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Stunning. Never before has a panoramic vista engulfed me in a wave of emotion quite like the view from atop Corcovado, where Cristo Redentor stands. I felt in awe, lost, shocked, overwhelmed, humble, euphoric, proud and a whole host of other emotions as I look across Guanabara Bay.
Never has the old adage of no resemblence resonated as true as it does here. Rio de Janeiro really is 'one of a kind' with nowhere else on earth quite like it.
The view of Rio de Janeiro from Corcovado is virtually 360 degrees. All the way round there is something to see from the unique geographical formation of the land, to the modern tall buildings in the more affluent areas of Ipanema and Leblon. Then there's the famous stretches of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, and the view of the spherical Maracana football stadium.
The stark divide between rich and poor could also not be more severe.
Surrounding the Ipanema Jockey Club is a wealthy neighbourhood of several hundred houses complete with tennis courts and swimming pools, whilst a glance to the left, literally across the road, is one of Rio de Janeiro's biggest slums (or 'favelas', as they say in Portuguese). This place, this view, not only makes you ponder the social injustices of the locals, but really does make you reassess your priorities in your own life and gain some perspective on what really matters.
Aside from the stunning view, Christ Himself towers over you and your thoughts. Walking up the final few steps didn't feel real. It felt like I was back in time in some mythological Greek era walking up to the Colossus of Rhodes.
If you are in Rio, there is no excuse not to visit this, as it is a once in a lifetime experience. Yes, you can go again and again if you wish, but nothing prepares you, or at least it didn't with me, for the wave of thoughts and emotions that crash through your mind as you overlook the city for the first time.
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.
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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.
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The Statue and the Belvedere
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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.
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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.
The famous iconic statue of Christ the redeemer blessing the city of Rio with his open arms is about 30 metres high and is on the top of the Corcovado Hill which is about 700metres high so it can be seen from many parts of Rio on a clear day. Once you are up on the Corcovado hill standing under the statue you have the most wonderful 360° view of the city of Rio de Janeiro provided there are no clouds hovering over the statue.
The statue was designed by the Brazilian artist Heitor da Silva Costa alongside the French sculptor Paul Landowski. The statue was built between the years 1926 to 1931 from donated funds. Mr da Silva Costa was the engineer overseeing the construction and the French sculpture concentrated on carving the face and hands of the statue.
We were quite concerned the day we went to visit the famous monument as it was shrouded in clouds. We went to the Sugar Loaf Mountain first hoping the clouds would move away before we reached the Corcovado and we were indeed lucky at the last minute and we had the thrill of seeing the city of Rio from above quite clearly for about 20 minutes before the clouds came over again.
We caught the funicular train up the hill through the wonderful forest which is not an original rainforest. It was planted by people employed by Emperor Dom Pedro II or Peter the Second who was a man wise before others of the time. He noticed that the hills around Rio were being over cultivated and this was causing flooding as well as soil erosion so he banned farming on the hills and stopped any further destruction of the rainforest. He employed thousands of people who spent their working lives planting rainforest trees on the hills overlooking Rio thus creating this rainforest for future generations.
The train crawls up the Corcovado Hill steadily and at all times you are able to see the forest vegetation. We sat facing backwards going up which was a strange sensation and it felt like you were slipping off your seat most of the time. There is one stop before you reach the top but no-one got on or off so I'm not sure if it was a station or just so that they could do something to the train and line. Once you reach the top you have to show your ticket again and hang on to it as it is a return - if you lose it you pay again or walk down and it is a long way even downhill.
Keeping our fingers crossed we walked up the last few steps towards the statue. The clouds had cleared and we could see it in all its glory and it is really big. From a distance it looks spectacular but standing underneath it you can really appreciate the size, when you look up towards the face you get that slightly dizzy feeling and of course when the sun is bright I also have to shut my eyes which means I see nothing.
There are escalators, two I believe that take you up the last few feet but when we first arrived they were not working so we had to use the traditional stairs. Fortunately we were not there in the main tourist season ( or so we were told) so although there were quite a few people up on the hill we were able to wander round and take photos that did not have a large number of total strangers making silly faces in them.
The statue is white and very clean, it is supposedly covered in a mosaic of white soapstone but it was not obvious, it just looked like white stone. I believe it is actually concrete over a structure then covered in this white soapstone but I'm not totally certain. I vaguely remember those snippets of information coming from our guide.
Once you are up at the top you can of course go to the little chapel under the statue. You can stand in front of it with your arms out and have your photo taken. It must tell you to do this somewhere as everyone was doing it. It never occurred to me I must say. You can also go to several spots and look at the spectacular views of Rio. It is possible to see all the way to the Sugar Loaf Mountain and beyond into the Bay. You can clearly see the Lake Rodrigo de Freitas and the Maracana football stadium as well as the main beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema as well as some of the facelas ( see my Favela Tour review).
After you have used up your entire memory card or film on the camera then there is a small cafe down the stairs or escalators where you can get coffee, cold drinks and a few snacks. Unfortunately they had sold out of the cheesy bread balls that we wanted to try so our English tour manager from Kuoni went with us to see if the cafe below had any. We left the local guide (and our return funicular train tickets) with everyone else in the first cafe. You had to go out of a turnstile to get to the cafe so Derek ( our tour guide) explained that we just wanted to get a snack and then go back to join our group but we didn't have our tickets - would we be able to go back in again.' Yes, yes, no problem' he said.
The three of us sat with our drinks and cheesy ball things and enjoyed a sit and the sun for about 10 minutes. Un-noticed by us the turnstile guard changed so that when we came to go back this new one wouldn't let us back in!! We don't speak Portuguese so... after ac lot of hand waving and a bit of shouting in limited Portuguese by Derek; we were allowed back in to rejoin the rest of the group.
We had planned to go and take a few more photos as the crowds had thinned to one or two people now but the rest of the group had decided they wanted to go back down on an earlier train as they had seen it all. To be honest so had we so we joined them. As the sun had come out nicely and we had the afternoon free my book and the hotel rooftop pool were looking very inviting. Or we could enjoy a beer in a beachside cafe on Copacabana or wander along to Ipanema beach - the choices were many.
I don't think you could visit Rio and not go to see this statue that is the symbol of Rio. It is a very beautiful sight and I'm not a religious person at all. It just looks so peaceful and welcoming with its smooth clean lines and being so white which contrasts with the green forest on the hill and blue, blue sky. Apparently Pope John Paul II came up to visit the statue, he also visited the favelas and according to one of our guides he was so moved by the people in one favela that he gave them his ring. I wonder where he was more moved, in the favela or by this amazing statue.
I have stood at the feet of Jesus and looked down at the City of God. Many people will know of the famous statue Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) that overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro but there are not so many who would be able to name the mountain upon which the statue is perched: it is called Corcovado, meaning "hunchback" in Portuguese and is 710 metres in height. The monument to Jesus was inaugurated on October 12th 1931 and can be viewed from many locations in the city of Rio de Janeiro. Local engineer Heitor da Silva Costa oversaw the construction of the monument, which was designed by the Franco-Polish architect Paul Landowsky. The statue is 38 metres in height and weighs 1,145 tons.
Over the course of a number of years I've attempted to reach the top of Corcovado on three separate occasions but was only successful on two of them. On the first occasion I was accompanied by a fellow traveller as we attempted to take a taxi up the mountain only to be blocked a third of the way by a huge tree trunk that had tumbled across our path. Heavy floods caused by tropical storms had hit the city in the previous few weeks. These had caused some devastating mudslides that had brought death and destruction especially to those living precariously on the many hill sides of Rio. On the second occasion I think I travelled alone. I can't remember how I got to the top, but I do remember that the views were partly obscured by mist and clouds. Always check the weather before you plan your ascent. On the last occasion I travelled with some friends by car. This time it was a clear day of blue skies and hot sunshine.
Getting to the Top
You can climb most of the way to the summit of Corcovado on foot, by car or by train. On foot is for the brave. If you go by car you need to head for Cosme Velho Street. Each vehicle passenger must pay a small fee to the local Ibama (Brazilian environmental agency) post, at Paineiras (at the foot of the hill). During the car ride it is good idea to stop and take a few minutes to enjoy the views from a number of observation platforms that are located at various points on the way up. If you do decide to walk it is only 3km, but it is up a rather steep hill and there might be the odd bandit waiting to pounce. Each year it is claimed that 300,000 people visit the statue of Christ using the Corcovado Train which was inaugurated a long time before the statue was erected on October 9, 1884 by Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro II. The train departs at half-hour intervals from 8:30 AM to 20:00 PM and will cost you about a £10. Be prepared to wait about an hour between purchasing your ticket and boarding the train. For most of the short journey of about 20 minutes the train will take you through the cool shaded forest of the Tijuca National Park.
Whether you travel by train, car or on foot you will hopefully eventually reach the elevators (each of the three panoramic elevators holds 14 people) and escalators at the access area that will transport you on your final journey to the observation deck at the foot of the statue. There is a car park near to the access area. Alternatively, instead of taking the escalators, and if you have any energy left, you can climb a stairway of 222 steps.
On a clear day from the observation deck you will witness a panoramic view that is really beyond words. From up here even the ugliest parts of Rio are beautiful. You will be able to see downtown Rio, Botafogo Bay, the Southern town districts of Leblon, Lake Rodrigo de Freitas, Niterói Bridge winding snake-like across the bay, the plump bulge of Sugarloaf Mountain, the Maracanã Football Stadium, Copacabana beach, Ipanema beach, and several of Rio's favelas. The evenings can be spectacular and of course the sunsets are wonderful but if you arrive at this time you run the risk of everything else below becoming covered in a cloud of smog rising up from the city. However, this is usually never so bad because of the coastal location and the cool Atlantic breezes.
Avoid the Crowds
Of course I would recommend this as a place to visit, but you have to be aware that Corcovado is more popular than ever. It is one of the most popular attractions in Rio and draws over 300,000 local and international visitors per year. Notable past visitors to the mountain peak include Pope John Paul II, Albert Einstein and Princess Diana. Unlike Sugar Loaf Mountain there is far less space up on top to hang out. This can sometimes make it hard to find a quiet place to rest or take pictures. I have to say however, that on the occasions when I went there weren't that many people about. To avoid the crowds try to arrive in the early morning, it will also be cooler at this time and the views will be that little bit clearer.
There is a website that gives some information regarding the train along with some interesting historical facts www.corcovado.com.br