Nearly half-a-million tourists will descend on Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games starting this week. Many of those fans will be spending their time at Rio bars and restaurants, meeting people from all different countries and lapping up the Brazilian sunshine.
But when they're not carousing, they'll be watching sporting events all across the city. Which means they will be spending a good portion of their time at some of the key venues staging these events. Here, we recap a bit of the history and context around a few of the Olympic venues, from the story of the massive Maracanã Stadium, to the holy ground of Samba that will soon become a race spot.
Maracanã is the key stadium for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It's not located near the Olympic Village, but rather is in the middle of the city, which makes its atmosphere unbeatably vibrant. And just a little dip into the history of the stadium is proof enough of the importance of this stadium to Rio and its people.
When the stadium was constructed in 1950, Brazil was a soccer-loving country without a mega monument to the sport and a deadline: hosting the 1950 World Cup. Maracanã filled that need, and even quickly became known as the “Temple of Futebol.” At the time it was built, it was the biggest stadium in Latin America.
Over the years, Maracanã played host to the most memorable moments in Brazilian soccer history, both good and bad, from Brazil's World Cup loss to Uruguay in 1950 to Brazilian soccer great Pelé's thousandth goal. But it was in preparation for the Panamerican Games in 2007 that a critical dynamic in the stadium shifted. Since its creation, the stadium featured a cheap seats section, where even fans who didn't have much money could afford to attend the Games. This gave Maracanã a rowdy, local feel, and the stories that came out of this fan section are legendary, and have even been made into a documentary. But in 2007, the “geral”, as the section was called, was taken away, ending an era in Brazilian fan history while bringing the stadium up to speed with LCD screens; it was a bittersweet step into the future for the stadium.
In 2014, World Cup Games were played here, and this year, the stadium will host the grand opening ceremony on August 5th and also a variety of Olympic soccer games, including the men and women's finals. It will be the stadium's first Olympics: a major date in a stadium with a history of major dates.
Maracanã is not the only Olympic venue that's set to make history this year. In fact, this year a whole beach will be set to make history. Copacabana beach will be the site of many Olympic events, from beach volleyball in its sands to open water swimming in its waters. Normally, the long, curving beach is full of umbrellas and vendor tents as Brazilians enjoy sunny days in the sand. But over the past few weeks, locals have seen scaffolding pop up on the sand, and now, a brand new volleyball arena and a variety of event tents stand ready for the Games. This location will be a particularly popular spot for the crowds to watch Olympic events, because, as in the case of open-water swimming, they will be sitting in bleachers facing the ocean. Life could be worse!
You might have seen the Sambodrome in images: it's the long runway, lined by bleachers, where Carnaval puts on a show. It's here that samba schools strut and dance their hearts out, competing to win the judges' scores and the audience's cheers each Carnaval. The Sambodromo, which is located not far from Maracanã, is a unique structure, built only for the purposes of Carnaval, and mimicked elsewhere in Brazil. But during the Olympics, the iconic spot will also feature some Olympic sporting events. The archery and marathon will both be happening within the Sambodromo (with the marathon ending there), which is sure to offer really spectacular imagery that you'd otherwise only see during Carnaval.
And you might not realize it, but although Rio de Janeiro is the Olympic host city, the Olympic venues aren't confined to Rio. A handful of host cities around Brazil will open up their stadiums for some of the Olympic soccer matches, which will bring the Olympic action to other Brazilian capitals like São Paulo, Salvador, Belo Horizonte and Manaus.
Manaus is locted far on the other side of Brazil, deep in the Amazon rainforest. It's the former capital of Brazil's long-past rubber boom, and a surprisingly big city surrounded by the dense Amazon. There on the city lies the Estadio Amazonia. Though the stadium is just a fraction of the size of Maracanã, with capacity for under 45,000 fans, it's still a massive place and will host many of the Olympic soccer games, including the U.S. Women's National Team when they face Colombia on Aug. 9. Best of all, this stadium will offer visitors a glimpse of a totally different Brazil, far from the cheers of Rio.