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Arcos De Lapa - Lapa Arches

Arcos De Lapa - Lapa Arches (63)

In the late eighteenth century, what began as a small colonial settlement had grown in a disorderly fashion without urban planning; plus the steady increase of its population raised some big problems. Rio had no lighting nor public sanitation, the lakes and swamps near the city centre had been drained, buried or dried, and the lush forest vegetation had been flattened to make way for farmland, such as sugar cane or coffee crops, thus affecting the harmony of the ecosystem and posing one of the greatest challenges: water supply for a population that almost reached one hundred thousand inhabitants. To achieve this, this great engineering work was built, which is considered the most important work of architecture undertaken in Brazil during the colonial period:  the Carioca Aqueduct, which channelled the waters of the Rio Carioca, hence its name, but is known today as the Arcos da Lapa.

The work was carried out by using stone and lime, between 1744 and 1750, and was commissioned to the military engineer José Fernandes Pinto Alpoim, who followed the model of ancient Roman aqueducts.

With its 42 elegant arches on two levels, measuring 270 metres in length and a little over 17 and a half metres in height, it was built by native and African slaves. 

At present, it is one of the popular symbols of Rio de Janeiro.

It served its purpose until 1896, when it carried people instead of water. Until recently, the bonde or bondinho, a quaint tramway that brought locals and visitors to the cobbled streets of the bohemian Santa Teresa neighbourhood, circulated on top of it. With its characteristic yellow colour, it was a beautiful and typical picture as well as offering nice views.

But, owing to a serious accident in August 2011, the famous bondinho was suspended for years. Now, the service has been recovered with new and safer trams, but they do not cover the whole trip. Hopefully, they will soon do so.

What many do not know is that here, under the arches, you can also find a small piece of work by Selarón, the same artist who created the famous staircase. A black mosaic which shows you a beautiful picture of the arches and Santa Teresa.

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