Brasília and the West: Places to Explore

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Brasília

The idea of moving Brazil's capital to the interior dates from the early days of the country's independence, but it wasn't until 1955 that the scheme became more than a pipe dream. Many said Brasília couldn't be built; others simply went ahead and did it. The resolute Juscelino Kubitschek made it part of his presidential campaign platform. On taking office, he organized an international contest for the city's master plan. A design submitted by urban planner Lúcio Costa was selected, and he and his contemporaries—including architect Oscar Niemeyer and landscape artist Roberto Burle Marx—went to work. The new capital was built less than five years later, quite literally in the middle of nowhere.

Costa once mused, "The sky is the sea of Brasília." He made sure that the city had an unhindered view of the horizon, with buildings whose heights are restricted, wide streets and avenues, and immense green spaces. The sky here is an incredible blue that's cut only by occasional clusters of fleecy clouds. The earth is such an amazing shade of red that it seems to have been put here just for contrast. At night it's hard to tell where the city lights end and the stars begin. The renowned contemporary architect Frank O. Gehry said of Brasília, "It's a different city. I call it holy land, an untouchable icon of architecture."

Brasília is a great place for those interested in architecture and in a different city experience from Rio, Salvador, or São Paulo. Everything is divided into sectors (hotels, residences, swimming places, etc.), and the streets were designed without sidewalks—it's said that Brasília is a driver's paradise, but a pedestrian's nightmare. Because of this, Brasília has long been known as "the city without corners."

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