A quick guide to Rio's Christ the Redeemer statue
Those great wonders of the ancient world, the Colossus of Rhodes and Phidias’s gigantic statue of Zeus at Olympia are sadly lost to us today, but overlooking Rio de Janeiro stands one of their successors, the awe-inspiring statue of Christ the Redeemer. Named as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ in an international poll in 2007, the 30-metre tall, 1,145-ton statue, with its outstretched arms, is the city’s most recognisable landmark and a cherished national icon for Brazil.
Standing on the peak of the 700m-high Corcovado Mountain, the statue of Cristo Redentor, as it’s known in Portuguese, occupies a commanding spot watching over Rio, the favelas, the beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema at the Atlantic Ocean beyond, and has become not just a symbol of Brazilian Christianity, but of worldwide peace. It’s a hugely popular tourist attraction, receiving an estimated 5,000 visitors a day, and, since a chapel was consecrated in the pedestal beneath the statue in 2006, it has also been a fashionable location for marriages and baptisms.
The history behind Christ the Redeemer
Work on the statue began in 1922, partly to celebrate the centenary of Brazil’s independence from Portugal, and it was finally completed in 1931. Designed by local architect Heitor da Silva Costa, in the contemporary Art Deco style, it was built by the French-Polish sculptor Paul Landowski, while the statue’s face was created separately, by the Romanian sculptor Gheorghe Leonida.
Although no longer the tallest statue of Christ in the world - the 33-metre high statue of Christ the King in Poland, built in 2010, currently holds that title - Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer remains a globally recognised symbol of Rio and is close to the heart of every Carioca, the native citizens of this endlessly fascinating city.
How it was made
It was an ambitious project to say the least. The statue of Christ was intended to be the tallest in the world, and for such a vast monument, it was decided that it would need to be constructed with reinforced concrete. This was then faced with thousands of tiny mosaic tiles - just 5mm thick - made from soapstone, which was both easy to carve and hard-wearing.
The statue is struck by lightning several times each years, and a particularly powerful electrical storm in January 2014 damaged the figure’s hand and head. The quarry where the original pale soapstone for the statue was sourced is now exhausted, and so gradually the statue is turning a darker hue as damaged tiles are replaced with different stone.
There are a few different ways to get to the Christ the Redeemer statue. You can hike up - it's a lovely walk through the forest from Parque Lage (near Rio's beautiful Botanical Gardens), where you can spot monkeys and other wildlife. It is steep, though, and the conditions are often hot and humid. The walk up to Christ the Redeemer takes around 90 minutes. You can also catch a minibus from the Copacabana area.
The best way (in our opinion) is to travel up on the rack railway through the lush Tijuca National Park and up to the top of Corcovado Mountain, and this is what we include on our Rio tours. This mountain railway has been operating for almost 140 years, and has carried kings, princes, presidents and popes up to the statue.
Can you go inside?
Inside the hollow statue, there's a network of stairways and tunnels. These aren't open to the general public, though - they allow access for maintenance workers. Eight decades of exposure to sun, wind, rain, pollution and lightning strikes means that maintaining this edifice is becoming a full-time job.
A few fun facts about Christ the Redeemer
The statue's foundation stone was laid before the final design had even been chosen, as a way to commemorate 100 years since Brazil's independence from Portugal.
It's the world's largest art deco-style statue.
Workers on the statue supposedly wrote the odd note on the back of the statue's soapstone mosaic tiles, so there may be all sorts of hidden messages on there!
300 LED lights illuminate the statue after dark - it's a beautiful sight from afar.
See this magnificent world wonder for yourself on our South America tours.
Cassie loves to experience different cultures and get ‘off the beaten track’. Her favourite travel experience to date was seeing orang-utans and pygmy elephants up close and personal in Malaysian Borneo. Having visited 6 out of the 7 continents worldwide, a trip to Antarctica will be next on the list!
Cassie | About the author
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