Viva Rio! Early 20th century photographs of Rio de Janeiro

In Europeana, you will find over 53 million artworks, artefacts, books, videos and sounds from across Europe. But our collections cover more continents than just Europe.

So with athletes, media and spectators arriving in Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games, we’ve selected some historic photographs of the city, from when it was still the capital of Brazil (a title it held until 1960).

Europeans have been visiting Rio de Janeiro for centuries. The photographs selected here date from the 20th century, when Rio became known as a tourist attraction and they feature some of the city’s best known sights.

This photograph (from the collection of the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology) is one of the earliest in the collection, estimated to date from between 1890 and 1910. It shows the Gloria neighbourhood in Rio’s historic centre, with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background.

black and white photograph of urban landscape

Syd-Amerika, Rio de Janeiro, Severin Worm-Petersen, Norsk Teknisk Museum, CC BY

Rio’s reputation as a tourist attraction grew through the early years of the 20th century, particularly as the city expanded to the south. The Copacabana beach-front neighbourhood developed following the construction of a tunnel connecting it to the city’s historic centre. In 1923, the Copacabana Palace Hotel opened, and became famed as South America’s premier hotel.

The two photographs below from the collection of the Circus Museum were taken during a Sarrasani Circus tour to South America in the 1930s. They show Copacabana Beach, with its promenade geometric wave mosaic.

black and white photograph of long sweeping beach

Rio de Janeiro – Praia Copacabana, Circus Museum, CC BY-SA

beach front promenade and street

Rio de Janeiro – Praia Copacabana, Circus Museum, CC BY-SA

Finally, from the Historic Postcard collection of the University of Osnaburk, this postcard dated 1938 shows a palm-tree lined street with the famous Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado mountain in the background.

black and white photograph of palm-tree lined street

Rio de Janeiro – Rua Pay[s]andú, Universität Osnabrück | Historische Bildpostkarten, CC BY-NC-SA

The street – Rua Paissando – looks very different today, as undoubtedly do all the locations in these photographs. But the sights that Rio is famous for remain and explain the enduring appeal of this Marvellous City.

Explore more: Photographs of Rio de Janeiro from the Deutsche Fotothek library.

By Adrian Murphy, Europeana Foundation

4 thoughts on “Viva Rio! Early 20th century photographs of Rio de Janeiro

  1. Interesting collection, it would be good to know if the Portuguese still held historic photography and city drawings/plans of Rio.

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