Sep 27, 2011

7 Wonders of the Natural World - Part Three

Harbour of Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro Harbour is located on the south-western shore of Guanabara Bay and spans an immense 88 miles in length. The Harbour is surrounded by gorgeous granite monolith mountains that include the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain at 1,296 feet (395 m), Corcovado Peak at 2,310 feet (704 m), and the hills of Tijuca at 3,350 feet (1021 m). It was formed by the Atlantic Ocean which eroded the soil and rocks along the coast.

Portuguese explorers named the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro as “the River of the First of January” because they were convinced that they had reached the mouth of a great river, when they glided toward a narrow opening in the coastline on the New Year’s Day, 1502. The large waterway was not a river; it was an island-studded bay stretching 20 miles inland, containing a tropical wilderness teeming with tapirs and jaguars. The Tamoio people had named it Guanabara or the “arm of the sea.”

Europeans called the smaller bay of Botafago, under Sugarloaf, a "lake"; the Tamoio themselves named Guanabara Bay's eastern edge Niteroi, meaning "hidden waters." Guarding the entrance to the bay, the naked and lopsided mountain the Portuguese called Pao de Acucar evoked the sugarloaves fashioned on the island of Madeira. They called the highest mountain Corcovado - "the hunchback" - for its humped profile.

The Harbour at Rio de Janeiro as we know it today was colonized in the 16th century, and modernized in the 20th century. Yet the actual structure of the bay has been around for millions of years, gradually being eroded by the waves that come through Guanabara Bay and hit the land behind it.

The Atlantic Ocean that surrounds this area of Brazil that is responsible for this erosion; a process which earned the harbour of Rio de Janeiro its prestige. The erosion occurred in such a way that if you look at the bay from different angles, it can look like a river mouth, or even a lake. Evidence of the harsh sea conditions that caused this kind of formation can still be seen today from October until March, which is the start of Rio de Janeiro’s rainy season.

Unfortunately, the Bay’s vastness has been shrinking. With usable land at a premium, landfill has twice altered Guanabara Bay's contours. In the 1920s and again in the 1960s, small hills that had once been home to Rio's earliest settlers were sluiced through pipes to create bayfill. The new land now anchors an airport, a six-lane highway, parkland and beaches, the city's modern art museum, and other 20th-century landmarks. Where this expansion and development will lead is unsure, but one thing’s for certain; the shape of Rio de Janeiro’s harbour is changing fast.

The best way to see the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro is to get above it. This can be done either through helicopter or for the more adventurous through the use of a hang glider.

The most common way of seeing this wonder is to travel to the tops of the surrounding peaks. Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado both offer panoramic views of the harbour and surrounding landscape. Sugar Loaf Mountain is actually in the harbour and provides views back over the city and into mountains. Additionally, visitors will have great views of the beautiful beaches that line the harbour.

Corcovado peak is much higher and looks east over the harbour and back towards Sugar Loaf Mountain. Corcovado peak also offers visitors with an opportunity to see the famous monument - Christ the Redeemer.

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