Rio Statue Vies to Be New Wonder of the World

Image of Christ the Redeemer statue i i

Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer Statue stands atop the peak Corcovado. Its name is derived from its form, which resembles a hunchback. Julie McCarthy, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy, NPR
Image of Christ the Redeemer statue

Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer Statue stands atop the peak Corcovado. Its name is derived from its form, which resembles a hunchback.

Julie McCarthy, NPR
Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva holds a T-shirt urging Brazilians to vote for the statue. Julie McCarthy hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy

The monument that is synonymous with the city of Rio de Janeiro is vying to be chosen one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Looming 100-feet high, arms outstretched, the Christ the Redeemer statue is competing with the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, and Machu Picchu in the international contest.

The online election is the brainchild of Swiss-Canadian businessman and adventurer Bernard Weber, whose Web site says the idea is to pay "tribute to our collective global cultural heritage."

But the outcome could depend on who gets out the most votes.

Brazil's campaign features a new film titled Christ Redeemer about the making of Rio's most indelible icon, and which shatters a long-held myth that the statue was a gift from France.

"They used to teach that in school here. It came from France in pieces – like Lego blocks," says film producer Bel Noronha.

In fact the Rio-based filmmaker says the statue's real creator was Brazilian architect and engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, her great-great-grandfather.

Noronha painstakingly reconstructed his work, which by Costa's count contained so many drafts of the monument that — if laid end-to-end — they would stretch 10 miles.

An antenna in the shape of a cross convinced Costa to abandon an earlier model of Christ holding a staff and globe. He saw the "cross" on top of Corcovado, a granite cliff in Rio named by the Portuguese for its form — hunchback. The nearly half-mile high peak is now the pedestal for the Art Deco monument of Christ.

Costa's project became a source of pride for the city long before it was completed. In the 1920s, citizens of Rio rallied to raise funds to finance it: scouts went door-to-door, people threw money out of windows onto sheets stretched to catch it below, and others donated their jewelry

Today, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is urging his countrymen to cast their vote for what he called an incomparable union of nature and art. "If God gave us all of this," Lula says sweeping a hand across the dazzling 360-degree view that the saintly perch commands, "then all we have to do is return the gift."

Other entries in the crowded field for the title of New Seven Wonders include the only Ancient Wonder that still stands – the Pyramids at Giza. There's also Cambodia's Angkor Wat, Spain's Alhambra, and the Great Wall of China.

Rio's would-be-wonder is a relative newcomer. It's just 76 years old, unveiled after five years of construction in October 1931.

Not all Brazilians view the contest as worthy of its elaborate campaign. Rio resident and psychologist Sonia Prestes said episodes like this week's police incursion into a sprawling slum that sprayed homes with bullets and left bloodied corpses of criminal suspects in the streets render the contest for Corcovado frivolous.

"The voting ... is a distraction to avoid looking at all the other heavy issues we should be facing," Prestes says.

Culture Minister Gilberto Gil says that Rio's beguiling beauty can mask the misery here. But he says that made the monument all the more redeeming.

"Self-esteem is fundamental to rescuing Rio," the musician and government minister said. "And naming the statue one of the world's new wonders would fill our hearts with the idea that the city still enchants."

Campaign organizers say the Christ monument needs 10 million more votes to qualify as a New Wonder.

The public can cast their votes online at New7wonders.com. Winners of the contest are due to be announced July 13th.

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