Sixty years ago, Brasilia became Brazil's capital

Brasília (AFP) –


On April 21, 1960, Brazil inaugurated to great fanfare its new capital Brasilia, a futuristic city created out of nothing and boasting many architectural masterpieces.

Here is an account of its foundation, based on AFP copy from the time.

A landmark in the history of town planning, it had sprung up in less than four years on an empty plateau that is often mistaken for desert in Brazil's central west region.

It is a thousand kilometres (miles) from Rio de Janeiro, (Brazil's capital since 1763), AFP explained in the run up to several days of festivities. An artificial lake, Paranoa, measuring more than 40 square kilometres (15 square miles) was created.

It is the product of the national modernization project of then Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek for whom "it is a geopolitical revolution. After having camped for nearly two hundred years by the water's edge, Brazil will take possession of its territory."

Ranked in 1987 on UNESCO's world heritage list, the city of white modern architecture was masterminded by urban planner Lucio Costa, landscaper Roberto Burle Marx and architect Oscar Niemeyer, who in 1988 would go on to win the Pritzker Prize, widely seen as architecture’s Nobel.

- Big circumference -

The inauguration date coincided with the anniversary of the death of the first martyr of Brazil's independence nicknamed "Tiradentes" (toothpuller) who had called for the capital to be relocated to central Brazil.

As the day approached, around the clock, "100,000 workmen, engineers and technicians put the finishing touches to the biggest building site in the world", AFP wrote.

"To accommodate the builders of Brasilia a makeshift town is "the middle of the savanna". It has "150,000 inhabitants, 60 hotels, 40 bars and seven banks," all doomed to be razed once construction of Brasilia is finished.

Brasilia "has the shape of a circumference -- so big that from the top of the 28-storey skyscraper where the parliament's administrative services will be housed the (city) boundaries will not be visible," AFP wrote.

"Within this circumference", two diameters of which designate a sign of the cross, "the avenues ...are in the form of concentric circles" or "are laid out to follow the radius of the circle but do not lead to each other, as bridges and tunnels have been placed at all the junctions."

- Architectural gems -

The congress with its twin semi-spherical buildings, the presidential palace and the Supreme Court are located in Three Powers Square, which lies at the centre of the circumference and the heart of the city.

Among Brasilia's most beautiful monuments are its cathedral with its enormous sheaf linking 16 concrete columns, symbolizing the friendship between Brazil and former colonial master Portugal and the Itamaraty Palace, which houses the foreign ministry.

At the start, however, the transfer of power from Rio to Brasilia is more than anything else symbolic.

"The internal construction of numerous public buildings is not finished, the offices have not been completely installed, and more than anything the lifts are often working precariously," AFP wrote on the eve of the inauguration.

The internal telephone network is not up to speed and last minute hitches arise in radio links with other cities.

With long distances to cover, it is also difficult to get around in an urban area which has practically no transport.

- Thousands celebrate -

However, celebrations are the order of the day.

On April 20, "Brazilians, who for the past 24 hours have been converging on the new capital, give vent to their enthusiasm before the architectural masterpieces."

The president receives the keys to the city in front of "a crowd of around 3,000," where workmen in blue jeans mix with peasants from the high plateaus with sunburned faces, tourists from Rio or Sao Paulo clad in white and top officials and parliamentarians in dark suits.

Papal legate Cardinal Manuel Cerejeira blesses the city using a cross at the foot of which the first mass was celebrated in Brazil in 1500.

As well as religious ceremonies, the festivities include a fair, a military parade, and a procession by the construction workers which take place over several days.

On the 21, the authorities are installed in Brasilia.

"The fronts of the public buildings...are all made up of bay windows. Thus the people will be able to constantly 'check' on the work of the servants of the state," AFP wrote on April 23.

Four years after the inauguration of its new capital, which made a dent in public finances for several years, Brazil experiences a coup, which establishes a military dictatorship that will last to 1985.