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Brasília: the dream-city

The early ideas

By the time of Brazil Colony, the idea of taking the country’s capital for the central region already existed, in order to prevent attacks from the sea. But such possibility only began to gain strength during the Empire. In 1823, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva, known as the “Patriarch of Independence”, reinforced that proposal for taking the seat of Brazilian decisions towards the inland territory, and the name “Brasília” arose for the first time.

In 1883, the Italian Catholic priest Dom Bosco reported what he saw on a dream he had where he visited South America, which was reported on the book “Biographic Memories of Saint John Bosco”:

Between parallels 15 and 20 there was a rather long and wide bay, which departed from a point where a lake was forming. A voice then said, repeatedly: When mines hidden amongst these hills will be dug, the promised land will appear here, honey and milk will flow from there. It will be an unconceivable wealth.


Marco Zero and Esplanada dos Ministérios on September 30, 1958. Photo: Public Archive of Distrito Federal

That vision came to be interpreted as a premonition for the spot where the new capital of Brazil should be erected. But only on 1891 it began to be made possible, when the decision of its area was included on the first Constitution of Brazilian Republic. The following year, a group of scientists was sent to explore the Central Highlands and border the area. Headed by Louis Ferdinand Cruls, the expedition became known as “Cruls Mission”. Doctors, geologists, and botanists composed the team which made a survey on the region’s topography, climate, geology, flora, fauna, and material resources. The area became known as the Cruls Quadrilateral, the first version of the “little square”, as every Brasília resident calls the city map.

The cornerstone of the new center for the Brazilian power was placed in 1922, in the centennial of Independence, close to Planaltina, current administrative region of the DF.

In 1956, with the new borders established for the future capital, the then President of the Republic, Juscelino Kubitschek, ordered the actual implementation of the project which had lasted centuries. In the same area of the coordinates signaled by Dom Bosco, and by the margins of the Paranoá Lake, Brasília began to be erected.

The concept

In order to organize the construction logistics, the Companhia Urbanizadora da Nova Capital (Novacap) was created, and in the same year it issued the “Concurso Nacional do Plano Piloto da Nova Capital do Brasil” aiming at selecting urban planning projects for the city’s construction.

Among the tens of proposals, the winner, by the architect and urban planner Lúcio Costa, was chosen precisely for its simplicity: the idea, delivered on a white sheet drawn by pencil, began from the sketch of two axes crossing on a right angle, as the sign of the cross.

One of those lines, the Eixo Rodoviário, had a slightly arched trace, which gave the cross the shape of an aircraft. This should be the route leading to the residential areas – today, Asa Sul and Asa Norte. The other line, which represented the Eixo Monumental, would shelter the public buildings and the palace of the Federal Government on the east side; the Central Bus Station and the TV Tower at  the center, and the buildings of local government on the west side.

Not only Lúcio Costa designed the traces which defined the country’s capital, but he as well predicted how the soul of Brasília would be, as he stated in the book “Memória Descritiva do Plano Piloto”:

A city planned for orderly and effective work, but, at the same time, a living and pleasant city, adequate to entertainment and intellectual speculation, capable of becoming, within time, besides a ruling and administrative center, a culture epicenter for the country’s more lucid and sensitive ones.


Oscar Niemeyer. Photo: Public Archive of Distrito Federal

With the urban planning project approved, President Juscelino chose Oscar Niemeyer as the head architect for the construction of monuments. The carioca was the author of the city’s main structures: the Congresso Nacional, the Palaces of Alvorada and of Planalto, the Supremo Tribunal Federal and the Catedral de Brasília. Besides the duet Oscar and Lúcio, the team that made this city an open museum had inspired personalities such as Burle Marx, with his gardens and squares, and Athos Bulcão, with his tiles panels that are a registered brand of the capital.

The birth

April 21, 1960, Brasília was born for the world and its people. With the urban planning project by Lúcio Costa and the architectural project by Oscar Niemeyer, a city arouse under innovative models, different from anything ever done yet. The date of its birth was no coincidence: it marked the death date of Tiradentes, one of the Mineiro leaders who defended the independence of Brazil in the 18th century. Its symbolism helped in strengthening the ideal of freedom of a people and the courage of a nation in Brasília, associating its inauguration to the idea of independence and honoring the ‘inconfidentes’ who had dreamed of a free Brazil.



Pioneers camping at Núcleo Bandeirante. Photo: Public Archive of Distrito Federal

As the construction of Brasília went along, small camps were appearing around the Plano Piloto for sheltering the workers that came to build the new capital. The first camp was called Cidade Livre, which now is the Núcleo Bandeirante. The other camps later became the satellite towns that now are the 31 administrative regions composing the Distrito Federal.

The consecration

Not only the monuments make visitors and tourists admire the greatness of the capital. Thanks to the smooth territory and the absence of great vertical constructions, the sky of Brazília came to be known as one of the most beautiful skies in the country, which, for many, pretty much replaces the sea as it frames the constructions of modern design and the large green spaces that complete the landscape.

Due to that set of beauty and of architectural importance, in 1987 Brasília was awarded the title of World Heritage Site, granted by Unesco. It was the first contemporary cultural asset to be in that list, being ascribed the same level of importance as the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the Acropolis of Athens, the Historical Center of Rome, and the Palace of Versailles.

Brasília is multicultural


Outdoor staging amuses the public at the TV Tower. Foto: Dênio Simões/Agência Brasília

The way Brasília was populated made it plural, mixed and syncretic, representing the identity of the entire Brazil. In the search for better days and future, thousands of Brazilians from diverse corners of the country, especially from Nordeste and Minas, came to build the capital and to look for a new life. They became known as ‘Candangos’. The pioneers who established their homes in this city between 1960 and 1965 still remember stories and cases of that time.

This mix of such different people made our city a rich melting pot of accents, sounds and colors. Our foods have all the Brazilian flavors, our fairs are colorful and varied, and here we have culture that meets all preferences. And all of that disseminated throughout all the administrative regions, which have facets and histories of their own, filled with surprises.

Do you wish to have a close look at the best of Brasília? Clique aqui.



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