The Magic of Santa Teresa

Rio de Janeiro is best known for its beautiful beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema, the carnival and an immense statue of Christ overlooking Rio. A zona bonita less likely to attract attention is the 19th-century neighborhood of Santa Teresa. This high-altitude bohemian district is well worth a visit.

Villas and townhouses

When Brazil is experiencing its coffee boom in the 19th century, the wealthy cariocas (as the residents of Rio are called) think it is time to build their villas and mansions on a hill inland. The district is renamed Santa Teresa, a monastery that was founded there in 1750. The new residents create a picturesque ‘village’, elevated above the rest of the city. However, the rich life in the neighborhood didn’t last that long. Less than a century later, the elite are already started ‘fleeing’ the neighborhood. Santa Teresa is now surrounded by a network of rapidly expanding favelas Slums where poverty is rampant, and the elite neighborhood becomes entangled in a web of crime.

Artists brighten up neighborhood

As you walk the winding, steep cobbled streets and stairs, you notice that the grandeur of the ‘good old days’ is still palpable. The fact that several villas are no longer inhabited and have fallen into serious disrepair does not detract from this. Other 19th century houses have been transformed into hotels, restaurants, cafes, and workshops.
In the 1960s and 1970s, artists took up residence in the bairo. Since then, Santa Teresa has been reviving, and crime has declined. Santa Teresa has an artistic atmosphere and is sometimes referred to as the Montmartre of Rio. You can see the influence of the artists’ guild reflected in the graffiti on the walls.

Spectacular but dangerous tram ride

Santa Teresa used to be connected to the lower town by a picturesque tram that chugged high over a former aqueduct and zigzagged uphill into the neighborhood. A spectacular but it turned also dangerous ride. On August 27, 2011, this tram derailed, causing several deaths and injuries. The tram service was stopped immediately after this accident. A small part of the original route has now been put back into use.

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