Rio de Janeiro Carnival – Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, is widely regarded as the “Carnival” capital of the world. Although this Carnival celebration takes place in numerous locations around Brazil as well as the world, Rio’s Carnival is arguably the biggest and most notable. Around 500,000 tourists visit to celebrate these festivities with the millions of locals each year.
Taking place 40 days before Easter, this 5-day celebration officially starts on Friday and finishes on “Fat Tuesday.” This energetic event usually takes place in February (the hottest month in the Southern Hemisphere), so proper health precautions should be taken into consideration when making any travel arrangements.
The city of Rio will not only provide a vast array of entertainment, but also a vibrant display of Brazilian culture will be visible to the masses as well. People can be found singing, dancing and generally partying everywhere throughout the city during this world-renowned event. Carnival celebrations begin with the crowning of the Fat King (King Momo), who is presented with a giant silver and gold key by the mayor. Festivities conclude with the “Rio Carnival Parade (Samba Parade).”
Rio Carnival History
The roots of Carnival trace back to the ancient Romans and Greeks who celebrated the rites of spring. Across Europe, including France, Spain and Portugal, people annually gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks and dancing in the streets. Such traditions were carried over to the New World.
The Portuguese first brought the concept of “celebration or carnival” to Rio around 1850. The practice of holding balls and masquerade parties was imported by the city’s bourgeoisie from Paris. However, in Brazil, the traditions soon became different. Over time, they acquired unique elements deriving from African and Amerindian cultures.
Groups of people would parade through the streets playing music and dancing. It was usual that during Carnival aristocrats would dress up as commoners, men would cross-dress as women and the poor dress up as princes and princesses – social roles and class differences were expected to be forgotten once a year but only for the duration of the festival.
Brazilians used to riot the Carnival until it was accepted by the government as an expression of culture. The black slaves became actively involved in the celebrations. They were able to be free for three days. Nowadays the slums’ black communities are still the most involved groups in all the carnival preparations and they are the ones for whom Rio Carnival means the most.
By the end of the 18 century the festivities were enriched by competitions. People would not just dress up in costumes but also perform a parade accompanied by an orchestra of strings, drums and other instruments. These ever more organized competitions became the main attractions of the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, street carnival in Rio was musically a very euro centric affair – Polkas, Waltzes, Mazurkas and ‘Scottish’. Meanwhile, the emergent working class (made up mainly of Afro Brazilians, along with some gypsies, Russian Jews, Poles etc.) developed their own music and rhythm. These people were mostly based in the central part of Rio, on a land that the rich did not want – on the hills and swamps behind the dockyards – an area which came to be known as ‘Little Africa’ now recognized as the cradle of samba.
The parades were halted during World War II and started again in 1947. By then the main competition took place downtown on Avenida Rio Branco.
Carnival has gone a long way since it was brought to Rio, having become one of the biggest events in the World. One of the most important recent developments was that the biggest parade the Samba Parade moved from the streets downtown to the purpose-built Sambodromo.