The History of Lake Paranoá

The inspiring story behind one of the largest artificial lakes in the world.

Look at Brasilia from the north, we can see that Lake Paranoá has many stories to tell. There are lots of places for leisure, meditation, relaxation, sports, boating, and so much more. How could you not want to visit the lake and learn about its past? With so many opportunities for relaxation, you're bound to fall in love with the place, whether you choose to meditate on its shore or watch the sun rise or set over its waters. There are many who really believe that Lake Paranoá has always been there. And it's certainly difficult to imagine Brasilia without it. Others think that the lake was just another idea thought up by the city's creator, Lúcio Costa, or its architect, Oscar Niemayer.

Vista aérea da construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, [1958-1960]. (1960)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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In fact, the person who thought up the idea for Lake Paranoá was the French engineer, botanist, and landscaper Auguste François Marie Glaziou. He was a member of the 2nd Cruls Commission between 1894 and 1895, which decided how Brasilia's lake should be built.

Corredeiras do Rio Paranoá que represedas dará origem ao Lago Paranoá, 1957. (1957)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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In 1858, encouraged by his Brazilian friends, Glaziou decided to visit Brazil, where he became friends with the Emperor. Chosen to be part of the Study Commission for the New Capital in 1894, Glaziou, like his fellow travelers, fell in love with the area's climate, fauna, flora, and geography. He made such an essential contribution to the studies for creating and building the lake that the project would later be known as Glaziou's dream.

Construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, 1958. (1958)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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Glaziou was a keen observer of nature and not only did he realize that the lake was viable, but he also found the technical solution for how to build it. And it was his solution that was used more than 60 years later when Brasilia actually came to be built.

Águas do Rio Paranoá que, represadas, darão origem ao Lago Paranoá, 1958. (1958)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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An excerpt from a letter written by Glaziou mentions creating the lake: […] "Between two large tablelands called Gama and Paranoá, there is a vast plain that tends to get covered by water during the rainy season."

Construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, [1958-1960]. (1960)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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[...] "It's easy to see how, by closing the gap with a work of art, the water will be forced back to its original place, making a fully navigable lake, measuring some 12 to 15 miles (20-25 km) in length and 10 or 11 miles (16-18 km) across."

Barragem do Lago Paranoá, [1958-1960]. (1960)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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Years after the Cruls Commission, the town planners Raul Penna Firme, Roberto Lacombe, and José de Oliveira Reis compiled a preliminary study for the New Capital. This study was in favor of building the lake because, as report said: “A dam was designed downstream to make the river into an ornamental lake [...]”

Construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, 1959. (1959)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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When the gap between the tablelands was closed with that "work of art," now known as the Paranoá dam, Lake Paranoá was created. All this work was undertaken to comply with art. 4 of the Provisional Constitutional Provisions in the 1946 Constitution, which reverted to the idea of moving the Federal Capital after the 1937 Constitution discounted the proposal.

Canalização do Lago Paranoá para criação de energia elétrica, [1958-1960]. (1960)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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Originally put forward by Brazil's First Constitution in 1891 so as to allow a more rational occupation of the continental-sized country, the idea of a capital in the interior of Brazil was revived.

Construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, [1958-1960]. (1960)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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However, Lake Paranoá was really created on the day when the requirement for a lake was included in the public tender notice for the architectural and urban project for Brazil's new capital. On September 30, 1956, the public notice was issued and published in the Official Gazette. There were 63 expressions of interest but only 26 projects were submitted by the submission date.

Vista aérea da construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, 1958. (1958)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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Lúcio Marçal Ferreira Ribeiro de Lima e Costa, better known as Lúcio Costa, met the requirements for an urban project to include the construction of a lake whose water level would be 3,280 feet (1,000 m) above sea level.

Construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, 1958. (1958)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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In his winning plan, Lúcio Costa used the name Lagoon Lake, which he described under point 20 of his Descriptive Report for the Brasilia Pilot Plan (1959): “We avoided locating residential neighborhoods on the shores of the lagoon so as to keep the lake pristine and surrounded by natural and rustic woodland and fields, where the entire urban population can go for walks to enjoy the scenic amenities.

Construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, 1958. (1958)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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"[...] Lake Paranoá was an essential element from the very start but it was not my idea. When the location for the new capital was chosen, the possibility of closing that gorge to create the lake was already there. So the lake was an essential part of the proposal for the new capital. I believe, in fact, that the lake should be made more accessible for the majority of the population."

Presidente JK, Israel Pinheiro e jornalista James de Coquet visitam a construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá.Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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The work to build the dam started in 1957, with the American construction company Raymond Concrete Pile of the Americas in charge. However, constant delays meant that President Juscelino Kubitschek could not keep his 1955 campaign promise to inaugurate Brasilia in April 1960.

Placa informando a área para a construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, 1958. (1958)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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So the president terminated the contract and put NOVACAP in charge, with the work then being shared between three construction companies, Camargo Corrêa, Rabello, and Engenharia Civil e Portuária.

Construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, 1958. (1958)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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President Juscelino Kubitschek could not conceive of inaugurating Brasilia without the lake: "How can you inaugurate Brasilia without the lake when it has been so widely advertised, especially when the lake is meant to provide the liquid frame for the city?"

Lago Paranoá emoldurando o Palácio da Alvorada, [1958-1960] (1960)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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At the time, there were those who believed that the lake would never be built. The columnist Gustavo Corção at the O Globo newspaper believed that the sandy soil of the Brazilian Highlands would prevent the lake from filling up. However, on September 12, 1959, on the President's birthday, the dam was officially opened. Eight months later, once the waters in the lake reached the famous 3,280 feet, the columnist received a good-humored telegram from President Juscelino Kubitschek, saying “See, it's full!”

Vista aérea da construção da barragem do Lago Paranoá, 1958. (1958)Arquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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And so, in the midst of cut-back woodlands, a valley of twisted vegetation became a huge building site, full of pioneer workers from all corners of Brazil who were there to build what is now Lake Paranoá. Today, the lake is a playground where people go to stroll along its shores, to cycle in its gentle breeze, to sail on its calm waters, or simply to meditate and watch the sun rise and set.

Did you know?

Capivaras no Lago ParanoáArquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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Capybaras at the Lake

Capybaras (semiaquatic rodents) have been living along the shores of Lake Paranoá since 1970.  As a generalist animal and not at risk of extinction, capybaras have ended up competing with people for the use of the lake. And so, on hot days, these neighbors from the grassy banks aren't slow to take advantage of the swimming pools at the homes of shore-side residents.

Ilha do Lago ParanoáArquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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Lake Islands


Lake Paranoá has three islands called Paranoá, Retiro, and Clubes. Paranoá Island is the largest of these, covering approximately 3.8 acres (1.54 ha) and measuring about 120 yards (110 m) in length. It is near Trechos 4 and 5 in the North Lake Mansion Sector. At an altitude of 3,294 feet (1,004 m), Retiro Island covers less than 2.5 acres (1 ha). It lies near Trecho 7 of the North Lake Mansion Sector, some 93 yards (85 m) from the lakefront.

Ilha do Lago ParanoáArquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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Clubes Island is the smallest of the three, measuring just 6.5 square yards (6 m2). It is near the Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge. Paranoá and Retiro Islands were designated as ecological reserves by District Law no. 1,612, dated August 8, 1997.

Barcos Veleiros no Lago ParanoáArquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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Maritime Fleet

Even without direct access to the coast, Brasilia still has one of the largest maritime fleets in Brazil. With over 52,800 of the Brazilian navy's ships and boats, it ranks only behind São Paulo, Paraná, and Rio de Janeiro. At weekends, many of these vessels can be seen on maneuvers on Lake Paranoá.

Fotos Aéreas da Ponte JK by Cleveton SilvaArquivo Público do Distrito Federal - ArPDF

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Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge

The Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge—also known as Third Bridge or simply JK Bridge—was officially opened on December 15, 2002. A monumental piece of architecture, its beauty is impressive. 
The project for the bridge was chosen from plans submitted to the National Competition for Preliminary Studies in Architecture in December 1998. It was designed by Alexandre Chan, an architect from Rio de Janeiro. He was awarded the Gustav Lindenthal medal for the bridge's esthetic qualities and its harmonization with nature at the 2003 International Bridge Conference. Measuring three quarters of a mile (1.2 km) across, the Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge is probably one of the loveliest postcards of the Federal Capital you can buy.

Vila Amaury - the submerged town

Paranoá Lake has many stories to tell. One of those is the story of Vila Amaury. Have you ever heard of it? No? Then we'll tell you all about it! In 1959, while construction works in Brasilia were still underway, the town of Amaury was home to the families of some 16,000 workers who were building the National Congress and Ministry buildings. 

The town had been set up by a NOVACAP employee named Amaury Almeida, who was, at that time, part of a housing movement and in charge of organizing the new migrant arrivals and housing them.

The temporary camp had all the facilities of a real town, with bars, restaurants, stores, general businesses, and even a mini amusement park. Today, if it still existed, it would be on the slopes at the back of where the Brasilia Yacht Club and the Marines now are.

At the time, the town was only temporary and the workers who went to live there knew that. In 1959, when work on the Lake Paranoá dam was completed, the town's residents had to leave. However, they refused to leave their town until they were offered new housing for their families.

Over a period of eight months, the waters kept on advancing, slowly but surely, onto dry land. With the lake waters already up to people's knees, NOVACAP had no choice but to give the residents an ultimatum, ordering them to leave.

The situation in Vila Amaury was so worrying that the families gave in. Many were sent to Taguatinga or Gama but most moved to Sobradinho, a new town built just for them. When the heavy rains started, the dam's floodgates were closed and the lake quickly filled up. There simply wasn't time to remove the town's shacks and clean up the area before it was flooded.

Credits: Story

Personnel:
 
- Adalberto Scigliano - Superintenden
- Elias Manoel da Silva - Distribution Management - GEDIF.
- Hajnalka Maria Gabriela Korossy Tomaz – Management of Audiovisual Collection Processing and Conservation- GEAUD.
- Renato Vilar Nasr - Management of Textual and Cartographic Collection Processing and Conservation - GEPRES.
- Anna Paula Pesso S. S. Fonseca - Processing and Conservation Manager - GEPRES.
Anna Paula Pesso S. S. Fonseca - Processing and Conservation Manager - DITRAP.
Rogerio Cardoso de Amorim - Permanent Archive Coordination - COAP.
Rafael Mendes Rechden - Document Management and Protocol Unit - UGED.
Greice L. L. Lins Schumann Albernaz - Director of Research, Distribution and Access - DIPED.
Maria Alice O Telles de Vasconcellos - Training Management - GECAP.
- Patrícia Guimarães Garcês - Permanent Archive Coordination - COAP.
Claudia Amancio e Silva - Cabine
- Taiama Mamede B. Solecki - Systems Coordination - COSIS.

- Adriane Rodrigues de Oliveira - Services Directorate - GEAP.
- Morine Mughabghab - Library Management - GEBIB.
- Alessandra Braz de Queiróz - Director of Control and Monitoring - COSIS
- Elizete Ribeiro Alves Anjos - Director of Training and Technical Orientation - DICOT
- Thyago Lima de Aguiar - Head of the Information Technology Unit - UTEC

Bibliographic References: Access here

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