Unesco seduced by Rio's spectacular landscape

First city to be given such heritage status

A breathtaking view of Rio at sunrise last month.
A breathtaking view of Rio at sunrise last month.CHRISTOPHE SIMON (AFP)

Long considered a marvelous city by its carnivalesque inhabitants, Rio de Janeiro's breathtaking location amid natural landscapes has now been awarded Unesco World Heritage status.

The decision, the first of its kind, was announced on Sunday during the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's 36th World Heritage committee session held in St. Petersburg, Russia.

A myriad of natural landmarks will now be listed as "Rio de Janeiro: Carioca landscapes between the mountain and the sea" are now a Unesco cultural heritage site.

Rio has great waterfront open spaces as well as one of the world's largest forested areas, the Tijuca National Park, encompassed entirely within an urban setting.

The designation mentioned several key features that have shaped and inspired the city's hallmark attractions, including the Christ the Redeemer statue atop Corcovado, or Sugar Loaf, mountain; the Botanical Gardens, which were established in 1808 by the Portuguese emperor; and Copacabana, a vast bay bracketed by granite hills and hemmed by a white-sandy beach.

These elements "have contributed to the outdoor living culture of this spectacular city," Unesco said, adding that "Rio de Janeiro is also recognized for the artistic inspiration it has provided to musicians, landscapers and city planners."

Some of the elements mentioned in the decree have been well kept, but others, such as Botafogo Bay, at the foot of Sugar Loaf mountain, have been degraded by pollution over many decades.

Ana de Hollanda, Brazil's culture minister, expressed her delight at the decision. "This victory will allow us to build a new cultural heritage map, breaking away from the historical view and substituting it for a broader understanding of the world," she said.

The city has always been popular with tourists and will soon be the center of attention when it hosts the next football World Cup in 2014, followed by the Olympics in 2016. Plans are currently underway to clean up some of the city's more polluted beaches and improve public facilities and transport in time for both events.

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