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If you walk through the streets of Rio, the greatest expression of art is not usually found in buildings or sculptures. If you're walking along the Copacabana promenade, stop and take a look at the ground you're walking on.
These kilometres of stone that serve as an elegant and eye-catching carpet outside many of Rio's largest and most important buildings, are large-scale art exhibitions, with beautiful mosaics in black and white, and they adorn a city heavily influenced by Portuguese culture.
The famous Copacabana promenade was built in 1906 with black stones (basalt) and white stones (calcite) brought from Portugal, using the Portuguese pavement style.
Originally, the four and a half kilometres of pavement on the Copacabana promenade had waves running perpendicular to the length of the pavement. But with the reform of the 70s, the waves took on their current direction, i.e. parallel to the pavement.
The famous landscape architect Burle Marx was commissioned to redesign the central gardens of Avenida Atlântica and the classic black and white walkway during the project to widen Copacabana Beach in 1970.
Thus, the pavements of the streets of Rio, especially the spectacular four and a half kilometre long pavement of Copacabana promenade were built according to the artist's own abstract art design.
Using this land reclaimed from the sea, Marx wanted to give the promenade much more than an artistic function, because Copacabana promenade represents a meeting point between neighbours and travellers who are left enthralled by this amazing Brazilian city.
Burle Marx's projects attached great importance to the usefulness and pleasure that landscape works can give people. In other words, landscape is not only an object of contemplation, but also has a social function. Thus, art for him was a tool for the people, something to be enjoyed every day.
He reflected upon the Copacabana inhabitants' need for open spaces. Although at first glance the project appears to have an artistic focus, it actually reflects a high degree of analysis by its artists (Burle Marx, Haruyoshi Ono and José Tabacow). In fact they conducted thorough field work based on photographs and interviews with citizens.
The artist gave priority to pedestrians over vehicles and even plants, since much of the surface of this promenade consists of a hard pavement for pedestrian use. Indeed, Avenida Atlântica is closed to traffic between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
These thought-provoking pavements may remind you of the mosaic in Plaza del Rocío in Lisbon. That's because Burle Marx based his design on the floor of the Lisbon square that represents the union between the freshwater of the River Tagus and the Atlantic Ocean.
Perhaps these tiles are not Rio de Janeiro's greatest icon, certainly not on a par with Christ on Corcovado, but they are a great symbol of what makes the neighbourhood unique, i.e. this diversity so evident in Rio, especially in Copacabana. We reckon Burle Marx was right to design this beautiful promenade for cariocas. It is enjoyed by housewives, businesspeople, tourists, young people from the favelas, wealthy people... and it's the soul of Copacabana.
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