Walking south from Largo da Carioca along Rua Uruguaiana, your path will intersect with Avenida Rio Branco, one of Centro’s major thoroughfares. Early 20th-century photos reveal it to be a grand European-style avenue flanked with imposing neoclassical buildings and shaded by a canopy of trees.
It was here that Rio’s artists, intellectuals, and fashionable elite came to promenade. Originally called Avenida Central, it cut a swath of modernity through the labyrinth of crumbling mansions, flophouses, and brothels that had dominated the district since colonial times.
Although most of this traffic-laden avenue has been disfigured by ugly modern high-rises, the stretch that opens up onto the monumental Praça Floriano has retained many of its magnificent buildings, among them the Theatro Municipal, the Biblioteca Nacional, and the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes. It gives an impression of how grand Rio must have been in the early 20th century.
The area encompassing Praça Floriano is known as Cinelândia: In the 1930s, ambitious plans existed to turn this elegant plaza into a Carioca version of Broadway—only instead of theaters, movie palaces were built, including Rio’s first cinemas. Only one of these glamorous deco palaces is still intact—the Cine Odeon BR—while the rest were snatched up by churches, such as the Igreja Universal de Deus (Universal Kingdom of God).
The many cafés scattered around Praça Floriano still draw an eclectic mixture of Cariocas who drop by during happy hour.
© Michael Sommers from Moon Brazil, 2nd Edition