“Coming to Rio today without seeing Lapa, would be like having come to Rio in the fifties, without seeing Copacabana.”—Ruy Castro, author, Rio de Janeiro: Carnival Under Fire (Writer and the City). During Rio’s belle epoque, the restaurants and coffee houses in and around Lapa welcomed intellectuals, samba musicians, and artists. This bohemian neighborhood fell into decay in the 1940s, and only in recent decades has regained its luster. In this walking tour, you’ll pass through Lapa, Cinelândia, and Largo da Carioca. Some areas in Lapa remain seedy; make sure you take this walk during the day.
The tour begins at the police post on the intersection of Avenida Mem de Sá and Avenida República do Paraguai. Follow Mem de Sá underneath (1) Arcos da Lapa (at Praça Cardeal Câmara). “One hundred years ago this aqueduct carried water from the Carioca River to downtown Rio; now it carries streetcars from Largo da Carioca to Santa Teresa.”—João Emilio Gerodetti, coauthor, Greetings from Brazil. Turn right on (2) Rua do Lavrádio, a street lined with music venues and antique shops. You’ll find an outdoor market here on the first Saturday of each month. Tip: Buy fine antiques at Armazém Antiguidades (Rua do Lavrádio 161). Turn right at Avenida República do Chile and walk to the (3) Catedral de São Sebastian do Rio de Janeiro (Avenida República do Chile 245; www.catedral.com.br). Completed in 1979, this concrete cathedral boasts soaring stained glass windows, a translucent cross on the ceiling, and a sacred art museum downstairs.
Continue along Avenida República do Chile until you reach Avenida Treze de Maio. Take a tour of the (4) Theatro Municipal (Praça Floriano; www.theatromunicipal.rj.gov.br), inaugurated in 1909, during an era when “Rio vied with Paris as the world’s great capital.”—João Emilio Gerodetti. At the end of Praça Floriano you’ll find (5) Cine Odeon (Praça Floriano). Showing films since 1926, this cinema is a remnant of Cinelândia, a neighborhood that in the 1930s resembled New York City’s Times Square. Walk across Avenida Rio Branco and enter the (6) Biblioteca Nacional (Avenida Rio Branco 219; www.bn.br). This is Latin America’s biggest library, with 13 million volumes. “Dom João VI brought the original collection from Portugal’s Biblioteca Real in 1808.”—João Emilio Gerodetti. Next door is the (7) Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (Avenida Rio Branco 199; www.mnba.gov.br). The facade was inspired by Paris’s Louvre Palace and the collection numbers 16,000 pieces.
Follow Avenida Treze de Maio to Largo da Carioca, and climb the stairs or ride the elevator to (8) Igreja de São Francisco da Penitência (at Largo da Carioca), Rio’s baroque jewel. See the painting of St. Francis on the nave ceiling. Finish your tour at Rua Gonçalves Dias 32. Inside this art nouveau building is (9) Confeitaria Colombo (Rua Gonçalves Dias 32; www.confeitariacolombo.com.br), a pastry shop inaugurated in 1894. You’re joining a list of illustrious clientele that includes writer and politician Rui Barbosa, composers Chiquinha Gonzaga and Heitor Villa-Lobos, and Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas.
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