Brasília

Brazil's capital was planned and designed by architects Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa; it looks like a giant bird when seen from the air; and it is the only twentieth-century city included in UNESCO's World Heritage List (1987). Try to imagine these guys in the 1950s flying over the vast emptiness of the country's central plateau and drawing a cross on the ground and saying "OK, this is where we'll build it." Today, it's the center of government and a thriving metropolis, a mecca for architecture buffs from around the world. I didn't know, but it's also a magnet for people with an inclination for, shall we say, mysticism, who believe, among other things, that it's destined to become "the world's capital in the Third Millennium." It's a nice idea, if they manage to rid themselves of all the corrupt politicians. Unfortunately, Brasília is a city build for automobiles and it's very unfriendly to pedestrians. 

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Our favorite buildings are the Ministry of Foreign Relations or Itamaraty with its magnificent art collection and floating Burle-Marx gardens; the cathedral with the soaring angels by Alfredo Ceschiatti; and the President's home, the Alvorada (Dawn) Palace, where emus peacefully graze...and every single tourist has his/her picture taken. It's currently undergoing renovations, with architects scrambling to find replacement wood for the floors, since the hardwood trees from which they were originally made are now protected. Niemeyer designed most of the buildings; he also designed the furniture for some of them. Needless to say, every single state in the republic is represented by either a typical restaurant, a cultural organization, or both...You can listen to choros from Rio, eat Bahian and Amazonian food, and shop for crafts from Tocantins or Minas Gerais. The climate is very dry and the sky (that Milton Nascimento sang about) a magnificent blue; it'll take some time to adjust to the altitude (over 1,000 meters). Nearby, the colonial town of Pirenópolis offers the traditional Cavalhadas folk festival and in a few hours drive you can be at the spectacular Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park. 

We took a couple of photos at Itamaraty: the Burle-Marx gardens inside and the Meteor sculpture by Bruno Giorgi right outside; the other two pictures are of the Alvorada (Dawn) Palace and its very pastoral setting. Read about our favorite eating and shopping in our Little Black Book, Brasília edition.

Favorite Places

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