Central / South America

What’s the correct way: Brasília or Brazilia?

Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, is a monument to what Brazilians can do and have done throughout history. It’s a city pointing like an arrow into the future. It has been built and developed on a massive scale, with large, innovative buildings, a freedom of spirit and great imagination. In Brazilian Portuguese, the correct way of spelling is Brasília; notice the accent over the i. In Portuguese, Brasília and Brazília are pronounced exactly the same way (as are Brasil and Brazil). Brasília is written with an “s” because, in Portuguese, the correct spelling of the country´s name is Brasil. How come, then, that in English language, Brasil is written as Brazil?

The name Brasil comes from pau-brasil, a kind of wood which once abounded along the Brazilian coast. So, if Brasil has always been the correct form, why do English speaking countries use the variation Brazil? This was caused by some historical confusion. During a few decades, both Brazil and Brasil were used, even in official documents. Probably, during that period, the word “Brazil” was used more often than Brasil in English speaking countries. Even after Brazilians decided in favor of “Brasil”, other countries continued using the form Brazil.

Confused? How you choose to spell Brazil’s capital doesn’t matter. This is a city, although situated some 1,160 km from Rio de Janeiro that is worth visiting, regardless of how you spell it. Brasília was officially opened on April 22, 1960, but preparations to build ‘a city’ began more than two centuries ago.

The first two Brazilian capitals, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro, were built by the coast. Since the second half of 18th century, the governments (the Portuguese King, the Brazilian Emperors and the Brazilian Presidents of the Republic) had had interest in moving the capital to an interior region, which would be less susceptible to maritime raids. In 1891, the first Constitution of the Brazilian Republic determined that a new capital would be built; in 1894, an area of 14,400 square kilometers was established for the capital. On September 7, 1922, the first stone of Brasília was laid.

The entire city of Brasilia was, remarkably, built in only four years by the hands of hundreds of thousands of workers from all over the country. Difficulties in construction arose mainly for the reason that the land allocated to the future capital was largely inaccessible: the nearest road was over 75 miles away and the nearest airport some 115 miles. The resultant system of highways that was constructed to connect Brasilia to the rest of the country helped greatly to unify all of Brazil.

Brasilia takes the shape of a bent bow and arrow or an airplane viewed from high above, and is very rationally divided into regions and quadrants that all have their designated purposes: specific areas for resident housings, allocated areas for hotels, space for commercial areas. What marks Brasilia to be deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site is that the city’s architectural design is one of the world’s best examples of a modernist city. Planned and designed by Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, it is one of the richest and most comprehensive examples of Modernist architecture.

The brief description on the UNESCO Website states: “Brasilia, a capital created ex nihilo in the centre of the country in 1956, was a landmark in the history of town planning. Urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer intended that every element – from the layout of the residential and administrative districts (often compared to the shape of a bird in flight) to the symmetry of the buildings themselves – should be in harmony with the city’s overall design. The official buildings, in particular, are innovative and imaginative.”

Planned for only 500,000 inhabitants, Brasilia has seen its population grow much more than expected. Several satellite towns have been created over the years to house the thousands of residents. Brasilia’s total population (including the satellite cities) is now over 2 000 000 inhabitants.

Because of its insulation, the most practical way to reach Brasilia is flying. The airport in Brasilia is a stop for many flights connecting southern and northern Brazilian cities. By purchasing airfares in advance, one can find prices comparable to bus fares; take note that Brasilia is quieter from Friday to Monday (when politicians return to their home towns), which reflects on prices of flights and hotels.

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