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Selarón Staircase

Selarón Staircase (65)

One day a Chilean fulfilled a dream by traveling to Rio as a tourist and staying there to live as a carioca.

This is the story of Jorge Selarón. He was born in Chile in 1947. He travelled the world and, in 1983, chose to stay in Rio de Janeiro.

In addition, he not only fulfilled his dream, but became a world-renowned artist thanks to the staircase that now bears his name: Selarón Stairway.

A few years after settling down, he wanted to pay tribute to the city that had welcomed him so warmly and, in 1990, he "took over" a staircase that is located very close to his house and leads to the convent of the Discalced Carmelites of Santa Teresa (around which one of the first city expansions outside the city centre settled in the eighteenth century). The staircase itself is located on Manoel Carneiro street.

125 metres and 251 steps, which this artist covered little by little with tiles of different colours, sizes and shapes.

Initially, he used the colours of the Brazilian flag, that is, green, yellow and blue, but when he thought his project was almost completed, he found a shop with antique tiles from around the world and got so excited that his work gained a new momentum and became a "living and mutant work", as Selarón himself called it, as he continually changed tiles, thus always creating something new.  

You could almost always find him sitting on the stairs eating tangerines, creating or painting. He survived by selling painted tiles, especially of pregnant women. He said he painted more than 25,000 pregnant women. And he never wanted to reveal their meaning.

He was always willing to greet visitors, chat with them and being photographed. Many of them collaborated with his work. After a visit in his humble atelier, they decided to send him tiles with patterns of their countries.  Many already brought them along in their suitcases with the intention of giving them to him.

The staircase features more than three thousand tiles with patterns from more than 60 countries.

On your tour, you will be able to differentiate different panels. At its starting point and on the right side, you will see an impressive pyramid-shaped mural, made between 2005 and 2006, which is covered with red tiles and depicts the Guanabara Bay with its most important tourist icons, such as Christ the Redeemer or Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf), whereas, at the top, you can read the sentence, "Brazil eu te amo, Selarón" (Brazil, I love you, Selarón).

A panel of tiles painted by Selarón himself explains the meaning the staircase had for him, which he described as "A Grande Loucura" (The Great Madness).

Another panel narrates, with a somewhat sarcastic sense of humour, how life is like in Rio's favelas, while in the highest part, on one of the side walls, the tiles shape a huge Brazilian flag.

The Selarón staircase gained international renown when it appeared in a National Geographic documentary, in different ads by American Express and Coca Cola, and in publications, such as Time, Elle Decoration, Geo or even Playboy.

You will also recognise him in the movie "Hulk" (an adaptation starring Edward Norton); at the beginning of the movie, he appears walking down the stairs, while you can also see it in different music videos like "Walk On" by U2 or "Beautiful" by Snoop Dog.

Selarón constantly renewed the Escadaria staircase until the day of his death: the removed old mosaics and replaced them with those he received from all corners of the globe.  In fact, as he very rightly stated: "I will only stop this crazy dream on the day I die."

And so it happened, as his work only stopped in January 2013, when the artist was found dead in suspicious circumstances; his charred body lay at the feet of the work to which he had devoted more than twenty years of his life. Fortunately, the recognition of his great work came before his death, as it was in 2005, when he was awarded the title of honorary citizen the city of Rio.

His dream has become a symbol of the creativity of a vibrant neighbourhood full of music and colour. Every day, dozens of visitors come to admire it and discover not only the stories Selarón tells about life in the Marvellous City, but also to have fun discovering small tiles that hold real surprises.

His incredible work will endure forever as one of the jewels in the heart of Rio de Janeiro.

As a curiosity, let us tell you something that few people know; there are other mosaic works by Selarón next to the Lapa Arches.

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