20 July 2013

Seven Wonders of the World: Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, as confirmed by the Phoenician poet Antipater in the first century AD, included the: Great Pyramid, Walls and Gardens of Babylon, Zeus' statue, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and Colossus of Rhodes. Clearly Antipater created a comprehensive list, even though he had never heard of Stonehenge and the Great Wall of China, and could not have known about the Colosseum.

Life Magazine (Vol 13, 2, June 2013) updated and replaced these ancient wonders, publishing the winning New Seven Wonders of the World candidates and the next 7 runners-up. Based on the votes of 100 million opinions, these 14 winning wonders do not include natural sites that God created, rather than clever human beings (eg Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef). In order of popularity by voters, consider:

1. Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro
2. The Great Wall of China
3. Chichen Itza, Mexico
4. Taj Mahal, Agra
5. Petra, Jordan
6. Machu Picchu, Peru
7. Colosseum, Rome
8. Easter Island
9. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
10. Acropolis, Athens
11. Potala Palace, Lhasa
12. Vatican, Rome
13. Terracotta Army, near Xian
14. Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain

Of the Wonders of Today, we need to add:
15. Eiffel Tower, Paris
16. Sydney Opera House
17. Empire State Building, New York
18. Burj Khalifa, Dubai
19. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
20. Channel Tunnel
21. National Stadium, Beijing

In Rio de Janeiro, faithful Catholics had wanted to place a monumental religious statue on top of the very impressive Corcovado Mountain for a long time. In the mid C19th, Brasil's Princess Isabel would not financially support the project and then it failed again in 1889 when Brasil became a republic, with laws requiring the public separation of church and state.

It is not clear why the next request for a statue was more successful but perhaps the need for world peace was perceived more strongly in 1920. Of course there was a vigorous debate about who would design the work, what the materials should be, who should pay and how Christ should be depicted. In the end, the presentation of Christ carrying his cross was rejected; instead Christ the Redeemer with open arms, a symbol of peace, was agreed upon. The statue was designed by a Brasilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa and sculpted by the French sculptor Paul Landowski.

Christ the Redeemer statue
built on Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro
Proclaimed open in October 1931.

The majority of the sculpture was made from reinforced concrete but soapstone was chosen for the outer layers, given soapstone's durability and ease of use. So I was interested to hear how these heavy materials were dragged to the top. Apparently it would have been impossible without the Corcovado Railway, so the railway became an important aide in the project. Construction of the 30 metres tall figure and 8 metres high pedestal took nine years (1922-1931), and was completed almost within budget.

Art Déco was the style chosen by the sculptor, appropriate given that his work was being created in the late 1920s. The statue was presented in the functional, glamorous and modern style, dominated by typical Art Déco characteristics like geometric forms, straight lines and crisp folds in Christ’s clothing.

Although Brasil only joined in the war against Germany and the Axis powers in 1917, the nation's post-war era was difficult, politically and economically. Then the Depression struck Brasil with tragic consequences in 1929 and 1930. Thank goodness the Christ the Redeemer monument was finally available for a very excited nation (and world) to celebrate in October 1931.

In 2003, escalators, walkways and elevators were installed to help the faithful get up to the platform surrounding the statue. Before and since 2003, restoration work has been constantly required. But it has been worth it. Towering 710 metres above Rio and visible from almost any place in the city, Christ the Redeemer is still a powerful representation of Catholicism in Brasil, one of the most Catholic of countries. It must be; 1,800,000 people visit the statue every year!


Anonymous said...

1.8 million! Some would be the faithful and some just tourists, but regardless, it is a lot of people.

Hels said...


agreed. There is a great deal of discussion in the Rio tourist literature just now. The mountain top is too crowded so the authorities have altered the ticketing process... but apparently not successfully. There are lots of complaints.

David Thompson said...

In my limited experience of visiting once in 2011, the viewing platform and steps in front of the statue get very crowed because everyone wants to pose on the steps with Cristo behind them while just as many are looking at the views of Rio. I believe it gets more crowded later in the day and when the weather is clear and the views are better.

Deb said...

Of all the wonders in the world, it must have been difficult to come up with the final list. I think that the sculpture in Brazil is impressive, but not as monumental as Petra or Potala. Are you looking at any of the other sites?

Hels said...


I wonder if it would be possible to open up two separate spaces on the mountain, one to visit the statue and one to view the city from on high. Apparently at peak periods it is currently impossible to move.

By the way, what did you make of the Deco nature of the sculpture? Pretty flash :)

Hels said...


Life Magazine suggested the reason the Rio de Janeiro statue won was because there was an organised voting campaign in Brasil; millions of corporate dollars were spent in the Vote for the Christ campaign.

In anycase I am rapt in Petra, Potala, Taj Mahal etc and will examine these and other winners during the next 12 months.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Although many things built in the 20th century are impressive, I think it becomes difficult to apply the word 'wonder'. When we can understand both the building process and motive, a monument is more of a mechanical achievement.

I like your additions--many impressive concepts and symbols there, even if we know how they were built. Perhaps we can add places like Mt. Rushmore, which seems to me at least as deserving as the Christ the Redeemer statue.

Hels said...


you are quite right about Mount Rushmore; it was indeed included in Life Magazine's list of Wonders of the World that did not quite make the cut, as golfers say. I should have recorded the rest of the runners up, but I simply ran out of energy.

You make a good point about understanding both the building process AND motive. Life Magazine did relatively well on the building process, but I had to chase around for the political and religious motives myself.

With Christ the Redeemer, the motives and timing were important, and relatively easy to elicit. It would be more difficult with Angkor Wat or Easter Island, for example.

Kalyan said...

beautiful captures...lovely!

Hels said...


Welcome aboard and thanks. Since the view over Rio is almost as important as the statue itself, the choice of photo became really important. Normally I bung any old photo in a post, as long as it does the job.

Mandy said...

I would love to see that with my own eyes ones day. It just looks majestic and now that I know it is Art Deco, I realise why I love it so much. I am always drawn to the style without realising it.

I'm a little embarrassed but I've only been to Ephesus, Stonehenge and the Channel Tunnel.

Hels said...


as I was driving across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco this week, I was thinking exactly that! Even the name "Chichen Itza, Mexico" was unfamiliar.

But now we have a list we might use in thinking about our future travel plans.