A Sight to Behold: Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer

Sacred to millions and captivating to nearly everyone, Christ the Redeemer is an extraordinary work of art, architecture, and devotion. Have a look. Read More

The magnificent Christ the Redeemer is a must-see when in Rio. (Source: iStock / luoman)

Perhaps the most iconic symbol of Brazil, the colossal statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) spreads his arms from the steep terrain of Mount Corcovado across the coastal plains and highlands of Rio de Janeiro. Sacred to millions and captivating to nearly everyone, the Christ is an extraordinary work of art, architecture, and devotion. Honored as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the statue is well worth a visit – not only to see this masterpiece up close but for the extraordinary views accessible from its perch.

Christ the Redeemer: a brief history

The idea for a Christian monument originated in the 1850s, when a local priest floated the concept, along with a request for funding, with the Brazilian monarchy. The idea stalled, however, and eventually was scrapped due to the bloodless overthrow of the monarchy and establishment of the Brazilian Republic in 1889. This had the effect of separating church and state for the first time in the country’s post-colonial history.

The idea was resurrected after WWI thanks to concerns of Rio’s archdiocese that the country was becoming increasingly “ungodly.” By placing a statue atop adjacent Corcovado Mountain, a steep peak stretching 2,300-foot above sea level, it would be visible to all of Rio and serve as the city’s guardian and savior.

Statue construction

Launched in 1922, statue construction took about nine years and cost $250,000 ($3.4 million in today’s dollars), funded entirely by Brazil’s Catholic community.

The statue’s Art Deco design emerged from the collaboration of four individuals: Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva and French engineer Albert Caquot (structural design and positioning); Roman artist Gheorghe Leonida (design of Christ’s face); and French-Polish sculptor Paul Landowski (sculptural detail and clay models).

Once the design was finalized, Landowski’s model components were shipped to Brazil from France and recreated in reinforced concrete. The statue’s outer shell was comprised of local soapstone to smooth out the concrete’s rough texture. In fact, nearly 6 million triangular tiles, each measuring 1 inch by 1 inch by 1 1/2 inches, were glued on fabric sheets by local parishioners and secured on the concrete exterior. Workers inscribed names and prayers on the backs of many of the tiles as devotions.

All construction elements, along with the hundreds (if not thousands) of laborers who built the monument, were transported to Corcovado’s summit each day by cogwheel railroad.

Built in classic Art Deco design, the statue is covered in soapstone tiles for a smoother-looking exterior. (Source: Shutterstock / Goran Jakus)
Built in classic Art Deco design, the statue is covered in soapstone tiles for a smoother-looking exterior. (Source: Shutterstock / Goran Jakus)

The statue stands 98 feet high atop a 26-foot-tall pedestal, which holds a small chapel; the savior’s outstretched arms span a staggering 92 feet. Jesus looks down upon Rio and its surrounds as if in the midst of blessing the city and its inhabitants.

A viewing platform surrounds the pedestal from which astounding views of Rio, its surrounding mountains, and shoreline are visible, weather permitting.

How to get there

The quaint cog train is our favorite way to get to Christ the Redeemer. (Source: Shutterstock / Alexandr Vorobev)
The quaint cog train is our favorite way to get to Christ the Redeemer. (Source: Shutterstock / Alexandr Vorobev)

There are two basic ways to get to Christ the Redeemer: by cog train from midway up Mount Corcovado or by van from a handful of departure points. The cog train is by far the more popular approach, and for good reason. As the train snakes up the steep flanks of Mount Corcovado, it affords beautiful views not only of the verdant rainforest which blankets the mountain terrain, but of the city and coastline, as well.

Trains leave every 30 minutes or so from the Trem de Corcovado station in the Cosme Velho neighborhood. The ride is about 20 minutes and costs R$67 ($13) during the low season (May – October). Tickets include roundtrip train fare and entrance to Christ the Redeemer compound and must be purchased online in advance.

Official vans leave throughout the day from Largo do Machado (about two miles from Cosme Velho), Praça do Lido (Copacabana, 5 miles from Cosme Velho), and Barra da Tijuca on Rio’s southern coast (12 miles from Cosme Velho). All departure points are easily accessible by taxi, rideshare, or metro. Depending on your departure point, prices for round-trip transportation and entrance to the statue compound range from R$69.60-98.60 ($13-19) during the low season; transit takes an hour to two hours each way. Tickets are available online or at the listed departure points.

You can also take a taxi or car to the Paineiras car park (around the corner from Praça do Lido) and switch to the van from there. This runs R$36.60 ($7) and includes entrance to the statue compound.

While it’s also possible to hike up to the statue from a path behind the Parque Lage art school (just south of the statue), we would advise against it. For one thing, it’s an arduous three-hour hike up through the dense forest and it’s easy to get lost. Secondly, unsavory types have been known to rob people on the path. We’d say no.

The statue site allows for incredible views. (Source: Shutterstock / marchello74)
The statue site allows for incredible views. (Source: Shutterstock / marchello74)

At the Christ the Redeemer site, a series of winding steps (220 in total) and patios wind their way up from street level to the viewing platform. Most people choose to take a series of escalators or an elevator for this last leg of the trip, but we prefer to walk. As long as you pace yourself, it’s a great way to build anticipation for the views at the top. There are also a handful of souvenir and snack stands (some with a handful of small café tables) along the way, should a brief respite be necessary or desired. We like to arrive early and enjoy an espresso before finishing the climb.

Stunning sights from the viewing platform (Source: / vitormarigo)
Stunning sights from the viewing platform (Source: Shutterstock / vitormarigo)

Once at the viewing platform, prepare to be wowed. Really, it’s hard to grasp the grandeur of the statue above and the views which extend all the way around. To the northeast, Christ looks over Rio’s vast urban landscape chock-a-block with skyscrapers, commercial and residential neighborhoods, and favelas (shanty towns) that cling to the foothills. Rio’s granite Sugarloaf peak dominates the eastern view with the sea behind; and the city’s famous beaches and coastline can be seen to the south. Finally, the Tijuca Forest National Park extends as far as the eye can see to the west. Even from this single location, there’s a palpable sense of the environmental diversity and extraordinary beauty that this corner of Brazil holds.

On your way down, should you take the stairs, feel free to mosey along and pick up a souvenir (if you haven’t already). As mentioned, snack foods are available, and for a longer stop, bring your own food for a picnic.

Top tips

  • About those views — mountains often have their own weather systems, and we can assure you that Rio and its broader environs will be near impossible to see if it’s cloudy or foggy atop Corcovado. Check the weather forecast before heading up.
  • To avoid the crowds, the best time to arrive is as early as possible (8:30am) or in the late afternoon (around 3:30pm).
  • Selfies are best taken in the early morning when the sun is not as high and the crowds are thinner. By midday, the sun is essentially behind the statue which makes getting a clear shot of the savior difficult — not to mention the throngs of tourists who will get in your way.
  • Consider a guided tour. A knowledgeable tour guide can provide local context and color that makes the experience more meaningful and fun. There are several to choose from and vary based on duration, whether the tour is private or not, and whether additional destinations are included. Try these for a taste of available tour options.
  • Wear comfortable shoes — both for stair-climbing and waiting in lines at the escalators/elevators — as well as a hat and sunscreen when the sun is out. Also, bring water to stay hydrated.

For more information, visit Christ the Redeemer online, and drop us a line about your experience at editor@wideworldoftravel.com.