One of the most attractive buildings designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012), the Metropolitan Cathedral in Brasília is one of the city's most visited attractions. Located on Esplanada dos Ministérios, the cathedral had its cornerstone laid in the 1950s and inauguration held on May 31, 1970.
The architect said that he avoided the darkness of old cathedrals - in his words, "reminiscent of sin". At the Metropolitan Cathedral, there's only darkness in the access gallery with black flooring and walls, which descends into the main nave, by contrast "splendidly overflowing with light and color", in Niemeyer's words. The nave with a diameter of 70 meters and a capacity for 4,000 is partially below ground level.
The 16 arched concrete columns which reach out to the sky are interspersed with glass panels with a design by Marianne Peretti. The French artist's collaborations with Oscar Niemeyer include other monumental works in glass for buildings such as the Federal Senate, the Jaburu Palace and the Juscelino Kubitschek Memorial.
Other great artists contributed their work to the Cathedral. Alfredo Ceschiatti, with Dante Croce, created the bronze statues of Evangelists Luke, Matthew, Mark and John standing in the square in front of the temple. He also sculpted the three angels suspended by steel cables above the nave.
The Stations of the Cross, displayed on a white marble column, are the work of Di Cavalcanti. Athos Bulcão painted the tiles which decorate the baptistry - which has a replica of Michelangelo's Pietá - and ten panels depicting passages of the New Testament, also displayed on white marble. The Virgin Mary is present in all the scenes, in all likelihood as an allusion to the dedication of the Cathedral to the Nossa Senhora Aparecida manifestation of Mary, who is also the patron saint of Brasilia. Her image in the Cathedral is a replica of the original image at the Sanctuary of Aparecida do Norte.
Pope Paul VI donated the main altar; Spain donated the four bells in the campanary.
Acoustics are among the building's top highlights: Mass can be said without a microphone; similarly to what happens in the Whispering Gallery at the Grand Central Station in New York City, you can stand by the curved walls and have a conversation in a normal voice with someone standing by another column.
Listed by the IPHAN, Brazil's National Historic and Artistic Heritage Institute, the Cathedral was closed for over three years for restorations and reopened on Dec.18, 2012. The work was sponsored by Petrobras, which invested R$17M in the two-phase process with a project by Fundação Ricardo Franco (FRF).
The first phase encompassed the restoration of external glass, the facade, painting, flooring, works of art, and the hydraulic and electrical systems. The second phase recovered the water mirror, campanary, and air conditioning system.
Among the careful preservation measures was the renovation of the glass panels. The original glass panels were mouth-blown, with varying thickness, and high temperatures in the interior of the Cathedral had caused some to break. New panels manufactured in Germany and finished in Rio de Janeiro, meticulously reproducing Marianne Peretti's original design and colors, were installed.
Esplanada dos Ministérios
Eixo Monumental, Brasília - DF
Open daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; see Mass schedule under "Horários de Missas" on the official website
catedral.org.br (includes a virtual panorama; see Mass schedule under "Horários de Missas")
Wheelchair-accessible (including restrooms)
Dress code: Modest attire, including long bermudas
Photography: Permitted, even with flash, except in cordoned areas.