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Rio's Christ statue tops World Cup tourist list

Top of the list of tourist attractions for visitors coming to Rio de Janeiro for the 2014 World Cup is likely to be the 30-metre-high Christ the Redeemer statue of Jesus Christ.

It perches on the summit of the 700-metre Corcovado mountain that overlooks Rio.

Constructed between 1926 and 1931, the 635-tonne Art Deco statue with its outstretched arms has become an icon for Rio and Brazil.

It looks down on a variety of attractions such as the Sugar Loaf, Rio's old town, Ipanema, the beaches of Copacabana and the Maracana stadium where next year's World Cup final takes place on July 13 in this football-crazy country.

Since taking his place in the Tijuca Forest National Park all those years ago, Christ the Redeemer has witnessed many unexpected events, not least the banning of football from Rio's beaches as part of an effort to make the city a more bearable place during the hot South American summer.

The stream of tourists making their way up the final 215 steps to the statue is constant.

The viewing platform is always crammed with throngs of tourists happily imitating Christ the Redeemer's pose for their holiday snaps.

For those visitors not mobile enough to tackle the steep steps to the summit of the Corcovado mountain, there is always the option of taking a lift, which is conveniently located just a few metres away from the shuttle bus car park.

Once out of the lift, there is even a moving walkway to bring any weary traveller the final few metres to the statue.

Considered one of the modern seven wonders of the world and located in a country that is 74 per cent Catholic, any visit to Brazil would not be complete without a close-up view of Christ the Redeemer.

Standing on the viewing platform high above the city, it is also possible to see Rio's favelas, the slums of makeshift shacks that sprawl up the steep slopes that surround Brazil's third-largest city.

For decades, these poor areas were considered no-go zones where powerful drug barons held sway, but now the favelas are slowly but surely opening themselves up to the economic opportunities tourism has to offer.

The Babilonia favela is situated on the steep mountain slopes between Copacabana and Botafogo. For many years, Babilonia's impoverished residents had to endure a reign of terror under the control of the Third Commandoes drugs cartel.

Things only began to improve in 1997 when the first police raids against the area's drug gangs took place ahead of Pope John Paul II's visit.

In 2009, armed police occupied Babilonia and the security situation has improved so much in recent years that is now possible to go on guided tours of the favela.

Much still needs to be done to improve the security situation in Rio ahead of the World Cup but tournament organisers are confident the event will pass off without a hitch.

They hope the former Brazilian capital, which gave up the honour to Brasilia in 1960, will welcome its extra visitors with open arms just like its most famous landmark Christ the Redeemer.

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