Copacabana - The church before they tore it down

The original Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, the church that gave the name to the neighbourhood.

Just like in almost every other city or town names of neighbourhoods and places in Rio often carry lots of history as well. Often they refer to important people, events in history and other interesting facts. In this article I will describe a few of these.

One of the peculiarities with Rio de Janeiro that is extra interesting are all the different names of places, the background for them are of various nature and are often and culturally interesting. I will start out by describing the one that is surrounded by most incorrect information, namely Ipanema.

Ipanema – Named After a Baron

A man from the called José Antônio Moreira Filho was the main entrepeneur for the development of the area. He was a major land owner that started to build roads and houses there more than one hundred years ago. He had inherited the title Baron of Ipanema from his father who owned large land areas in the state of São Paulo, through these lands flew a river the Indians had named ‘y panema which means something like “bad water for fishing”, these lands were named from the river. The neighbourhood got the name from him. His main engineer was Luís Raphael Vieira Souto who has given the name to the beach avenue in the same neighbourhood. The street Barão da Torre has no relationship to this man, it is named from Garcia d’Avila (there is also a street with this name) who was from a family of Bahian origin of great importance in Brazilian history and the fact that he built the first fortified building on Brazilian soil.

Copacabana – Named After a Bolivian Apparation of Mary

This story is quite famous. According to legend, an apparation of Lady Mary came to a fisherman close to a place called Copacabana on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Spanish sailors believed she brought safety at sea journeys so images of here were often brought on their voyages. It was when a group of Spanish sailors got stuck in Rio for a longer period they decided to build a church in honour of this apparation of Mary which the called Nossa Senhora de Copacabana. The areas closest to the church with time changed from its old Indian name Sacopenapã to Copacabana, a name it keeps until today.

Largo de Machado – The Axe Square

Many cities have places with names derived from a past as execution grounds, this is not the case with Largo de Machado. It is named after André Nogueira Machado who owned the land in the beginning of the 18th century, he was a very successful pottery manufacturer. It is common to hear that the square got its name from a large axe that used to hang in front of a butcher’s shop located on the square, the gimmick with the axe was most likely taken from the already existing name of the square. If you haven’t been there yet, it is one of the places in Rio I recommend for the historically curious to visit.

Parque de Catacumbas – Indian Burial Ground

This park is located on the eastern side of the lagoon Lagoa Rodrigo Freitas. Until 1970 the slopes housed a favela known as Catacumbas with over 10000 inhabitants. The name was most likely derived from the notion that the area was an old Indian burial ground, a fact that never has been confirmed. Parts of the old shantytown was used to erect exclusive apartment complexes while another part was turned into the park we can visit today.

If you have some good places to recommend and at least 20 words to share, please comment this article! If you have information about other places in Rio you can send it to me since I will continue to release articles on this topic.


Sources and for further reading:
WordPress Article: Catacumba: A Favela que Virou Parque
RHBJ Historia: Rio de Janeiro Escepcial
Casarão Ameno Resedá: O Machado que Deu Nome ao Largo
Marcillio: Ipanema
– Brasil, G. “História das ruas do Rio de Janeiro” (1954)



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