As the name suggests, Cinelandia was once the domain of movie dreams.

Rio Branco, Cinelandias
Rio Branco, Cinelandia

It was built on the vision of Mayor Pereira Passos at the beginning of the 20th century.  Laying waste old, narrow streets and run-down buildings, broad, new, Parisian-style Avenida Rio Branco forged a path from the inner city to the sea. Monuments to the nation’s grandeur, like the art nouveau Biblioteca Nacional and the neo-classical Museu de Belas Artes stood side by side with glamorous cafés terrasses. The centerpiece of the Avenida Rio Branco was the magnificent Teatro Municipal, designed by the Mayor’s son, Francisco Oliveira Passos and modeled on the Paris Opera. A romantic sculpture in the Piazza told the story of a young country nurtured by the church and sheltered by the state.

When it was finished this wonderful new area became the domain of Rio’s smart set – there to see and be seen.

In the 1930s Avenida Rio Branco lit up with neon and the city’s first cinemas opened their doors on silver screen dreams for a new smart set.  Pereira  Passos’ great domain became Cinelandia.

All this is still there, down in Cinelandia but its grandeur has faded. The mosaic pavements are dotted with broken tiles. The Teatro Municipal is shrouded in scaffolding while the Biblioteca Nacional and the Museu de Belas Artes are jaded. Most of the cinemas are now evangelical Christian churches, opening their doors on a new vision.

Rio’s dispossessed and homeless wait at the bus stops, but not for buses. Skinny kids play near the statue under the indifferent gaze of the stone padre. Still, Cinelandia is a “must see” in Rio, a special glimpse of what it once was, what it has become and what it could be.