WHAT TO SEE (AND HOW TO SEE IT), Part 2
Our guided tour continued back into the heart of the city, where we took in the most significant landmarks in Brasilia.
Following the tranquility of Dom Bosco, the Catedral Metropolitana was a very different experience. In the center of the Federal District, in a large open plaza swarmed by visitors, vendors, and vagrants, the cathedral is a hub of activity. Our guide explained that the structure was intended to symbolize the last supper. The main building, featuring an unprecedented structure of concrete parabolic curves, represents Christ's crown. The bell tower evokes a chalice, and the nearby baptistry - a low, squat ovoid structure - is the loaf of bread.
The crown is surrounded by a moat, and the entrance is a ramp that goes down into the earth and under the water. You descend through darkness, and emerge into the light of Niemeyer's spectacularly airy space. High above you, massive angels soar. The abstract stained glass lets in a lot of sunshine - somewhat the opposite of Dom Bosco. You feel alert and alive. It is a marvelous space that inspires awe. (Even the Broyhill furniture company was inspired by it with their Brasilia coffee table!) If you had to choose only one building to see in all of Brasilia, it should be this cathedral. Its revolutionary construction, its visual impact, its sheer gravity-defying modernity express Niemeyer's vision for the new capital city better than even the magnificent government buildings down the road. (Note: while there is no admission fee to enter, visitors are requested to dress repsectfully. I noticed several people in shorts who were not barred entry, but I recommend wearing long pants to be safe.)
Leaving the sacred for the secular, the tour then took us to what is probably the most stunning part of the Federal District: Praca dos Tres Poderes (Three Powers Square). It is here where the three branches of the democratic government are located: congress, the judiciary, and the executive offices.
With only 20 minutes to walk around, we barely had time to take photographs around the plaza, and to dash through the Liberty Pantheon. This 1986 Niemeyer building is shaped like a dove and houses a Guernica-like mural depicting a rebellion and a somber wall of stained glass. We had just enough time for our eyes to adjust to the dim interior before we had to leave.
All around the square are memorials and markers and symbolic sculptures, but I have to say that my favorite feature on the plaza was the most frivolous: a dovecote that resembles a clothespin. Not every capital city takes such good care of its pigeons!
From Three Powers Square, our minivan headed south and west over the JK Bridge, a 2002 structure that spans Lake Paranoa. Designed by Alexandre Chan, the asymmetric design of its supporting arches is said to evoke the path of a stone skipping across the water. I admit to being something of a bridge geek, so it was a treat to cross the water on the bridge and look back to the city from the other side.
The tour concluded with a visit to Palacio da Alvorada ("Palace of the Dawn"), the Brazilian equivalent of the White House. Though public tours of the palace are no longer offered, there is a viewing plaza about 100 yards from the building. A lone sentry stands guard at a checkpoint. He is immobile, like the guards at Buckingham Palace. Our tour guide encouraged everyone to take pictures with him, as if he would be insulted by the idea that we didn't want to "distract" him. So, somewhat embarrassed at the sheer touristy-ness of the act, both Paul and I posed with the stalwart soldier.
The tour concluded here, and my one lament about it was that it did not include an interior tour of the Congress building. These are available, and Paul and I fully intended to go the next day on our own, but the time got away from us. I would urge prospective visitors to check the tour schedule and make plans to go inside.
(Coming next: exploring on our own)