Home to the world’s largest Carnival celebration, the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the Brazilian bikini and of course some of the world’s best soccer players, Rio is as rowdy as it is relaxing. The neighbourhood of Lapa is an enchanting district full of rundown architecture, colourful characters, and Samba filled bars. Along with the grit and grime of Lapa, however, comes a diamond in the rough – the steps.
Known as Selarón’s Staircase, the famous stairway is made up of 250 steps. Their magnificence is not only due to size, but to over 2,000 brightly coloured tiles from more than sixty different countries. Perhaps more endearing than the steps themselves is the history behind them. If you grace them you’re bound to see him – Jorge Selarón, the Chilean born artist behind the steps. He was very obvious to spot as we walked up to the steps. He was wearing a red hat, red t-shirt, and red flip flops. We learned that he started to feature the colour red in his staircase, claiming:
“There are certain colours, particularly red, that bring joy wherever they are.”
He would take the time and ask which country everyone was from, and then he would take you to a tile of your country. Canada had a tile from Toronto, Niagara Falls, P.E.I., Calgary, and most likely even more. Born in 1947, Selarón left his hometown in Chile to travel the world at seventeen. He journeyed to 57 countries, staying anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, before landing in Brazil in 1983. The steps were slowly transformed from a crumbling bleak mass to a quirky mosaic masterpiece.
“It’s like if the stairway was alive,” Jorge excitedly informed us. “It’s always changing and becoming more beautiful. You see and feel the difference.”