At the end of the Esplanada do Ministérios lie two of Niemeyer’s most famous works: the Palácio Itamaraty and the Palácio de Justiça.
Housing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Palácio Itamaraty (Esplanada dos Ministérios, tel. 61/3411-8051, www.mre.gov.br , free guided visits daily) is a disarmingly elegant fusion of classicism and modernism. The exterior is impressive enough: its raw concrete arcades sheltering a glittering glass box are reflected in pools of water that surround the construction like a moat.
The island gardens featuring Amazonian plants were designed by Burle Marx, while the stunning abstract sculpture O Meteoro (The Meteor), whose interlocking pieces represent the Earth’s continents, was carved by Bruno Giorgi from four tons of Carrara marble.
Don’t neglect to take a tour inside. The sprawling, open interior with its garden courtyards is a veritable who’s who of 20th-century Brazilian artists. Sculptures by Ceschiatti, Victor Brecheret, and Lasar Segall and paintings by Cândido Portinari and Alfredo Volpi are a few of the works that decorate the vast salons furnished with plush Persian carpets and exquisite antiques. Guided visits are 40 minutes long and need to be reserved in advance.
Facing the Palácio Itamaraty, the Palácio da Justiça (Esplanada dos Ministérios, tel. 61/3429-3216, 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) is similar in style, but less impressively grand than its counterpart. Housing the Ministry of Justice, its architectural highlight is six waterfalls pouring down from the building’s facade into a surrounding pool.