Rio on the rise

Not ev­ery­one is happy about the re­ju­ve­na­tion of Brazil’s tourist gate­way

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - COLIN BAR­R­A­CLOUGH

EVEN from a dis­tance, I can make out Rio Art Mu­seum’s dis­tinc­tive roof ris­ing above a clut­ter of scaf­fold­ing, cranes and boarded-up build­ing sites. Trac­ing del­i­cate arcs through the sky above Rio de Janeiro’s run­down port, the wave-form roof unites the mu­seum’s main build­ing, a clas­si­cal-style palace erected in 1918, with a newly built, glass-walled an­nexe.

Un­veiled in March, the new mu­seum il­lus­trates Rio de Janeiro’s his­tory through art and de­sign. I know its eclec­tic col­lec­tion of works will be com­pelling. But once in­side, I fol­low most other vis­i­tors and head straight to the rooftop bar.

For months, Rio has been gear­ing up to host key ele­ments of the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off at the city’s Mara­cana Sta­dium in June next year. In 2016, Rio again hosts an in­ter­na­tional sport­ing event when it will be­come the first city in South Amer­ica to hold the Olympic Games. As au­thor­i­ties have rushed to spruce up ev­ery­thing from soc­cer stadia to the city’s in­fa­mous favela slums, the mu­seum’s roof ter­race of­fers a unique view of the kind of re­born city that is likely to emerge.

‘‘Rio’s port dates from the city’s found­ing years. It has in­cred­i­ble build­ings and some great sto­ries, but it’s been aban­doned and derelict for so long that [Rio res­i­dents] Car­i­o­cas have al­most for­got­ten it’s there,’’ says Rob Burhoe, the Cana­dian-born owner of O Veleiro, a B&B in a pri­vate home in Botafogo. Hereg­u­larly guides his guests around the city’s cul­tural sites.

From the ter­race, we can see the Maua Pier jut­ting out into the glit­ter­ing wa­ters of Gua­n­abara Bay, where work­ers are putting the fin­ish­ing touches to a whi­teribbed, ar­row-like struc­ture. De­signed by San­ti­ago Cala­trava, the skele­tal build­ing will open next year as the Mu­seum of To­mor­row, ded­i­cated to science and tech­nol­ogy.

To our left, a long line of ware­houses and wharves that once served White Star Line pas­sen­ger ships have al­ready been fas­tid­i­ously re­stored, their brick fa­cades scrubbed and painted, their roofs re-lined with cor­ru­gated iron. Far be­yond, I can just make out engi­neers tak­ing mea­sure­ments for a new road bridge cross­ing the bay.

Known as Porto Mar­avilha, or Mar­vel­lous Port, the scheme to trans­form the port into a vi­brant tourist and busi­ness hub in­cludes new dock­ing fa­cil­i­ties for cruise lin­ers, a light rail­way and an in­cu­ba­tor for artists on Morro da Con­ce­icao, one of the five hills orig­i­nally set­tled by Por­tuguese colonists.

A high­light for for­eign vis­i­tors is the planned de­mo­li­tion of El­e­vado da Perime­tral, an el­e­vated high­way that cuts bru­tally through the city’s his­toric dis­trict. The busy road, which con­nects Rio’s north­ern dis­tricts with its down­town, is be­ing re­placed in sec­tions by a 6km tun­nel. Fi­nance to meet the pro­ject’s 8 bil­lion Brazil­ian real ($3.7bn) costs has come via the sale of new build­ing per­mits to de­vel­op­ers and in­vestors.

City plan­ners, who say they aim to make the dis­trict de­sir­able for res­i­dents and tourists alike, have striven to avoid the sense of soul­less­ness that has over­shad­owed sim­i­lar dock­lands schemes in other coun­tries. Parks, plazas and other green spa­ces fea­ture promi­nently. Power ca­bles, too, are go­ing un­der­ground, a con­ces­sion to ur­ban aes­thet­ics all too rare in South Amer­ica.

Pro­tec­tion for her­itage build­ings has also been para­mount, par­tic­u­larly af­ter arche­ol­o­gists un­cov­ered the ru­ins of Va­longo Pier, a no­to­ri­ous wharf where mil­lions of African slaves were landed and sold to plan­ta­tion own­ers on the quay­side. Chill­ingly, in­ves­ti­ga­tors also lo­cated a slave ceme­tery where those too ill to con­tinue were hastily buried.

The Rio Art Mu­seum has emerged as the pro­ject’s cul­tural an­chor. Eclec­tic works do­nated by pri­vate col­lec­tors in­clude 19th-cen­tury oils by Paris-born land­scape artist Henri Vinet, which of­fer in­trigu­ing glimpses of the beach ar­eas of Copaca­bana and Ipanema long be­fore high-rise apart­ment blocks and ho­tels lined the shores.

In one room, 1940s film posters hang along­side pro­mo­tional ads for for­mer national air­line Varig, their stylised art deco lines por­tray­ing the city in its dreamy golden years. In the fi­nal salon, con­tem­po­rary city shots by lo­cal pho­tog­ra­pher Clau­dia Jaguaribe sit along­side a mock-up of a favela crafted in naive-art style.

The port pro­ject, in turn, is part of wider re­vamp­ing ef­forts tak­ing place across the city. All across Rio, in fact, I find pock­ets of ren­o­va­tion and re­newal. On the fa­bled beach at Copaca­bana, where sailors and row­ers will com­pete for Olympic gold in 2016, work­ers have re­placed cheap-and-cheer­ful co­conut stands with glass­walled cafes that al­low un­sul­lied ocean views. Clunky plas­tic fur­ni­ture with brightly painted ad­ver­tis­ing has given way to stylised steel ta­bles and slim­line chairs.

Co­conuts, lo­cals mut­ter, are now twice the price. But beach users have wel­comed new lux­u­ries such as

Clock­wise from above, Brazil­ians cel­e­brate the choice of Rio as 2016 Olympics host; great views of the city from the Su­gar­loaf Moun­tain ca­ble car; an artist’s im­pres­sion of the pro­posed Mu­seum of To­mor­row; the Rio Art Mu­seum; and the Mara­cana Sta­dium

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