The most famous of all images of Rio is that of the vast statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) gazing across the bay from the Corcovado (hunchback) hill, arms outstretched in welcome, or as if preparing for a dive into the waters below. The Art Deco statue (daily 9am–7pm), 30m high and weighing over 1000 metric tons, was scheduled to be completed in 1922 as part of Brazil’s centenary independence celebrations, but this symbol of Rio wasn’t, in fact, finished until 1931. The French sculptor Paul Landowski was responsible for the head and hands, while the engineers Heitor Silva Costa and Pedro Viana constructed the rest.
In clear weather, fear no anticlimax: climbing to the statue is a stunning experience by day, and nothing short of miraculous in the early evening. In daylight, the whole of Rio and Guanabara Bay is laid out before you; after sunset, the floodlit statue can be seen from everywhere in the Zona Sul, seemingly suspended in the darkness that surrounds it and often shrouded in eerie cloud. Up on the platform at the base of the statue, the effect of the clouds, and the thousands of tiny winged insects clustering round the spotlights, help give the impression that the statue is careering through space out into the blackness that lies beyond the arc of the lights – dramatic, and not a little hypnotic.
All major hotels organize excursions to the Corcovado. Alternatively, the easiest way to get there by yourself is to take a taxi – about R$40 from the Zona Sul, a little more from Centro. Buses run to the bairro of Cosme Velho – take the #422 or #497 from Largo do Machado, the #583 from Leblon or the #584 from Copacabana – and stop at the Estação Cosme Velho, at Rua Cosme Velho 513. From here you take a cog-train (every 30min 8.30am–6.30pm; R$45 return, which also entitles you to half-price admission at the Museu Internacional de Arte Naïf; w www.corcovado.com.br), a twenty-minute ride to the top, from where there’s an escalator leading to the viewing platform. You can also drive up to a car park near the top if you wish, but if you want to walk, go in a group, as reports of assaults and robberies are frequent. However you choose to get there, keep an eye on the weather before setting out: what ought to be one of Rio’s highlights can turn into a great disappointment if the Corcovado is shrouded in clouds.