This week, Brazil celebrates the birthday of one of its most iconic monuments, and the country’s most popular tourist attraction. The world famous Christ the Redeemer statue, overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro from his perch atop Corcovado mountain, receives around 2.5 million visitors a year — and on Tuesday, it turned 90 years old.
The story of the statue begins long before that, however. In 1859, before Brazil became a republic, French priest Pierre-Marie Bos suggested to Imperial Princess Isabel that the royal family should build a large statue of Jesus Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro, the country’s capital at the time.
While the idea was well-received, it never got off the ground and laid festering in the drawers of authorities’ offices. Years later, long after Bos’s death and the Portuguese imperial family were hounded out of Rio de Janeiro, the plan finally got a second viewing, slated for construction to begin in 1922 as part of Brazil’s independence centenary celebrations.
It took years for the statue to be completed, only being opened to the public for the first time on October 12, 1931 — the same day Brazil celebrates its patron saint, Our Lady of Aparecida.
Over the last 90 years, from its privileged viewpoint in the mountains, Christ the Redeemer has seen Rio de Janeiro undergo some dramatic changes. Dictatorships came and went, as did economic booms, while the city’s favelas spread organically across the unused terrain of the Wonderful City. In the good times and the bad, Christ the Redeemer has kept its arms open for all.
Its beauty and ever-present status — being visible across much of central Rio and toward the north — provided a seemingly bottomless swell of inspiration for artists and musicians. The statue became a character in a number of famous bossa nova songs, as well as films and television dramas. Indeed, in 2007, it became renowned as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
It is hard to picture Rio de Janeiro without Christ the Redeemer, representing so much of the famous Carioca way of life. Here’s to another 90 years!