By Emma Schad
Praça Floriano Peixoto
The major square in Rio de Janeiro is commonly referred to as Cinelândia due to the historical presence of cinemas and theaters, the metro stop at its heart also takes on the informal reference.
Actually named Praça Floriano Peixoto after the second president of Brazil, by the beginning of the Brazilian Republic in 1889, the square, with its central location, became the focal point of the city. The most significant feature of the square from 1750 until the beginning of the 20th century was the Catholic convent, Ajuda Convento, which was in use until replaced in 1911by Spanishman Francisco Serrador’s for a modern cinema complex. The cinema was not the only modernizing element of the square, indeed the legacy of this built site is that it marked a turning point for Rio de Janeiro from colonial port to worldly metropolis. This transition was carefully engineered by the urban reformation projects conducted under the newly established Republican government.
The Praça, as it exists today, is the result of Mayor Pereira Passos’ enduring urban renovation campaign at the start of the 20th century. This reform movement was directly influenced by Haussman’s revitalization campaign of Paris. The Haussman reforms were oriented toward answering recently understood problems of urban sanitation, hygiene and the notion of healthful urban planning. New ideas of pathogens, disease, urban overcrowding and dense living conditions began to circulate within urban planning thought at the time. Just as Haussman’s projects bulldozed over medieval Parisian neighborhoods, Passos’ campaign tore through densely built communities established since colonial times, and transformed the marshy area of Cinelândia into a directly Parisian influenced city heart. By the end of Passos’ projects, nearly 3,000 colonial era housing tenements and dwellings were razed. Without the construction of alternative low-income housing this intervention resulted in alternative housing solutions, resulting in new iconography for Rio; the favela.
At the time Passos represented the newly formed Republic of Brazil, and, with the replacement of Dom Pedro II and imperial rule, new government saught to modernize and establish Brazil as a modern country. Indeed much of the revitalization was seen as implementing practical changes. The colonial structures, small port and cluttered barras of the city seemed to be holding Brazil back both economically (the logistics of moving goods through the city and port) and physiologically, as the turn of the century witnessed some of the worse epidemics in the city’s history.
Beginning in 1902, the widened avenue of Rio Branco was imposed on the city proper and run through prior neighborhoods, leveling colonial architecture. Parks would be redesigned, and streets enlarged, public works and public transport addressed and the connecting of the docks, labor hubs and Zona Norte the industry section of the city would also be undertaken. The many avenues and re-done streets did in fact answer practical needs; enhancing circulation of people and goods around the city. Rio Branco, the main East-West artery, would be part of this built evidence to announce Rio’s emergence into the global scene as a modernized city. The ideas of hygiene and decongestion that the Haussman model promoted were also accompanied by style, the French beaux-art. The Beaux-art style was academic neoclassical architecture taught at the world-prominent arts institution of École des Beaux-Arts giving it its namesake. The style seeks to continue the Imperial Roman architecture with French and Italian Baroque influence arising in the Renaissance. Upheld as a representation of culture, urban civility and prestige internationally, the style was elevated to a position where it represented the modern state. This universal architectural style would be the first of many other worldly styles to influence Rio de Janeiro’s cityscape. The “International Style” and Modernism would also find themselves a part of Rio de Janeiro’s appearance, and part of its built discourse to the world as support for it being a part of an international conversation as well as defining itself separate and unique.
This central plaza replaced colonial Portuguese architecture with a truly Belle Epoque scene, allowing the Republic to proclaim itself on an international stage. Indeed, save for the calçada portuguesa, or Portuguese stones that pave the square, a practice continued from Rio de Janeiro’s colonial settlement, the Praça Floriano Peixoto could just as easily be in Paris as in Rio de Janeiro. Such mimicry is showcased no better than in the Teatro Municipal at the northern end of the square. Begun in 1905 and inaugurated in 1909, the building copied the Opera of Paris and its construction was overseen by Passos’ son, Francisco de Oliveira Passos. The stained glass in the theater is from France itself, and the baroque façade makes the theater at once striking and distinctly Parisian to the viewer when entering the square. On the outside the building is inscribed with the names of international celebrities at the moment of building as well as famous Brazilians. The Teatro, which seats 1,700, served its purpose in connecting Rio de Janeiro to an international dialogue of the arts. Opera and classical music, European imports, were in vogue for the wealthier citizens. By connecting the higher classes to imported theater, the samba and music of the lower classes was able to remain an authentic art form, practiced on more informal stages. The square would become a hub of Rio’s nightlife at the beginning of the 20th century. Heavily frequented by the 1930s, the square was also home to cinemas, mentioned earlier, that since have been replaced. Still a place for theater goers, strollers, café dwellers and the general public much of the new nightlife activity in Cinelândia occurs in the form of political protest.
Intended to be the cultural hub, coated in French Republican style, Cinelândia is also municipal hub of the state of Rio de Janeiro. Opposite the Municipal Theater is the Fine Arts National Gallery, the Museu de Belas Artes, an equally ornate building done in the same French-borrowed Beaux Arts. Also present on the square is the Neoclassical Biblioteca Nacional, the national Library, the Palácio Pedro Ernesto, where the city council of Rio de Janeiro meets, and the Higher Court, or Tribunal Superior all in Beaux-Arts style.The cinemas of the 1930s have been replaced with cafés and apartment buildings. Today the square is alive with activity, people sitting on benches, eating at cafes, passing through in their commute to the office buildings and shopping hubs close by in the centro of the city. In 1979, the Cinelândia metro stop was added to the square as one of the first five stations. The square’s outside art provides a reminder of Brazil’s past to passersby. Near the station entrance is a large public monument to Marshal Floriano Peixoto, erected in 1910. The bronze statue of the second president of the Republic is mounted on a stone base that portrays scenes from Brazilian history, though the statue itself was cast in France. Another statue outside the Municipal Theater portrays famed 19th century Brazilian maestro and composer, Carlos Gomes.
As the seat of the city council, the higher courts, and amidst the politically charged façades the square is also a symbolic location of public protest. Protests over FIFA’s 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro occurred in the square in June of 2014.. March of 2015 anti-government corruption and Petrobras dealings rallies were held. February of 2015 saw protests over price hikes in Public transportation fares and the expenditure on the 2016 Olympics. April of 2015 saw gatherings of homeless laborer protests fighting for the less development of real estate and more development of public services.
The square symbolizes the transition, expertly engineered, to the global scene of Rio de Janeiro as a modern city part of an international dialogue using the vocabulary of established French architecture in the early 20th century, while stillshowing the lasting marks of that Passos transformation and statement. As the hub of municipal activity in the city, the square remains a politically charged public space where one may see a typical carioca café scene, theater goers, or demonstrators. During Carneval, street parties take over the square, and the World Cup and Champions’ cups both found homes for celebration amidst the theater and municipal buildings. Traditional protest routes end at Cinelândia, both to make a statement through its proximity to political buildings as well as the historical importance of the site. It is a location that can give insight into Rio de Janeiro’s identity, while simultaneously having no fingerprint of its host country. It is a transported French state model in an European colonized country where homage is paid to Brazilian composers and Republican leaders and flags are waved for samba beauties, futebol stars and revolutionaries.
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