Capital of Brazil

All Brazilian capitals:
Aracaju (SE), Belém (PA), Belo Horizonte (MG), Boa Vista (RR), Brasília (DF), Campo Grande (MS), Cuiabá (MT), Curitiba (PR), Florianópolis (SC), Fortaleza (CE), Goiânia (GO), João Pessoa (PB), Macapá (AP), Maceió (AL), Manaus (AM), Natal (RN), Palmas (TO), Porto Alegre (RS), Porto Velho (RO), Recife (PE), Rio Branco (AC), Rio de Janeiro (RJ), Salvador (BA), São Luís (MA), São Paulo (SP), Teresina (PI), Vitória (ES)

Brasília became the realization of various dreams. A dream of having the capital of Brazil in the center of the country. A dream by an Italian saint, who saw a city in the country of milk and honey. It was president Kubitschek who pushed the construction of Brasília. The architects Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer realized their city of dreams. Since April 21, 1960, Brasília is the capital of Brazil. Less than thirty years later, in 1987, the city was added to the World Heritage List for its outstanding architecture. Brasília is one of the host cities during the FIFA World Cup in 2014.


Brasília is the capital of Brazil, and is located within Distrito Federal, the Federal District. This district was formed by parts of the states of Goiás (the major part) and Minas Gerais, and is located in the Planalto Central, the Central Plateau. The District counts 5802 square km, the average height is 1172 meters. Since the Federal District cannot be divided into more than one city (Brasília), Brasília and the 18 satellite cities are considered as Administrative Regions. Designed for about one million inhabitants, the capital has already grown over 2.6 million in 2011 (IBGE). The Human Development Index is elevated: 0.844.


“Between 15 and 20 degrees latitude lay a very broad and very lengthy body of water that had its origins from the end of a lake. Then a voice kept repeating to me, ‘When the mines hidden in the midst of these mountains will eventually be dug out, here will appear the promised land flowing with milk and honey. Its wealth will defy belief!” (BM XVI, 309).

The citation above is the English translation of a dream of Dom Bosco, an Italian saint. He had this dream in 1883, and described a capital that would rule justly and provide all the needs of a great nation. He also clarified the location, between the 15th and 20th parallels, in the New World. Dom Bosco’s vision became a major inspiration for the foundation of Brasília. In his honor, the Sanctuary of Dom Bosco was constructed right on the 15th parallel. Dom Bosco is the patron saint of Brasília.

The idea of constructing the Brazilian capital in the center of the immense country is much older. In 1761, it was the Portuguese prime minister Marquês de Pombal, who suggested to move the capital of the Portuguese colony more westward . Soon after the independence of Brazil (1822), in 1823, José Bonifácio (one of the driving forces behind the declaration of independence) became the first person to refer the future capital as ‘Brasília’.

Soon after the transition from monarchy to republic in 1889, the First Brazilian Constitution (1891) already contained a paragraph that the future capital should be moved from Rio de Janeiro to the center of Brazil. In that year, a group of scientists, led by astronomer Luís Cruls, started to investigate the Central Plateau (Planalto Central). The location became known as the ‘Quadrilátero Cruls’, and was given the name ‘Vera Cruz’ in 1894.

Fundamental stone in Planaltina

The first attempt to construct the new capital dates back from 1922, exactly one century after the Brazilian independence. On September 7, the fundamental stone was laid in the ‘Morro do Centenário’, at the Serra da Independência, that is located about nine kilometers from Planaltina.

In 1954, president Café Filho nominated a marshal – José Pessoa Cavalcanti – to lead a commission for the construction of the new capital. The next step of the president was to choose the location of the new capital and to create the Distrito Federal (Federal District). The idea was to name the new city ‘Vera Cruz’, as a reference of the Cross of Christ, and to the very first name of Brazil, given by the Portuguese discoverers. The main avenues should bear names that refer to Brazilian traditions and history.

Construction of Congresso Nacional

Following a conflict with President Juscelino Kubitschek, marshal Jóse Pessoa resigned and was succeeded by colonel Ernesto Silva. Soon after his installation as President, Kubitschek started the realization of the construction of the capital. The street pattern. was realized by Novacap, after a draft design by architect Lúcio Costa, who had won the national contest. The principal buildings were designed by architect Oscar Niemeyer.

On April 21, 1960, at 9 am, President Kubitschek solemnly closed the gates of the Palácio do Catete in Rio de Janeiro, which was the government seat at that time. The transfer of the capital to Brasília was done on the same day on which Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, was executed in 1792. He is better known as Tiradentes, the leader of the Inconfidência Mineira (Conspiracy of Minas Gerais), and is considered as the precursor of the Brazilian independence. According to some sources, the city of Rome was also founded on April 21, in 753 BC.

Inauguration of Brasília

Kubitschek had accelerated the construction of Brasília by quoting the French philoshoper Joubert:

“Não devemos cortar o nó que podemos desatar”
“Never cut what you can untie.”

Indeed, the new capital was constructed in a record time of only a few years, but it took many more years to transfer the governmental infrastructure from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília. Most of the transfer happened in the seventies of the past century. Even now, there are many governmental departments that still reside in Rio de Janeiro.

In 1987, the city of Brasília was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Brasília has become a city where residential and administrative districts (it appears like a cross, or a bird in flight) that is in harmony with the city’s overall design. In particular, the office buildings are innovative and imaginative (UNESCO).

Commemorative coin – 50 years Brasília

Economic activity

As the seat of the federal government and as a World Heritage Site, it is no surprise that the major economic activities are concentrated on administrative services and tourism. Many headquarters of Brazilian banks, media companies, and information technology companies are located in the capital. A small share of the economic activity is obtained from local industries and agricultural activities within the Federal District.

“There are a number of initiatives under way in Brasília, such as the digital park and science and technology cluster we are launching”

Agnelo Queiroz, Governor of the Federal District

Congresso Nacional

What to see

For rotational, full-screen views of the locations, click on the orange links (a new tab will open)

Despite its young age, there are many touristic locations of interest in the capital.
The political heart of Brazil is around the Praça dos Três Poderes (Square of the Three Powers). Palácio do Planalto is the seat of the executive power in Brazil. Designed my Oscar Niemeyer, the building is an example of simplicity and modernity, by using the fine lines and waves in the composition of the columns and exterior structures. ‘Leves como penas pousando no chão‘ (Light as feathers touching the floor), according to Niemeyer. A wide ramp directly leads to the ‘Salão Nobre’ where official guests are received.

Palácio do Planalto

The President, however, does not reside in this palace, but in Palácio da Alvorada. This palace, designed by Niemeyer is located on a peninsula at the margins of Paranoá Lake. It consists of three floors. The main entrance contains a quote of president Kubitschek:

“From this central plateau, this vast loneliness that will soon become the center of national decisions, I look once more at the future of my country and foresee this dawn with an unshakeable faith in its great destiny”

The legislative power is resided in the Congresso Nacional. Two skyscrapers are flanked by two semi-hemispheres. The top half of the sphere is the location of the Senate; the bottom half houses the Chamber of Deputies (Virtual tour).
The third of the three powers, the judiciary power, is concentrated in the Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF; Supreme Federal Court). The building is designed by Niemeyer, and is supported by lateral columns. The building appears to be slightly lifted from the ground. In front is a statue of ‘Justiça’ by Alfredo Ceschiatti.
The Eixo Monumental (Monumental Axis) is the widest avenue, that runs from Congresso Nacional. Its first section is called Esplanada dos Ministérios (Esplanade of Ministries), where a number of federal ministries is concentrated. Along this wide avenue, more monuments are located:

The most striking building is without doubt the Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida (Cathedral of Brasília). The cathedral is a concrete-framed hyperboloid structure, that seems open, with the glass roof reaching upward. Inside the cathedral, three angels are attached by steel cables; outside, statues of the four evangelists (Luke, John, Matthew, and Mark) are positioned in front. The statues of angels and evangelists are creations of Alfredo Ceschiatti.
The Complexo Cultural da República (Cultural Complex of the Republic) consists of the rectangular-shaped Biblioteca Nacional de Brasília (National Library of Brasília) and the dome-shaped Museu Nacional da República (National Museum of the Republic), also designed by Niemeyer. The library hosts more than 300 thousand items, while the museum is mainly used for temporary exhibitions.

Palácio do Itamaraty

The Ministry of External Affairs is located in the Palácio do Itamaraty, also known as Palácio dos Arcos for its arc-like structure. The complex of three units was ready in 1970. It is designed by Niemeyer, while Robert Burle Marx was responsible for the landscape architecture.
At the opposite side, the Ministry of Justice is located in the Palácio da Justiça. The facade of the building is supported by large columns, and flanked by a water mirror and artificial waterfalls.
Brazil’s National Memorial is called Panteão da Pátria Tancredo Neves. The shape of the memorial reminds of a dove. It is created as a homage to the heroes of Brazil, who battled for freedom and democracy.

Memorial JK

There is also a Memorial for the founding father of Brasília: Juscelino Kubitschek, also known for his initials: Memorial JK. The memorial is located on Praça do Cruzeiro, one of the highest locations in the capital. Next to the tomb is a statue of 28 meters high, with the populair president on top of a pole. The crypt contains a quote of Kubitschek:

“Tudo se transforma em alvorada nesta cidade que se abre para o amanhã”
“Everything in this capital is transformed to dawn that opens tomorrow”

Another high landmark is the 224 meter high television tower (1967): Torre do TV, another design by Niemeyer.
The Pavilhão Nacional is the location at the Praça dos Três Poderes where a huge flag mast is erected. This mast is composed of 24 rods, each for every Brazilian state, at the time of its inauguration.

Brasília is not only a center of political power, but also a center of many religions. The above-mentioned Cathedral is the most obvious religious site in the capital. For the patron saint of Brasília, Dom Bosco, is a sanctuary: Santuário Dom Bosco. The sanctuary is surrounded by arcs of sixteen meters high, thereby supporting the immense blue-stained glass windows. The various bluish tones provide the idea of a sky full of stars. The iron-and-bronze gates contain reliefs telling the life of Dom Bosco.

Sanctuário Dom Bosco

There is also a pyramid in Brasília. A Pyramid with seven sides, the seven faces of God. It is the Temple of Good Will, the Templo da Legião da Boa Vontade. Inside this temple, covered in marble, there is a spiral figure in the stone floor, leading to an elevation with a crystal of 21 kilograms, that must provide positive energy to the worshipers.
There is also a Buddhist temple in the capital, the Templo Budista de Brasília, also called Templo Budista da Terra Pura. This temple is a copy of the Fukui temple in Japan, which is somewhat in contrast with the modern image of the capital. The interior is gold-decorated and hosts a large statue of Buddha. Visitors can meditate and also participate in various aspects of the Japanese culture like ikebana and martial arts.

In addition, Brasília also hosts a mosque, the largest in Southern America. The Mesquita do Centro Islâmico do Brasil.
Spiritists have there own center, the Comunhão Espírita. Freemasons have their Grande Loja Maçônica do Distrito Federal.
More religions have their buildings in the capital: the IURD: Catedral da Igreja Universal do Reino de Deus; the Igreja Messiânica Mundial; the Seicho-No-Iê; the Seventh Day Adventists: Igreja Adventista do Sétimo Dia; Order of the Rosary: Templo da Ordem Rosa-Cruz.

Ponte JK

Niemeyer designed a kind of memorial (1992) for his colleague and friend Lúcio Costa: Espaço Lúcio Costa. It contains the scale model of 170 square meters of the draft design of Brasília. The Teatro Nacional (National Theater) contains a foyer that is named after one of the greatest Brazilian composers: Foyer da Sala Villa-Lobos, which has a glass roof.
Another architectural highlight is the Ponte JK, named after president Kubitschek. This bridge of 1200 meters, spanning the Lago Paranoá and thereby connecting Plano Piloto with Lago Sul, has three arcs that are positioned in such a way as a stone would touch and bounce from the water surface three times.

Commemorative coin – Goiás Velho

From Modern Brasília, it is only a small step to visit historical cities in the neighborhood of the capital. Planaltina (1790) is located in Distrito Federal and has the fundamental stone of Brasília, at the Morro do Centenário.
Other historical cities are located in the state of Goiás. Pirenópolis (1727) is located about 150 km from the capital and has buildings of the colonial era. The former capital of the state of Goiás (340 km from Brasília) is Goiás Velho (1727), the city of Brazilian poet Cora Coralina has a well conserved historic center, and is added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. At 120 km,Cristalina (1592) is the city of crystals and gemstones. At 159 km, Corumbá de Goiás (1730) is famous for its waterfall: Salto de Corumbá. At 70 is the city of Luziânia (1870), also known for a number of beautiful waterfalls. Formosa, about 80 km from Brasília, is known for natural beauty and the 168 meter high Salto de Itiquira, one of the highest in Southern America. At 300 km, Caldas Novas is really worth visiting. The city is considered to be the largest hydro-thermal resort in the world. Neighboring Rio Quente (1722), 18 km from Caldas Novas, is also known as a hydro-thermal resort.

Thermal waters in Rio Quente

Dream of Dom Bosco – Brasília

Construction of Brasília, Globo 2010

Plano Piloto 1 – Residential

Plano Piloto 2- Gregarious

Plano Piloto 3 – Monumental

History of Brasília (1/3)

History of Brasília (2/3)

History of Brasília (3/3)

História do Surgimento da Brasília

Lúcio Costa and Brasília

Brasília, capital of Brazil

50 Years Brasília

Brasília, Brazil

Palácio do Alvorada

Oscar Niemeyer 100 years

Eixo Monumental


Caldas Novas and Rio Quente

By Adriano Antoine Robbesom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.