Even though the pianist told this story all her life, upon her death bed, she denied it. And the truth was never revealed.
Engineers Pedro Vianna da Silva and Heitor.
The day has come. On October 12th, 1931, the Christ Redeemer monument is inaugurated, which would later become the Brazilian tourism symbol. The bad weather did not allow the triumphant apotheosis. The lights would be ignited in Rome (and not in the city of Naples, as many books inform), in Italy, by Italian scientist Guglielmo Marconi, through the electric signal that would be captured by a station in Dorchester, England, and retransmitted by a tower in Jacarepaguá, Rio de Janeiro. However, the bad weather rendered the contact impossible and the lights were lit right there; a drawback that did not shine down on the party’s greatness.
The opening ceremony counted on the presence of authorities such as the chief of the Temporary Government, Getúlio Vargas and the Blessing of Cardinal Dom Sebastião Leme, whose words defined the monument’s importance for Catholicism, more precisely for the reclaiming of the Church’s power in the Republican State. On October 21st of the same year, as a replacement of the Monument’s Organizing Commission, it was created the Christ Redeemer Archdioceses, which would be responsible for the administration and conservation of the monument, being extinct in 1960 when the Archiepiscopal Miter of Rio de Janeiro took over those responsibilities.
A NEW WONDER
July 7th, 2007 is now part of the history of the Christ Redeemer. In a party held at Luz Stadium, in Portugal, the monument was elected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, with more than 100 million votes through the Internet and phone.
The Brazilian monument was the third one of the night to be announced and competed with more than 20 finalists: The Acropolis (Greece); Alhambra (Spain); Angkor (Cambodia); Hagia Sophia (Turkey); Neuschwanstein Castle (Germany); Chichén Itzá (Mexico); Coliseum (Italy); Statue of Liberty (USA); Statues of Easter Island (Chile); The Great Wall of China (China); Kremlin/St. Basil (Russia); Machu Picchu (Peru); Opera House of Sydney (Australia); Petra (Jordan); Stonehenge (United Kingdom); Taj Mahal Palace (India); Kiyomizudera Temple (Japan); Timbuktu (Mali); Eiffel Tower (France), and Pyramids of Giza (Egypt), the only wonders left from the Ancient World.
(This article was written by journalist Carla Vieira as a Supplement of Jornal de Turismo of 2008, which authorized its publishing on this website).
Address: Parque Nacional da Tijuca
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