Praça dos Três Poderes
Approaching the Praça do Três Poderes along the Eixo Monumental, you’ll first be confronted with the Esplanada dos Ministérios, an enormous corridor of 17 identical government buildings facing each other from opposite sides of the street. At the very beginning of the Esplanada, you’ll find two of Niemeyer’s most recent works, the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) and the Museu Nacional (Esplanada dos Ministérios, tel. 61/3325-5220, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily).
Completed in 2006, both buildings constitute the last of the architectural complexes that were part of Niemeyer’s original plans. To date, the gleaming dome-shaped museum, whose cavernous interior features the architect’s signature swirling ramps, is only open for temporary art exhibitions.
At the western end of the Eixo Monumental, the Praça dos Três Poderes corresponds to the head of the bird (or cockpit of the airplane) as laid out in the Plano Piloto (see Orientation for an explanation of the Plano Piloto). The nexus of government power is concentrated around the vast plaza itself in the buildings housing the três poderes (three powers)—the executive (Palácio Planalto), legislative (Congresso Nacional), and judicial (Supremo Tribunal Federal) branches. The fantastic Niemeyer constructions in which they are housed are widely considered to be the most splendid examples of modernist architecture in the world.
Before exploring them, take a quick glance at the Espaço Lúcio Costa (tel. 61/3321-9843, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily), which pays tribute to Brasília’s mastermind. On display are the original plans (in Portuguese and English) that won him the commission, along with a gigantic maquette of the city that gives a great overview of the Plano Piloto. Also interesting is the Panteão da Pátria (tel. 61/3325-6244, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. Tues.–Sun.), which honors national heroes in a building shaped to conjure up a dove.
Between the Esplanada dos Ministérios and the Praça dos Três Poderes lies Brasília’s most instantly recognizable symbol: the 28-story twin towers flanked by two giant bowl-shaped cupolas that make up the Congresso Nacional (Praça dos Três Poderes, tel. 61/3216-1771, www.camara.gov.br, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily). The convex (right side up) bowl is where the 500-member Câmara de Deputados (House of Representatives) convenes, while the concave (upside-down) bowl houses the 80 members of the Senado (Senate).
Both were originally designed so that the public could hang out on top of them (these days only the Polícia Militar have this privilege). You can, however, take an hour-long tour of the sweeping marble and granite salons decorated with tile panels by Athos Bulcão and paintings by Di Cavalcanti. If the chambers are in session, you can check out the senators and deputies in action.
Supremo Tribunal Federal
On the southern side of the Praça dos Três Poderes, the elegant Supremo Tribunal Federal (tel. 61/3217-4037, www.stf.gov.br, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Sat.–Sun.) houses the Brazilian Supreme Court. Guarding the entrance is the striking granite sculpture A Justiça (The Justice) by Ceschiatti.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition