Travel & Adventure

Samba City: The Blocos of Rio

  As Brazil gears up to celebrate Carnival, photographer Fran Petersson recalls hitting the streets of Rio de Janeiro to discover the city’s notorious street parties Famed for its annual televised Sambadrome parade, the heart of Rio de Janeiro’s carnival success lies with the ‘Bloco’ – the legendary parties that flood the city’s streets. In 2017, there will be 462 officially recognised Blocos taking place in the city, attracting nearly 5 million attendees. Open to all and following a set route for a duration of a few hours, the biggest blocos draw crowds of up to one million people. Those held in the once crumbling neighbourhoods of Lapa and Santa Teresa are the latest locations to lure in Rio’s thrill-seeking tourists. Inland from the popular seaside attractions of Ipanema and Copacabana, the historic Santa Teresa district  is one of the oldest in the city, dating back to the construction of a convent of the same name in 1750. Despite it’s cultural significance, Lapa was, for many years, known for its insalubrious characters and seedy nightlife. That was until 1990, when Chilean artist Jorge Selarón began his now iconic tiled staircase artwork outside his house: the catalyst perhaps to one of the most drastic urban transformations to have ever taken place in Rio. Street art now cheers many of the fractured walls, and tourists flock for selfies on the colourful steps, taking shade under the radiant aqueduct arches Lapa takes its name from, helping local businesses to flourish.

A man reclines by the roadside in Santa Teresa

A combination of this creative regeneration along with cheap rents for ballroom-scaled real estate, and a series of elevated walkways thronging the main street level have unexpectedly created the perfect destination for Rio’s young and beautiful fans to live out their carnival dreams in the balmy sunshine of new bohemia. Offering a completely different kind of experience from the beach party crowds, Lapa and Santa Teresa’s Blocos draw in the artistically minded to it’s samba-spiked celebrations, and has quickly become the place to be seen and stay during carnival season. The winding streets of Santa Teresa are filled with free spirited, iconoclastic creatures who have been drawn from all over Brazil, mingling happily to the sounds of street corner drummers, laughing samba first-timers, and excited chatter. Being an old pro at throwing a party, when the fun is done, Rio’s cheerful and unanimously good looking clean-up crews sweep up behind the masses. Every trace of the foot stamping soiree that minutes before caroused through its cobbled streets vanishses, leaving Bohemia to wake up from yet another great party in peace.

Photography Fran Petersson

Interviewed by Drew Whittam