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Go to Carnival in Rio de Janeiro

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The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a festival held before Lent every year and considered the biggest carnival in the world with two million people per day on the streets. The first festivals of Rio date back to 1723.

The typical Rio carnival parade is filled with revelers, floats, and adornments from numerous samba schools which are located in Rio. A samba school is composed of a collaboration of local neighbours that want to attend carnival together, with some kind of regional, geographical common background.

Rio Carnival History

The roots of Carnival trace back to the ancient Romans and Greeks who celebrated the rites of spring. Across Europe, including France, Spain and Portugal, people annually gave thanks by throwing parties, wearing masks and dancing in the streets. Such traditions were carried over to the New World.

The Portuguese first brought the concept of "celebration or carnival" to Rio around 1850. The practice of holding balls and masquerade parties was imported by the city’s bourgeoisie from Paris. However, in Brazil, the traditions soon became different. Over time, they acquired unique elements deriving from African and Amerindian cultures.

Groups of people would parade through the streets playing music and dancing. It was usual that during Carnival aristocrats would dress up as commoners, men would cross-dress as women and the poor dress up as princes and princesses - social roles and class differences were expected to be forgotten once a year but only for the duration of the festival.

Brazilians used to riot the Carnival until it was accepted by the government as an expression of culture. The black slaves became actively involved in the celebrations. They were able to be free for three days. Nowadays the slums' black communities are still the most involved groups in all the carnival preparations.

By the end of the 18 century the festivities were enriched by competitions. People would not just dress up in costumes but also perform a parade accompanied by an orchestra of strings, drums and other instruments. These ever more organized competitions became the main attractions of the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, street carnival in Rio was musically a very euro centric affair - Polkas, Waltzes, Mazurkas and 'Scottish'.

The parades were halted during World War II and started again in 1947. By then the main competition took place downtown on Avenida Rio Branco.

Carnival has gone a long way since it was brought to Rio, having become one of the biggest events in the World. One of the most important recent developments was that the biggest parade the Samba Parade moved from the streets downtown to the purpose-built Sambodromo.