One of the many reasons I love the Olympics is that it's an opportunity to learn about the host city. If you'll be watching your favorite athletes go for the gold, you may enjoy these fun facts about Rio de Janeiro.
- Rio de Janeiro translates to "River of January," which is what Portuguese explorers named the spot after landing there in January 1502, thinking that they had found the mouth of the river. They were actually wrong. It was just Guanabara Bay.
- Perhaps the most iconic image associated with Rio is the Christ the Redeemer statue made of soapstone that sits atop Mount Corcovado. It is 98 feet tall and 92 feet wide, and in 2014 a lightning strike broke off the thumb of the statue. There are lightning rods placed on and around the statue. Despite those efforts, it still take a few hits of lightning each year.
- Rio de Janeiro is not the capital of Brazil, but it used to be. The city of Brasilia became the Brazilian capital in 1960, but Rio held that distinction from 1763 until 1960. Rio was also the capital of the Portuguese Empire from 1815 to 1822, when Napoleon drove the royal court out of Portugal.
- Rio is the second largest urban area in Brazil with a population of 12.9 million people. Sao Paulo is the most populous city in Brazil with 21.066 million people. (I saw a wide variety of population estimates and this is from the World Fact Book and is for the area, not just city which is a bit less.)
- The flag of Brazil includes what the night sky above Rio looked like on the date that Brazil declared itself a federal republic - November 15, 1889.
- More tourists visit Rio yearly than any other part of Brazil.
- The world's largest Carnival takes place in Rio. It begins the Friday before Ash Wednesday and lasts for five days during which nearly 5 million people celebrate and get a little crazy. During Carnival, the mayor hands over the keys of the city to a man called King Momo, a mythical jester who serves as the king of Carnival.
- Rio also hosted the world's largest soccer game in terms of attendance. In 1950, Brazil faced Uruguay in the World Cup Final before 173,850 spectators in Maracanã Stadium. The Opening Ceremonies of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games will be held in the same stadium, but its current capacity is around 78,000 people.
- The world's largest concert also took place in Rio. Rod Stewart played to more than 3 million people on Copacabana Beach in 1994.
- The city occupies 485 sq. miles with 31 miles of shoreline.
- Street art is legal and so Rio is one of the most colorful cities in the world.
- Cidade Maravilhosa, or Marvelous City, is Rio de Janeiro's nickname.
- Slum neighborhoods are called favelas. There are approximately 1,000 slum districts within the city of Rio, many found in the North Zone of the city, away from the richer, high-quality housing that is located on or near the coast.
- Tijuca Forest is located in Rio de Janeiro. It is definitely the larest urban forest in South America, and quite possibly the world.
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