One of the things that has come out of reading The Seven Sisters is how much I have enjoyed reading about the construction of Christo Redentor, and I’ve come to the conclusion that (yet again) seeing it on the internet isn’t doing it any justice at all. For example, one of the crucial things about the statue is that the body of the statue is actually a mosaic of tiny triangular soapstone tiles; this was so that the structure is less affected by weather erosion and temperature changes. You can’t actually see this from most of the photos on the web, which is a little disappointing as I’d like to see it. The core of the structure, the head and hands, however, are all reinforced concrete without the mosaic covering, and it does give the impression that the entire statue is the same.
Using reinforced concrete was the revolutionary idea of the architect Heitor da Silva Costa, who realised that it would be an ideal material for such a large monument placed at the top of a mountain itself over 700 metres high (that’s just over 2,300 feet in old money). The statue itself is 30 metres (99 feet) high and 28 metres (92.4 feet) at its widest point – fingertip to fingertip, in other words. The entire structure weighs in at almost 1,150 tons. The original idea of using bronze would have made the entire structure much too heavy for the summit. Reinforced concrete was already being used in the construction of buildings, especially for pillars and ornamental columns, but da Silva Costa was convinced that it was suitable for a public monument. Fortunately for him, the artists and engineers he hired for the construction of the statue agreed with him.
The story behind the mosaic outer covering of the body is equally fascinating. Da Silva Costa had thousands of tiny triangular tiles fired in a ceramics factory and huge numbers of society ladies – with little better to do than raise money for public works between dinner parties and social gatherings – would gather in churches to stick them onto the mesh that would cover the concrete skeleton. It is said that many women wrote the names of secret lovers on the back of tiles before sticking them down, but unless the tiles are removed and the names found, this can’t be verified. It’s a shame really, because that’s a cracking story and is one of the main clues of the novel.
Christo Redentor is now 85 years old and has had to be restored once following damage from a lightning strike. I hope he looks over Rio de Janiero for many more years to come.