The Evolution of Rio's Christ the Redeemer: From Religious Icon to National Emblem

By Ivan PetrenkoJun 24, 2024 19:30 PMNews
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Christ the Redeemer statue
Christ the Redeemer statue. Source: Photo by Raphael Nogueira on Unsplash

Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, perched on Corcovado Mountain, is a symbol of the city and a welcoming figure seen by visitors as they arrive. Designed by architect Heitor da Silva Costa and inaugurated in 1931, the statue stands 98 feet tall with a 92-foot arm span. Initially conceived as a figure of Christ carrying a cross, it evolved into the iconic outstretched arms, symbolizing an embrace of the city.

The statue’s creation was driven by a desire to counteract post-World War I godlessness, serving as a religious symbol visible from anywhere in Rio. Building the statue was challenging due to the rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions. Brazilian engineers, pioneers in reinforced concrete construction, covered the structure with durable soapstone tiles. Over 6 million tiles, arranged in a mosaic pattern, contribute to the statue’s resilience.

Maintaining the statue is an ongoing effort. Architect Paulo Vidal from IPHAN highlights the constant conservation needed to combat the sun, salt-laden winds, and frequent lightning strikes. Restoration expert Márcia Braga led a significant conservation project in 2010, replacing around 300,000 tiles to match the original design. Her team cleaned the statue with steam and water jets and regrouted it.

Christ the Redeemer has become a beloved symbol for Rio’s residents, known as cariocas. "To me, he is my brother, my friend of many years," says designer Gilson Martins. The statue inspires music, art, and merchandise, with bags featuring its image being top sellers. Tourists find the experience moving, often brought to tears by the sight of the statue.

Designated as one of the seven modern wonders of the world, Christ the Redeemer attracts around 2 million visitors annually. Architect and urban planner Vidal sums it up: "Christ the Redeemer is a landmark of territorial identification. If I see Christ the Redeemer I know where I am, and that I am at 'home.'"

In essence, the statue of Christ the Redeemer has transcended its religious origins to become a national emblem of Brazil’s warmth, diversity, and unity.

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