By Natalia La Rotta
Copacabana and Ipanema are neighborhoods in the southern part of Rio de Janeiro, known as Zona Azul. These neighborhoods are most known world-wide for their beautiful beaches. Copacabana was once the place for the high society of the city, but that is no longer the case. Ipanema is generally known as a more upscale beach than Copacabana, especially the closer you get to Leblon. In general the more crowded the beach is the less affluent the adjacent neighborhood is. Nevertheless the beaches are all free and accessible by all without restrictions. The beaches are marked by numbered postos (lifeguard stations) adjacent to the street, 1 kilometer apart, starting at the eastern edge of Copacabana near Pão de Açúcar and ending at the farthest part of Leblon.
There are hypothesis about where the name Copacabana comes from. The most popular myths attribute the name to the Quechua words for “luminous place,” “blue beach,” or “watcher of the blue.” Legends say that before the arrival of the colonizers, the area that encompasses Copacabana used to be an area where the occult took place and a divinity called Kopakawana used to protect marriage and fertility of women. Other myths say, that the image of the Nossa Senhora de Copacabana appeared to the people of the city, and she became a major symbol for Copacabana. The neighborhood remained isolated for the most part until July of 1892, when the tunnel through the Morro de Vila Rica was finished, connecting Copacabana to Botafogo, and thus integrating Copacabana to the rest of the city. From the opening of this tunnel onwards, Copacabana became more populated. A fact that was heightened in 1906 when Avenida Atlântica was constructed. Since then major urban revitalization programs have worked to amplify the roads, amplify the beach, add a ciclovia, and kiosks for the public.
Copacabana was given the nickname “Princess of the Seas.” Its iconic beach front sidewalks were designed in a distinct style called “Portuguese stone.” The sidewalks were constructed as part of the construction of Avenida Atlântica project commissioned by Mayor Fransisco Pereira Passos. This pavement landscape was designed by Roberto Burle Marx and it was completed in 1970 by specially trained Calcetiros brought from Portugal. The sidewalks were hand-made with black basalt stone and white calcite stone brought over from Portugal, (in Copacabana some red stones are used), featuring an iconic sinusoidal wave pattern that reflects the Amazonian river-scape. Burle Marx’s use of the three colours is a reference to the three “races” that shaped the Brazilian identity: white for Europeans, black for Africans, and red for Indigenous people. These sidewalk patterns of Copacabana beach are known globally as “quintessentially Rio” and tourist enterprise markets these patterns in towels, shirts, shorts, etc.
The Copacabana Palace was the first major building in Copacabana and it opened in 1923. This luxurious hotel was popular for its casino until 1946, when Brazil outlawed gambling. The building reached its peak popularity when it was used as the location for the 1933 film “Flying Down to Rio,” and has been considered a national monument ever since. It has also hosted celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Madonna, Elton John, Marilyn Monroe, etc. The Palace is regarded as the most historic and luxurious hotel in South America, reserved mainly for the rich and famous.
Prior to colonization, Ipanema was a paradise frequented by indigenous of nearby tribes. Then in the 19th century, population of Ipanema began as a farm, then a villa, and after a while in the 20th century a neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. The land now known as Ipanema belonged to a French man, Charles Le Blond, who was also the proprietary of Leblon, currently a nearby neighborhood. Eventually the lands came to the hands of the Count of Ipanema, who planned some of the lots and plazas prior to their sale. At first Ipanema was highly residential, but then in the 1960’s this trend began to change and eventually became more commercial, and ultimately becoming one of Rio de Janeiro’s most expensive neighborhoods, after Leblon. Posto 9 at Ipanema beach was made famous throughout Brazil by deputy Fernando Gabeira, a member of MR-8 group that kidnapped the American ambassador during the dictatorship of the 70’s to release some political prisoner of Brazil, who after the dictatorship would frequent this posto. It has a long history of pot smoking, police raids, and left-wing and alternative gatherings.
Presently on every Sunday, the roadway closest to the beach is closed to motor vehicles to allow local residents and tourist to ride their bikes, skateboards, roller skates, and/or walk along the beach. Protests have erupted around the beaches because of the high level of fecal contamination in the waters and the lack of sewage treatment throughout the city of Rio, but with a concentration on the neighborhoods surrounding the beaches. On another note the beaches of Copacabana will be used to house water and sand sports for the Rio 2016 Olympics and currently all eyes are on preparing the beach for the summer Olympics and on how the Brazilian government will deal with the polluted water.
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