The Copacabana calçada (Copacabana sidewalk) is one of the greatest symbols in the stunning landscape of Rio de Janeiro. What not everyone knows, is that its history and design precede the intervention of Roberto Burle Marx in the 1970s. The origin of the design, as well as its stones, is Portuguese. 

Designed from a drawing 

The design, which is so characteristic of the most famous beach in the world, is based on a drawing created by the engineer Pinheiro Furtado at the beginning of the 19th century, for Rossio Square in Lisbon. The waves represent the meeting of the Tagus River and the Atlantic Ocean in the Portuguese capital and his design was baptised “Mar Largo” (Wide Sea). 

Imported Portuguese stone and specialist tradesmen

Burle Marx’s 1970s modified design expands the graphic set. 
Credit: © MauMach75, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons 

In 1905, Rio de Janeiro mayor, Pereira Passos, inaugurated the Copacabana calçada as part of a plan to modernise the then capital of Brazil. As no limestone deposits had yet been discovered to extract the material from in Brazil, the stones for the paving were imported from Portugal. This is why it is called “Portuguese stone” and allows for the composition in different colours: Black, white and red.  

For its installation on the Rio de Janeiro shore, 36 cobblers were needed, sent by the Lisbon City Hall to Brazil. Today, Rio’s City Hall employees are taught by Lisbon professionals for the maintenance of the sidewalks that stretch from Leme to Pontal. 

1970s renovation 

With the enlargement of Avenida Atlântica in the 1970s, a complete renovation was executed. The landscape designer, Roberto Burle Marx, was responsible for the new pagination of the Copacabana sidewalk, which became the “largest example of applied art existing in the world”, according to its listing in the State Institute of Cultural Heritage. It was in this intervention that the waves gained their current direction – no longer perpendicular to the length of the sidewalk, but parallel to the sea.  

Burle Marx also modified the original design by lengthening its curves and integrating it into a wider graphic set, which dialogues with the landscape project, composed of trees with large canopies and palm trees. Thus, forming one of the most emblematic tourist scenarios in the world. 

The original design for the Copacabana sidewalk has its origins at the beginning of the 19th century, long before the iconic walkway was built, or Barry Manilow’s hit song. 

Full acknowledgement and thanks go to https://www.archdaily.com/ for the information in this editorial. 

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