CHRISTINE CHISHA, Brasilia
MAYBE, the best time to visit Brazil was in 2014, when the South American country hosted the FIFA World Cup. Or in 2016, when it played host to the Olympics.
But as a once-upon-time sports writer, am leaning towards the 2014 football world cup.
Own Gibson, reporting from Rio de Janeiro, wrote a shiny piece in his sports blog for the Guardian of UK.
“Argentinian camper vans parked up along Copacabana, Chilean chants filled the night sky in São Paulo, Mexicans flooded into Fortaleza and Costa Ricans set up camp in Salvador,” he wrote.
“Rio was the melting pot for fans from around the world. If Germany in 2006 felt like a good-natured, beer-drenched gathering of the European clans then Brazil was its equivalent for South and Central America.
“The night that Colombia beat Uruguay and Brazil squeezed past Chile the streets of Rio became a huge impromptu party. In the northern coastal cities of Fortaleza and Salvador, there was an abandon sometimes absent in the vast megalopolis of São Paulo.
“Huge tribes of American ‘Outlaws’, Colombians, Costa Ricans, Uruguayans, Mexicans and – most visibly – Argentinians slept on the beaches, on benches, in hostels and upmarket hotels. They all went away with a better understanding of the country and it of them. “Whatever their underlying reservations about Fifa and their government, Brazilians welcomed them all with open arms.”
I obviously missed out.
Nonetheless, I got an opportunity last week to be in Brazil. But it had nothing to do with sports.
The invitation was the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialised agency of the United Nations dedicated to eradicating poverty and hunger in rural areas of developing countries, for a South to South triangular conference.
And the conference was not in the famous cities of Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.
It was in Brasilia, the capital city.
It may not be as sought after as Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, but Brasilia still offers something of a unique atmosphere.
Brasilia is an eclectic and cosmopolitan, which is epitomised by the presence of government offices and well-built cathedrals.
The capital city of Brazil is laid out along a monumental east-west axis, crossed by a north-south axis curved to follow the topography as a transportation thoroughfare which is a definitive example of 20th century modernist urbanism.
I was eager to learn about this city.
Well, created as the Brazilian capital in the central western part of the country from 1956 to 1960 as part of President Juscelino Kubitschek’s national modernisation project, the city brought together ideas of grand administrative centres and public spaces with new ideas of urban living.
However, what really caught my attention and that of the 11 other journalists that were covering the IFAD conference was the well-built Cathedrals especially the popular Cathedral of Brasilia and the Dom Bosco Cathedral.
There are a number of Cathedrals in Zambia although the most famous one is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, built in 1962 on the Cathedral Hill overlooking the city of Lusaka. It is a national shrine for prayer and reconciliation.
In Brazil, the church bears much importance in the society which any visitor can spot from the church designs to the surroundings.
The architect of the cathedrals, just from a distant, attracted the eyes of the journalists who forgot about all the most talked about beaches of Brazil to go and have a look inside of the churches and offer a prayer for some.
As a first stop, we chose the Cathedral of Dom Bosco whose beautifully architecture was not resisted by even Muslims and Hindus in the group of journalists.
Our tour guide, Luis Thiago, explained that the Sanctuary of Dom Bosco in Brasilia honours the Italian saint who dreamed of a utopian city in 1883.
Brasilia, the modern capital city of Brazil, is inspired by this dream.
The sanctuary is notable for its impressive interior, bathed in heavenly blue light from walls of windows.
Luis told us that in 1883, an Italian saint named Dom Bosco had a dream of a utopian city of the future. He described it as a capital city that would rule justly and provide for all the needs of a great nation.
Significantly, the saint declared that this city would be located in the New World, between the 15th and 20th parallels. Dom Bosco’s vision was a major inspiration for the foundation of Brasilia.
In honour of the saint and his aspirational dream, the Sanctuary of Dom Bosco was built right on the 15th parallel in Brasilia.
From the outside, the Santuario Dom Bosco is a fairly unremarkable concrete box, although the tall lancet window openings might invite a second glance. The interior of the church is a wondrous space, filled with heavenly blue light filtering through windows that cover virtually the entire walls.
The windows of the Dom Bosco shrine are made of small squares of stained glass in 12 different shades of blue with dots of white.
It is said that the windows were designed by Claudio Naves and manufactured by Belgian artist Hubert Van Doorne in São Paulo.
At night, a different spectacle of light dominates the interior that of a huge golden chandelier made of 7,400 pieces of Murano glass.
Other notable furnishings include life-sized statues of Don Bosco and Nossa Senhora Auxiliadora (the Lady of Help) made of Carrara marble, an altar made of a 10-tonne block of marble, and a large Crucifix above the altar that was carved from a single cedar tree.
Our next stop was the famous Cathedral of Brasília, which is also the Roman Catholic Cathedral serving the city and serves as the seat of the Archdiocese of Brasília.
At the entrance of the Cathedral, is a pillar with passages from the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The baptistery is to the left of the entrance, and can be entered either from the cathedral or via a spiral staircase from the entrance plaza.
Just entering the church and offering a prayer makes a Christian feel all her sins have been forgiven.
What religion can do!
Luis told explained that on September 12, 1958, the Cathedral’s cornerstone was laid.
He explained that the Metropolitan Cathedral of Brasilia is an expression of the geniality of the architect Oscar Niemeyer.
In 1960, the Cathedral’s structure was finished, and only the 70 meters diameter of the circular area and the 16 concrete columns were visible. These columns, having parabolic section and weighing 90 tonnes, represent two hands moving upwards to heaven.
The Cathedral was dedicated on May 31, 1970. At that time, it had already the external transparent window.
Four bronze sculptures, which are three metres high, representing the evangelists, can be seen at the external square in the entrance of the temple. These sculptures were made with the help of the sculptor Dante Croce in 1968.
Luis said inside the nave, three sculptures of angels are suspended by steel cables.
The smallest angel has 2,22 meters of length and weighs 100 kg. The medium one has 3,40 meters of length and weighs 200 kg. The big one has 4,25 m of length and 300 kg weighs.
The sculptures were made in 1970.
Having an oval form, the Baptistery has its walls covered by a panel of ceramic tiles painted in 1977. The local architecture is completed by a bell tower. Its four big bells were donated by Spain.
Luis said the majority of the faithful that normally that go to the Cathedral are either tourists or those that work at the Esplanada dos Ministérios. With nearly one million visitors per year, the Cathedral is the most visited place in Brasilia.
The Cathedral is open every day for public visitation, except during Mass. During the masses, visitation is not allowed.
Having such a significant history, it can be expected that the architecture of Brasilia reflects the richness and prominence of the culture as a planned city.
Brasilia is without any doubt a singular city, different from all others.
When is an international meeting taking place in Brazil?