‘The twin saviours of the Cidade Maravilhosa’
Looming over Rio de Janeiro like two great warriors, imparting their mystical protection over the Cidade Maravilhosa, Corcovado and Pão de Açúcar instantly resonate with any visitor.
Of course, Rio de Janeiro boasts one of the world’s most beautiful natural settings. Set around Guanabara Bay, the many hills undulate and weave around powdery white sandy beaches, granite monoliths and the world’s largest urban forest – Tijuca National park.
Set in the national park, all that is left of the Atlantic Rainforest that once surrounded Rio de Janeiro, and sitting atop Corcovado at 710 metres is the symbol of Rio, visible from all four corners of the city – Cristo Redentor.
The view from the top of Corcovado – meaning hunchback in Portuguese – provides a spectacular panorama of Rio and its surroundings, and legend has it that the huge granite dome formed a protection pact with facing opposite to another of Rio’s famed attractions – Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf Mountain.
As the legend dictates, Pão de Açúcar is Rio’s stone guardian; a 200m tall, old figure on its side. The Tupí indigenous people who inhabited the territory before the Portuguese made landfall in 1502 apparently considered the rock as their bulwark against outside interference.
Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf), as an attraction, opened in 1912, and its etymology differs between two conflicting versions. First, that the name given by the Tupí was ‘Pau-nh-açuquã’, meaning ‘high, isolated hill; second, that the name was given to the mountain by the Portuguese during the extraction of sugar cane during the 16th century. The conical shape of the containers used to store sugar blocks were reminiscent of Sugarloaf Mountain and were colloquially called sugarloaves.
Whatever the ambiguity, the majesty of Pão de Açúcar is unmistakable. Seen from the peak, Rio is undoubtedly the most beautiful city in the world, especially at sunset. An ascent in the cable car to the summit is a definite highlight of Rio de Janeiro.
As if to heighten its mystique, Scotch Whisky brand Johnnie Walker morphed Sugarloaf into a giant striding into the sea as part of its ‘Keep Walking Brazil’ advertising campaign.
Perhaps Sugarloaf has usurped Corcovado and Cristo Redentor as the number one tourist attraction in Rio. Either way, Rio wouldn’t be the same without its pair of granite charmers.