Saturday, March 3, 2012

Brasilia! Part 2

Brasilia is definitely a city full of politics, people and passion.  Everywhere you look there is wonderful architecture surrounded by interesting vegetation and it is all full of life like the Brazilian people.  This post will be a mixture of my most recent visit and my first visit to the capital city of Brasilia.  I visited some of the main tourist areas in 2010 so they did not get revisited today but I feel they must still be include in my blog.
As I mentioned in part 1 - Brasilia is a planned city located in the middle of the country on the central highlands of Brazil.  It has a subtropical climate so there is a long dry season followed by months of heavy rain.  I only state this as my visit now is during the dry season and in 2010 it was during the rainy season so I believe you will notice the vast difference in the photos included.  In "Brasilia Part 1" I compared the central part of the city to Washington DC with a large
grassy green space running down the middle of lanes of traffic moving vehicles in both directions.    This grassy area (the Eixo Monumental) is where I will start my adventure and our first stop in 2010 was the National Cathedral.  Designed by Oscar Niemeyer,  it is truly a wonderful structure with large white columns curving as they open towards heaven.  The cathedral has seen limited use since its completion in 1970 due to poor acoustics and a ventilation system that does not offset the natural heat produced by the sun.   Recently renovations have been underway to fix these flaws and allow it to function in accordance with its grandeur. 

When we visited in 2010 these renovations were underway as construction trailers surrounded the base of the building and we had to park the car on a make shift grass lot a short distance away.  The beautiful white house of worship lacks curb appeal as the front lawn consists of six foot wide slabs of cement with one foot strips of grass separating each slab.  I would expect something different in a city so rich with green space. We exited the car and as we approached the cathedral we were greeted by four statues.  On one side stood three statues representing the synoptics, Matthew, Mark, and Luke while the stature of John stands alone facing them on the other side.  They were like soldiers with spiritual weapons guarding the front of the religious palace.  After passing them,  we continue down into the dimly lit tunnel entrance almost like going into a culvert or man made cave.

Approximately fifteen feet into the tunnel my ears perked up as I began to hear angelical music and soon my eyes were treated to glorious light.  It was the stunning sanctuary where the local congregation was singing homilies during a traditional Catholic Mass.   Above the alter in the middle of the congregation, three angles floated in the natural blue sky and white clouds from outside.  This transparent natural beauty was accented by waves of blue and green stain glass all bringing your eyes to the alter and crucifix.  I remember, standing there in awe of the beauty complimented by the sounds of the wonderful singing.  How majestic and inspiring it was and I wanted to stay a little longer but the time to leave came and we quietly exited to continue our journey.

We traveled down the "Eixo Monumental" to the northwest end which is called the Praca dos Tres Poderes (Three Powers Square).  This large concrete square is where the three highest authorities in the country can be found -  - Presidential Palace, Supreme Court and right  across the street is the National Congress.   Let's start our journey with these three buildings.  Each of the buildings were designed by Oscar Niemyer and symbolize the future of Brazil.  The "Palacio do Planalto" (Presidential Palace) is where the President of Brazil and many other major
Palacio do Planalto 
governmental officials have offices and work from.  A large reflecting pool zig zags along the front of the building.  In the middle a ramp connects the square and the front door of the Palace.  This entrance is only used on special occasions or when the president addresses the citizens of Brazil.  Members of the Presidential Guard Battalion and 1st Guards Cavalry of the Brazilian Army take turns standing guard at the entrance.  I
Presidential Guard Battlaion
Guarding the Palacio do Planalto
understand tours are available but not offered today so another "must come back to see" added to the list.  The architecture is very simple and modern using fine lines and waves to create columns along the exterior of the building brushing up against the reflecting pools.  The buildings architecture is very similar to that of the Palacio da Alvorada, where the President and his family lives.  The Palacio da Alvorada lies on a peninsula at the edge of Lake Paranoa a few miles away which we will journey to later on this visit.
The Supreme Court Building

Back to the square and our next building the Supreme Court which houses the highest court of the country.  This building was designed by Mr. Niemeyer as well and has the same glass surrounded by white curved concrete columns and lies adjacent to the Palace.   There is not a whole lot more to say about this building as it blends with the rest and probably has less significance then the other things on the square.  I did find the large parking area in front a little distracting to the details of the architecture.

 The final building considered part of the square is the National Congress and it actually lies across the avenue in the Eixo Monumental.  Another wonderful design by Oscar Niemeyer,  it consists of a semi-sphere opening to the earth and a semi-sphere opening to the sky with two vertical office buildings towering in unison dividing them.  These buildings as well as several others around the edge of the eixo monumental house the Congressional offices of Brazil.  All the office are connected to the two main towers by tunnels under the city.  Brazil's Congress consists of the Senate
(the upper house) and the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house). On the opposite side of the building lies another great reflection pool and the large lawn.  When I read a little about their politics,  I found it interesting that there are 27 political parties in Brazil.  In 2010, 22 of them were able to elect at least one representative in the Chamber, while fifteen of them were able to elect at least one in the Senate.  Much different then the 2 political party system found in the United States (thanks again Wikipedia)
View of Palacio do Planalto
from the square

To talk a little about The Praca does Tres Poderes is to talk about Brazil's commitment to democracy and freedom after years of military rule.  Besides these three powerhouse buildings, the square is full of unique sculptures celebrating Brazilian artists.  Many of which were inspired by this theme with literal and abstract reference to doves, traditionally a symbol of peace and democracy.  Before I continue discussing what other finds are located on the square, I want to share my first impressions of it.  Like a lot of Brasilia's main attractions, the use of concrete seems overbearing to me.  I know it is a medium that Oscar Niemeyer uses quite often but a nice green lawn in front of the cathedral would be more inviting then the vast slabs of concrete.  The "Praca does Tres Poderes"  has no grass and the concrete radiates heat in the south of the equator sun.  It is just not very welcoming to me without some vegetation.
City Museum  in the middle - designed in the shape of a dove
on the right you see the "Dovecote" 
 For a city with a huge rectangular lawn down the middle in a country with such a diversity of plant life,  it seems like these areas would be filled with more natural beauty and not just concrete.  OK, just my first impression and now back to the square.  Tourist can visit the large glass and concrete visitors center which is filled with tourist information about the country.  There is a large tower designed my Mr. Niemeyer referred to as "Dovecote".   The tower is filled with holes to house doves which were an important part of western European history and as stated above the dove is a symbol of peace.  Today it is more referred to as "The Pigeons Towers" as they have  moved into the holes designed for the doves.  As you move along the square towards the Supreme Court building there is a sculpture called "Justice" by Alfredo Ceschiatti.   A women sitting blind folded in a chair with something in her lap.  I
honestly did not get close enough to give more details then this so I encourage you to share with me more about this beautiful piece of history or go and visit it yourself.   Several museums find their home on the square as well as a monument in honor of politician Israel Pinheiro and the UNESCO monument honoring accomplishments of the city.  My favorite monument is two bronze statues of abstract figures named Os Condangos.     This monument represents the pioneering spirit of those who built Brasilia and for me it is simply grand and a great place to stop for this post.  Brasilia has a lot more to see so I will continue with Part 3 soon.  Until then feel free to leave a comment or go and read some of my other entries.

Go back and read Brasilia Part 1 by clicking here

Historic Museum of Brasilia 

The Brazilian Flag that flies in the Eixo Monumental
One of the worlds largest continuous flying flags

Brazil National Congress Building 

One of the three synoptics statue -
National Cathedral

Part of Historic Museum of Brazil 

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