Welcome to Rio de Janeiro – the Olympic city

In August 2016 Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympic Games. This is the first time that the Olympics will be hosted in South America. Even though August is a winter month in the Southern Hemisphere, it should still be nice and warm in Rio where the August daily mean temperature is usually over 20°C and the average high is over 25°C. The Olympics will last for about 2.5 weeks. The opening ceremony will be held on August 5 and the games will conclude on the 21st.

As always, the Olympics will be a huge celebration of sports with athletes from all over the world taking part. Altogether 11,491 athletes representing more than 200 member nations of the International Olympic Committee will compete in 39 different sports in Rio. The sports include the usual ones such as athletics, football and swimming, as well as some newcomers. Rugby Sevens will be played in the Olympics for the first time (Rugby Union has been played before, last time in 1924) and golf will return after a long absence: it was last played in the Olympics in 1904.

Brazil – the giant of South America

The host country Brazil is the largest country in South America by both area and population. In the world, it is number 5 in both categories. Since 1960 the capital has been Brasilia, a city built from scratch essentially in the middle of nowhere. This was because the then-president Juscelino Kubitschek felt that the country’s resources were centred too much in the Southeast, around the Rio de Janeiro area. Lucio Costa won the contest to be the main urban planner and his close friend, the famous architect Oscar Niemeyer, designed most of the public buildings. The largest city is Sao Paulo with over 20 million people living in its metropolitan area.

Brazil is an extremely diverse country. Nature-wise it has everything from beaches and mountains to the Amazon rainforest. Pantanal in the west of the country is the world’s largest tropical wetland while the Iguazu Falls on the border of Brazil and Argentina are the world’s biggest waterfalls system. On top of the white population who are descendants of the European settlers, Brazil has the second largest black population in the world after Nigeria and the largest Japanese population outside of Japan.

Rio de Janeiro – the marvellous city

Despite everything else that is great and exciting about Brazil, nothing titillates the imagination quite like it’s most illustrious city, Rio de Janeiro. The image of the Corcovado Christ spreading its hands above the night lights of the city and the Sugarloaf Mountain rising out of the Guanabara Bay is definitely one of the most iconic and recognizable city views in the world. Everybody all over the world knows names like Copacabana and Ipanema. The weather is warm but not too hot all year. Countless people dream of visiting this magnificent city, playing football or beach volley on the beaches or visiting the world famous Rio Carnival.

Rio de Janeiro is the second largest city in Brazil, with about 12 million people living in its metropolitan area. This also makes it the third largest city in South America and the sixth largest in the Americas. The Portuguese first came to the Guanabara Bay on New Year’s Day in 1502 and hence named the area Rio de Janeiro (January River). The city itself was founded in 1565 and was originally called São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro. Originally the Portuguese were interested in Brazil because of sugar, but in the late 17th-century gold and diamonds were found close to Rio in Minas Gerais. This discovery made Rio de Janeiro a more important port than Salvador, which was further away in the Northeast of the country, and paved the way for it becoming one of the most iconic cities in the world today.

The beaches

When you think about Rio de Janeiro, probably the first thing that comes to your mind are the beaches. Perhaps the most famous of all is Copacabana, a 4km stretch of sand that is one of the most famous beaches in the world. During the Games, Copacabana will be an Olympic venue, with the beach volley matches being played on the temporary stadium that has been built on the sand. Of the most famous beaches in Rio, Copacabana is the one closest to the Sugarloaf Mountain, located southwest of it and southeast of the Christ the Redeemer statue. On the sidewalk of Avenida Atlantica, which runs parallel to the beach, is the famous Portuguese pavement wave pattern.

Another one of the city’s famous beaches, Ipanema, is perhaps best known from the song “The Girl From Ipanema”, which was a big hit all over the world in the 1960s. Ipanema is an affluent neighbourhood in the South Zone of Rio and the beach is located straight to the south of Christ the Redeemer. On the west side of the beach there is a small canal and right on the other side of the canal is Leblon, the third famous beach in Rio. Leblon is smaller than Ipanema and perhaps because of this, it is not so well-known. The two beaches are very similar though, facing the same direction and only with the small canal between them. Perhaps the world-famous song has helped Ipanema’s reputation a lot, but Leblon is also a beautiful beach and the neighbourhood is considered to be the most affluent in the city.

Christ the Redeemer

Perhaps the single most famous symbol of Rio de Janeiro and all of Brazil is the statue of Christ the Redeemer atop the 700-metre high Corcovado mountain. The statue itself is 30 metres tall and stands on an 8-metre pedestal. It took nine years to build and was completed in 1931. The statue is made of soapstone and reinforced concrete and was sculpted by Paul Landowski. The engineers in charge of the actual building were Heitor da Silva Costa and Albert Caquot.

For the first time, the idea of a statue on top of the Corcovado mountain was proposed already in the 1850s, but that plan was never realised. The idea of a statue was brought forth again in 1920 when a group of Catholics decided that building a Christian statue on top of the Corcovado would be a good way to fight “godlessness” in the society. Several different ideas for the statue were proposed, including Jesus holding a globe and just a Christian cross, but eventually, they decided to build a statue of Jesus with his hands spread, a symbol of peace.

The iconic statue has inspired several similar ones around the world but has also been a source of jokes for people from Sao Paulo. Ever the fierce rivals of the Cariocas of Rio de Janeiro, the people of Sao Paulo, the Paulistas, like to make jokes about the people of Rio being lazy and unwilling to do work. According to a story in Sao Paulo, when the Cariocas start working, Christ the Redeemer will clap its hands.

The Sugarloaf Mountain

The Sugarloaf Mountain is another iconic part of Rio. This 396-metre high mountain is located at the mouth of the Guanabara Bay and offers great panoramic views to the city. It’s actually only one of several similar mountains in the area, but it’s famous for the shape that gives it its name. During the 16th century, when the Portuguese imported sugar from Brazil, the sugar was stored in cones to be transported in ships across the Atlantic. These cones were of a similar shape than the mountain and the mountain got its name.

Another reason why this particular mountain of all the mountains in the area is so well-known is its location right at the mouth of the bay. In 1910 works were started to build a cable car connection to the top so that people would be able to enjoy the views of the city from there. The current Swiss-made cars with their glass structure offer 360-degree views of the city along a trip that takes about three minutes from the foot of the hill to the top.

The Brazilian lifestyle

The Brazilian culture and lifestyle are known all over the world. Wherever you go, people will usually have an idea of Brazil being a sunny and warm country populated by sunny and warm people. The people are known to be generous and friendly. Family and friends are very important to Brazilians who of course especially enjoy talking about football, but also things like religion. Brazil is a very devoutly Catholic country where religion and the belief in God are a big part of everyday life.

One thing that people probably often think about when they think about Brazil is music. Music is everywhere in Brazil, from bars and restaurants to beaches and family celebrations. The samba carnivals are a very famous feature of the Brazilian culture, with the Rio Carnival being the best-known one. In addition to samba, capoeira, a mix between dancing and martial art, is very typical in Brazil. It was created by the slaves that were brought to Brazil from West Africa in the 16th century to work in the sugar plantations.

Of course, it is not possible to talk about Brazil without talking about football. The whole country seems to love the sport and the achievements of the national team are second to none, with Brazil having won five World Cups and eight Copa America titles. They have never, however, won the Olympic gold in football, coming second on three occasions, including four years ago in London when they lost the final to Mexico. Now, with the help of the team’s number one star Neymar, they are looking to get that first gold on home soil.

Security concerns

With all the beauty and positive cultural aspects that are linked to Brazil, there have also been worries about the security situation in the host city. In Brazil the differences in the wealth of the rich and the poor are huge and cities like Rio have both very wealthy and very poor areas. Because of this, crime figures are high and they have been made worse by an influx of people moving from the countryside into the cities in search of work. When work is not found, some people turn to crime. Slums, called favelas in Brazil, and other poor housing has developed as a result of poverty. Some of the Rio favelas are among the most dangerous places in the world and tourists visiting the Olympics should stay well clear of these areas.

Health problems

Brazil has large numbers of both wealthy and poor people and this has led to a situation where the country has health problems traditionally associated with poor countries as well as problems that are usually associated with wealthier countries. Infant mortality is still a problem in Brazil and so is motherhood mortality. Problems like heart disease and cancer are also common and especially in the southeast area where Rio de Janeiro is located, there are also a relatively high number of deaths through violence and traffic accidents.