Cidade Maravilhosa – The Nickname

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 12.57.19 PMAv. Beira-Mar, in Botafogo, in 1906

“This urbanistic transformation made the population so proud that, in 1908, Coelho Neto (a famous writer and politician) gave the city the nickname of Cidade Maravilhosa.”

PS – Notice there’s no beach at this time in Botafogo. By the 1960s, though, there was a beach and it was packed. Compare both to the abandonment seen today.


The image and caption above got me wondering about the real story behind Rio’s well-known nickname. At first, I took things at face value and published a short version of this post yesterday parrotting what everyone else had written about this particular subject. Not being satisfied and sensing more to the story, I revisited the idea today and found a lot more information. Here’s the principal people I reference in the post.

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 12.36.49 PM


At the moment that Neto apparently used the term “Cidade Maravilhosa” for the first time, Rio had gone through a huge renovation process thanks to the mayor Pereira Passos: the construction of Av. Rio Branco (then Avenida Central), the Municipal Theater and the sidewalks made of Portuguese stones are just a few examples.

The Song “Cidade Maravilhosa”

In 1934, a composer named André Filho wrote a famous marchinha (Carnival song) of the same name, and thus Rio’s nickname was etched into the popular consciousness. The song was originally sung by Carmen Miranda’s sister, Aurora. By 1960, the same year that Rio would lose its capital status, it had become Rio de Janeiro’s official hymn and has since been recorded by many other singers. The lyrics are as follows:

Cidade maravilhosa, cheia de encantos mil
Cidade maravilhosa, coração do meu Brasil!

Berço do samba e das lindas canções!,
que vivem n’alma da gente.
És o altar dos nossos corações
que cantam alegremente!

Cidade maravilhosa, cheia de encantos mil
Cidade maravilhosa, coração do meu Brasil!

Jardim florido de amor e saudade,
Terra que a todos seduz…
Que Deus te cubra de felicidade…
Ninho de sonho e de luz!

Cidade maravilhosa, cheia de encantos mil
Cidade maravilhosa, coração do meu Brasil


There’s a few small discrepancies, however, as to the veracity of the oft-repeated phrase’s coinage by Neto. He supposedly used the phrase in the newspaper A Notícia, on November 29th, 1908, page 3, in an article called “Os Sertanejos”. At the Biblioteca Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, there’s no such article on the microfilmed version of the newspaper, nor any article by Neto on that day. An internet search also brings up nothing but the mere mention of the article’s title. It’s possible that he was misquoted, the attribution was made mistakenly, or he really did invent the phrase at some other moment. That other moment might very well be later in 1928 when Neto wrote and published a popular book called A Cidade Maravilhosa and, a few years after, a movie script of the same name.

The chronicler Genolino Amado, also used the famous phrase in his 1933 radio program “Crônica da Cidade Maravilhosa”, read on the station Rádio Mayrink Veiga, by radio host César Ladeira. The program was what inspired the Carnival song one year later.

Both Coelho Neto and Genolino Amado were from Northeast Brazil. Neto, from Maranhão, and Amado from Sergipe.

Another important discrepancy regarding the origin comes from a source that can be verified, in terms of its existence, as the possible first use of the phrase: a book of poetry called La Ville Merveilleuse by French poet-ess Jeanne Catulle-Mendès (who visited Rio in November, 1911).

What can be said of the entire subject is that the phrase came about somehow and never went away. If one thinks of the beaches, lakes, mountains, nice temperatures and forests of Rio, it’s not hard to imagine any number of visitors referring to the city as being wonderful or marvelous. It’s important to remember, however, that Rio’s first favelas (Morro do Santo Antônio and Morro da Providência) came before the city was ever known as the Cidade Maravilhosa. In fact, the city was known as the Cidade de Morte before the Pereira Passos Reform became reality, meaning that no matter what Rio de Janeiro is called, it’s more truthful to say it has always been a divided city (actually, Cidade Partida is yet another famous nickname).

While I used small snippets from many sources, this research paper (PT) was quite helpful. One year after publishing this post, another blogger wrote a well-done post on the same subject which fills in some blanks above, namely the 1908 mention of the term. 

Also, be sure to check out Part 2 of this post!

6 thoughts on “Cidade Maravilhosa – The Nickname

  1. Also confusing is that “a cidade maravilhoso” by Neto wasn’t explicitly references Rio de Janeiro but rather an imaginary city meant to seduce a woman from the interior. I haven’t read the short story for which the book is named, but I suppose the “cidade do sonho” could just as easily have been a metaphorical reference to Rio. Did you ever get your hands on the book? Brazilian historians that I’ve read do seem to agree that the nickname stuck because of first the radio show and then the samba march, since during that time only the elite knew how to read, but the radio show had a wide, popular audience.

  2. I didn’t get to read the book, mostly because I just finished one on Rio’s history and am in the middle of yet another two on the same subject…but I’m going to hunt it down. Edit: Found it (

    Where did you learn of the reference to the term as an imaginary city? I haven’t come across that (yet). Edit 2: I see it’s referenced in the Wiki article on the book in question. Interesting. I’ll have to do a Part 2 of this article!

    • Great find! I’ll need to read it closely, but after skimming it, I’m prone to discount the idea that the Cidade Maravilhosa was mystical (i.e. NOT RJ). It seems more of a metaphorical critique of the city’s inherent immorality and destruction of natural beauty. Have you had a chance to read it properly? Thoughts?

      • Thx. Yeah, I would say it can be read both ways – as a metaphorical critique but also as something mystical. There’s a phrase guys sometimes use regarding the appearance of a seemingly beautiful woman who is far away but approaching: “good from afar but far from good” but I think the same sentiment applies with this story and with anything that seems too good to be true. We imagine it in a positive light before we experience it, and before we can get a balanced view.

        I did read most of it, yes (I skipped some of the early parts), and I think it would be great to bring it into modern times, perhaps reimagine it. The underlying moral, if you want to call it that, is a solid one.

  3. Pingback: Cidade Maravilhosa – Part 2 | Rio Then

  4. Pingback: Cidade Maravilhosa – Part 2 – Deep Rio

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