Place-Names and Way-Finding
Many place-names in the Marvelous City, including the name “Rio de Ja-
neiro,” are artifacts of Portuguese colonial rule. The names of colonial-era
Portuguese authorities and the saints prominent in Iberian Catholicism
loom large in the landscape. Even natural features and regions that ac-
quired indigenous names (e.g., Guanabara Bay, the Carioca River, Andaraí,
Tijuca) carry with them the legacies of colonial naming practices. These
toponyms of the colonial era still orient today’s reader within a spectacu-
lar landscape of massifs, hills, lowlands, and waterways that has undergone
a half millennium of urbanization. Nonetheless, Rio’s postcolonial history
has added infinite complexity to local place-names. Modern nomenclature
for neighborhoods, regions, squares, and streets evoke local notables, real
estate speculation, historical dates, and the convenience of municipal ad-
ministration. Popular naming practices have added more layers of richness
to the vocabulary used to demarcate place and orient movement through
urban space.
The Rio de Janeiro Reader uses local place-names, written in modernized
Brazilian Portuguese. Exceptions include toponyms that have acquired
common currency in English (e.g., Sugarloaf Mountain, Copacabana Beach,
Guanabara Bay, Corcovado). We also follow local conventions of dividing
the city into the historic center city (Centro) and three major zones (Zona
Sul, Zona Norte, and Zona Oeste). Finally, The Rio de Janeiro Reader follows
local conventions to reference the municipalities that surround Guanabara
Given the importance of place-names and cardinal directions used
through out The Rio de Janeiro Reader, some key way-finding tips follow.
is the urbanized historic core of Rio de Janeiro. Although
very little of its earliest edifications survive into the twenty-first century, the
Centro originated in Portuguese land grants that date from 1567. Colonial-
era projects of fortification, earthworks, and lowland drainage, followed by
the progressive demolition or disfiguration of numerous hills (e.g., Senado,
Castelo, Santo Antonio) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, pro-
duced a semiregular street grid bounded by the port district (today’s Praça
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