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5 January 2014 / leggypeggy

Lapa Steps—a colourful memory of Rio

Lara Steps, Escadaria Selarón

Tourists and locals enjoy the Lara Steps

Rio de Janeiro is all about the beaches, parties, music, dance, food, drink, energy and colour.

And when it comes to colour, there’s no place in Rio that is more colourful than the incredible and beautiful Lapa Steps.

Blue house on Lapa Steps

Blue house on steps

Red house on Lapa Steps

Red house on steps

Of course, the steps have been there for yonks—they lead to the Convent of Santa Teresa—but the colour didn’t start to appear until 1990. That’s when Chilean-born artist, Jorge Selarón, decided on a whim to create a ‘tribute to the Brazilian people’.

His tribute would develop on his doorstep. Selarón’s house was located on the stretch of dilapidated steps that connected Joaquim Silva and Pinto Martins streets. His plan was to renovate this 125-metre staircase with pieces of tiles that reflected the main colours of the Brazilian flag—yellow, blue and green.

At first, he scrounged tiles from construction sites and urban waste, but as transformation progressed, people from all over the world sent and brought tiles—many handcrafted by the sender/bearer—for Selarón to add to his creation.

Today the staircase displays more than 2000 tiles, ceramics and mirrors from more than 60 countries. Red and yellow are the dominant colours, and there is a recurring image of a pregnant African woman. Selarón hand-painted about 300 tiles showing the woman, but never explained the image’s significance except to say it related to a personal problem from his past.

Lapa Steps, Escadaria Seralón

Red is a dominant colour on the side walls

Selaron funded his obsession with the stairs by painting and selling potraits—he claimed to have done 25,000 depicting the pregnant woman. He also accepted donations. I was told that Selarón commissioned the tiles he used to recreate the Brazilian flag because he wanted the colours to be exactly right. We did not meet him, but people say Selarón was friendly and personable, if eccentric, and liked to chat with tourists.

Lapa Steps, panels

Explanatory panels by Selarón, with English on right (click on the smaller images above to read)

There are two large explanatory panels near the bottom of the stairs—one in English and the other in Portuguese. On the English one, Selarón calls his work ‘The Convent Stairway’ but today the locals call it Escadaria Selarón, or Selaron’s Stairs.

The stairs have received a lot of international coverage, including the National Geographic channel, Time, Playboy and The Amazing Race. They also featured in Rio’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Brazilian flag, Lapa Steps

Brazil’s flag in ceramic tiles

I was saddened to learn that Selarón, who was 65 at the time, was found dead on his beloved stairs just a few days after our first visit to Rio.

Friends said he had been depressed in recent times, but police confirmed that Selarón had also received death threats. As far as I can determine, there has been no final decision as to whether his death was suicide, homicide or natural. Such a tragic ending for someone who brought so much colour, life and respectability to a neighbourhood that, until recently, was considered to be quite rough.

Selarón and his fabulous artwork were admired by his adopted city. In 2005, he was made an honorary citizen of Rio and the Lapa Steps were declared a city landmark.

P.S. Of course, Poor John (aka He Who Walks Everywhere) and I went to the top of the stairs.


Leave a Comment
  1. Joanne T Ferguson / Jan 5 2014 7:16 pm

    How colorful Peggy! Always enjoy traveling the world with you and Poor John through your unique view!
    Cheers! Joanne


  2. lmo58 / Jan 5 2014 8:19 pm

    Hi Peggy,
    As always, another excellent post filled with interesting information. The stairs are beautiful with all of the different colours and I feel very privileged to see, through your eyes, places that I will probably never have an opportunity to visit. Thank you again..


    • leggypeggy / Jan 5 2014 8:26 pm

      Thanks Louise. The steps really are wonderful and I think my post gives a good overview.


  3. kp Attman / Jan 7 2014 3:07 am

    What a glimpse into the dedication of an artist, and how his adopted country appreciated that dedication. So glad you shared this!


    • leggypeggy / Jan 7 2014 8:56 am

      So glad you enjoyed seeing it. A person could spend hours there, checking out all the different artwork.


  4. blondieaka / Mar 16 2016 2:03 pm

    Wow such an amzing array of colours and the art work….I could lose myself for days there 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. barkinginthedark / Dec 20 2018 8:41 am

    the Watts Towers of Rio. A great artist and an artist of the people. thank you for this post. continue…

    Liked by 1 person


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