2 Days in Brasília

Congress Brasília

How Brasília Came To Be

The Brazilian JK, Juscelino Kubitschek, the 21st President, went down in history for his ambitious “50 years in 5” project (50 anos em 5). The motto nods at his government’s efforts to develop Brazil each year of his mandate, the equivalent of 10 years of regular economic and social progress.

Some say he achieved it, but at a cost. In current money, economists estimate the construction of Brasília – JK’s most celebrated legacy – at US$83 billion. The rush to complete such a feat within one mandate vastly inflated this investment. It was increased by outlandish decisions like flying concrete slabs by airplane rather than the conventional method – first building a road. It wasn’t until later that the roads came—the web of tracks connecting the remote capital to its people.

Brasília lies within the coordinates that Italian Saint Dom Bosco dreamt in 1883 would be a “utopian city.” In 1960, JK completed the new capital, redistributing the power to the country’s center. He had managed to lift the capital from the elites in Rio de Janeiro and rebuild it in the savanna, 1200 km northeast of Rio.

I’ve flown into Brasília from all directions: over the Amazon’s thunderstorms, across the Pantanal marshlands, up over the rolling hills of Minas Gerais, and across the dry sertão of the Northeast. The ambition to unify Brazil by dragging the capital Northwards was perhaps symbolic. Still, I believe it also managed to cash in on its diversity, which spreads out like a web in all directions from the new capital, Brasília.

Brasília’s Architecture

Usually, there are two reasons to visit Brasília.

  • You are gripped by the tumultuous politics of Brazil (perhaps even dragged into it)
  • Or you are intrigued by the futuristic architecture.

Brasília was designed from the gardens upwards. With 50s curves, Art Deco shapes, and sweeping bodies of water that contrast against the orange soil of the Brazilian cerrado (woodland savanna).

Instead of the downtown sprouting from a splattering of businesses and shops, Brasilia centers around the ministries, congress, and other government buildings. A series of underground tunnels connect everything. It’s not unlike a secretive organization. The 2 wings, Asa Sul (South wing) and Asa Norte (North wing) stretch out from the central government hub. From above, Brasília resembles an airplane.

The buildings in the two wings vary, but each follows rigid architectural regulations. Asa Sul’s apartment blocks balance on 50’s style concrete columns. This levitation leaves a communal sheltered area on the ground floor. The area hoped to offer a common ground for residents to enjoy the outside in community with one another. Each building is also flanked by a small glass box where a doorman sits and surveys the area, collects deliveries, and buzzes in the residents from the apartment block towering above him.

Each superblock consists of seven of these column-balancing buildings. A designated “commercial” area is scattered between superblocks, with shops, restaurants, churches, supermarkets, and sometimes schools or health centers. The superblocks ascend in number, streaming from the central hub, supposedly ensuring that each superblock is self-sufficient. But not quite.

Getting Around Brasília

The businesses didn’t gather in the center of the city, as there isn’t one. Instead, businesses snatched up rental space where they could. The reality is monotonous rows of identical buildings and the need to travel to get to better shops or restaurants. It’s not unlike the US West, where space isn’t an issue, but a car is necessary to avoid stretches of deserted sidewalks.

It also has some other problems, of course. The modern construction of the capital, which boasts UNESCO World Heritage status, has made prices skyrocket. Less well-off citizens live in the peripheral borders of the city, whilst Brasília remains the playground of politicians, public servants, and wealthy business owners.

A car would be very helpful when visiting Brasília. The public transport consists of Brasília’s underground metro/ subway or the buses. However, depending on your accommodation and destination, you will still walk significant distances if you have to rely solely on public transport. At night you can easily catch an Uber for a small price (or during the day). Remember, there is a zero-drinking policy with driving in Brazil.


What to Do in Brasília

Lúcio Costa, Oscar Niemeyer and Roberto Burle Marx.

Congress Brasília

Visit the Brazilian Congress

The Brazilian Congress (Palácio do Congresso) was designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer, as was much of Brasília and more than 600 buildings worldwide. This pivotal building features two central twin towers flanked by two domes. The larger dome, which is turned upwards, belongs to the House of Representatives. Supposedly the building faces upwards to hear the ideologies, trends, worries, and passions of the people. Whereas the smaller dome, which faces downwards, houses the Senate. It symbolizes a space for reflection, balance, and valuing the weight of experience and maturity.  

  • The congress offers free guided tours every 30 minutes Friday-Sunday (in Portuguese)
  • Tours are from 9:00 AM to 17:30 PM.
  • Mondays and Thursdays, you can pre-book an arranged tour (tours can be in English, French, or Spanish).

These tours are a fascinating way to learn about the design of both houses, the connecting underground tunnels, the paintings, the tiles, and other curiosities. For instance, there is an employee who, for the last 17 years, has carved out a design of the Brazilian flag on the carpet of the Senate every fortnight!

You can book a scheduled congress tour on this page through the button “Outras Agendamentos.”

Visit Brasília’s Botanical Garden

Brasília’s Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden) covers a vast area of Brazilian Savannah, known as the Cerrado. Cerrado is the natural foliage of the ecosystem around Brasilia. This offers an opportunity to see tapirs, and hummingbirds, as well as rarer, more elusive species, like curl-crested jays, hedgehogs, anteaters, and ocelots.

  • Open 9:00 am-17:00 pm Tuesday-Sunday
  • R$5.00 to enter (approx. US $1.40)
  • Two restaurants offered:

Café Jardim Bom Demais serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and snacks located beside the main parking area. The restaurant also serves up brunch on blankets and small tables designed for guests to sit on the floor and eat.

Caliandra Café is situated around the corner facing one of the small lakes. It serves up more sophisticated food inspired by Brazilian, African, and European ingredients.  

Ciliandra Café Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/caliandra_cafe/

Pirarucu with a moqueca sauce. Pirarucu is the largest fresh water fish in the world, and is found in the Amazon river. It breathes air!

Check Out the Torre de TV & Feira Nordestino

For the best view of the Congress, visit the Torre de TV (TV tower). There is an elevator that takes you up for free. Both day and night offer unique 360-degree views of Brasília. The room also features tiles by Athos Bulcão, the same artist who designed the tiles inside the Brazilian Congress, amongst other buildings.

In front of the tower, there are fountains that exhibit a light show every 30 minutes from midday onward.

Behind the TV tower is a Northeast Fair featuring food and artisanal products from the Northeastern region of Brazil. The fair is open Tues-Thurs between 9:00 am-17:00 pm and Friday -Sunday until 18:00 pm.

Visit 3 Brasília Churches

Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasília

Oscar Niemeyer also designed Brasília Metropolitan Cathedral, and the 16 concrete columns that circle the church symbolize two hands stretching up to heaven. The cathedral’s full name is Nossa Senhora Aparecida; Brazil’s patron saint. Nossa Senhora Aparecida is the Virgin Mary, who appeared in São Paulo in 1717 when she performed several miracles. Inside, the modern stained glass designs imitate the 50s curves that are so often spotted around the city.

Igrejinha

Igrejinha, meaning little church, is a small open-plan church located between 307/308 Asa Sul. A gem of art and officially the first building to be completed in Brasília, this little chapel is well worth a visit. The building itself is shaped like the habit of a nun, designed once more by Oscar Niemeyer. The roof, which is the shape of a dove, represents the Holy Spirit.

The tiles on the outside of the church are again by Athos Bulcão. The blue paintings inside the chapel were applied much later and are the work of Brazilian painter Francisco Galeno. Read more about Brazilian painters you should know here.

Since the chapel remains open most of the day, you can wander in and see the artwork. Igrejinha’s visiting hours are:

  • Monday 9:00 am – 21:00 pm
  • Tuesday-Saturday 6:00 am – 20:00 pm
  • Sunday 6:00 am – 21:00 pm

Santuário Dom Bosco

Santuária Dom Bosco is a church dedicated to the Italian Saint who prophesized the emergence of Brasília in 1883. Inside, the stained glass windows tinted in shades of blue bathe the space into azure hues. It is quite spectacular.

Opening hours of Santuário Dom Bosco are:

  • Monday – Saturday 7:00 am – 19:00 pm
  • Sunday 7:00 am – 20:00 pm

Go to City Park (Parque da Cidade Dona Sarah Kubitschek)

Nestled in the center of the capital Parque da Cidade covers an impressive 420 hectares, offering a space for Brasilienses (people from Brasília) to step away from the formal bustle of business.

Amongst the attractions on offer are public BBQs (take your own meat and coal), beach tennis and volleyball courts, football pitches, tennis courts, playgrounds, a shared cycling/ jogging lane, a Kart racing track, and more!

As a visitor to the city, this park is a great chance to spot owls native to the savanna vegetation. The owls make their nests in holes in the ground, where they stand guard fiercely day and night. You can also see many falcons known as carcarás in Portuguese, from the indigenous language of Tupi. Rent a bike from one of the many stations around the park from Friday – Sunday and cycle around looking out for the owls and other Brazilian birds. Renting a single bike is R$6/h and a double bike is R$12/h.   

Live Music in Brasília

Clube do Choro

Brasília’s Choro Club is a space dedicated to live music, as well as a Choro school for musicians wanting to learn this unique Brazilian music. Choro, also known as Chorinho, features the guitar, flute, tambourine, and cavaquinho (a 4-string Portuguese instrument).   

At Clube do Choro, there are performances almost every night. Use this website for a list of the upcoming shows at Clube do Choro. Purchase tickets at the box office between 10:00 am and 22:00 pm Monday – Friday and Saturdays after 19:00 pm. Or buy via the website: www.clubedochoro.com.br

The cost of tickets is R$40.00 (US $10) or half price for students and seniors.

Brasileirinho is one of the most famous Choro compositons and features the cavaquinho.

Feitiço Mineiro

Feitiço Mineiro is a restaurant and bar specializing in live music. Also, the restaurant serves a buffet of traditional Mineiro food (from the state of Minas Gerais). You pay by the weight of your plate.

Their website includes a full programming of live music.

Municipal Theatre and Brasília’s Stadium

Since Brasília is the capital, most cultural events and tours ensure they make a stop here. Therefore, check out the Stadium and Theatre websites for interesting concerts or games during your stay.

Brasília’s Municipal Theatre schedule.

Estadio Nacional de Brasília (Brasília’s National Stadium).

Other posts you may enjoy:

15 Insanely Useful Things to Know Before Going to Brazil

10 Tips to See Brazil on the Cheap


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