It’s not by chance that we chose to visit this place on our Free Walking tour Rio de Janeiro of Downtown and Lapa. The world most beautiful staircase! One of the most important touristic sites of Rio de Janeiro is this colorful piece of art called Selaron Staircase. In English it translates as the Selaron stairs. Located in the legendary neighborhood of Lapa, it’s easy to reach and definitely a must see while visiting the Cidade Maravilhosa.
Jorge Selaron is a Chilean who built the stairs, born in 1947. He was a world traveler, a painter, and a ceramic artist. He traveled all around the world, in the Americas, Europe and Asia, visiting in total more than 50 countries. When he arrived to Rio de Janeiro, in 1983, he felt in love with the city and decided to stay. The place he chose to leave was on the top of a staircase, that connects two bohemian neighborhoods, Lapa and Santa Teresa. To afford leaving here, Selaron was selling his paintings.
When Selaron moved to his house, he realized that the staircase was in a very bad condition. Nobody took any care of it. In 1990 he started to renovate some of the steps in front of his house. In the beginning, he was adding blue, yellow or green colored ceramic tiles (Brazil’s flag!). This became a tribute for the Brazilian people and for the Brazilian football team on the FIFA World Cup. The project began as a pass time, but little by little, Selaron got addicted to continue project. Every time he ran out of money to buy more tiles, he would sell his paintings.
When you visit the site, you will realize that besides blue, yellow and green, also red color is very present on both sides of the stairway. These red tiles Selaron started to add after finishing the steps themselves in 2000. Red was his favorite color, and also one of the main color of a Chilean flag.
As Selaron’s work became more well-known, he started to receive ceramic tiles as a gift from travelers that visited Rio de Janeiro. That was also a good way for him to keep on with the project, since Selaron was always with financial problems. Visitors from all over the world started to bring tiles from their home countries, for Selaron to add to the staircase. Nowadays there are more than 2000 tiles from around 60 countries! Pay attention, and most likely you will find a tile or two from your country! Challenge accepted?
When you’ll visit the site, you’ll realize that there are many hand-painted tiles that have an image of an African pregnant women. Selaron never really commented about her. He just answered that she represented a “personal problem from the past”. So we don’t really know what’s the story behind the pregnant women.
There are several different theories of her being Selaron’s ex-wife that either died or left him, but for us, this is going to stay as a secret.
So I mentioned, that the Selaron staircase is one of the main landmarks of Rio right? There are actually a few things that made the attraction famous. You know artists or bands like U2 or Snoop Dogg? Yep, both of them have recorded a music video on Selaron Staircase! After international publicity, this place became a must site for everyone visiting Rio!
The End of The Project
Jorge Selaron started to color the stairs in 1990. On that time he had said, that the project is going to finish only on a day he dies. We saw that day 23 years later after the beginning of the project. Can you imagine that? He was doing an open air mosaic on a public space for 23 years! Tile per tile until the day of his death…
Selaron’s story ended up in a very sad way. It was a year 2013, when the police found him dead in front of the staircase. His body was full of burning marks, and still today we don’t know the real cause of his death. There are speculations that is was a homicide, and other sources convince that Selaron would have commit a suicide.
Some people say that Selaron was deeply depressed during the last months of his life, and barely left his house. This is where the suicidal speculations come from. On the other hand, just before police found the body, people heard somebody screaming and dogs barking loudly. This is a mystery, that most likely will never be discovered.
But his masterpiece stays alive and people from all over the world visit it every day! Before dying Selaron was officially recognized for his job: he became a honorary citizen of Rio – an important honor for a man who dedicated 23 years of his life to make the stairs!
Another Attractions Near By Selaron Staircase
Like I mentioned earlier, Selaron Staircase is located in between two very lively neighborhoods, Lapa RJ and Santa Teresa. Lapa nightlife is well-known. Every weekend the streets of Lapa get full of people, bars, restaurants and clubs are packed! Lapa is also famous for one of Rio postcards: Lapa Arches.
Santa Teresa is another neighborhood close by the Staircase. It’s an artistic neighborhood full of restaurants, art galleries and beautiful architecture. My recommendation is to visit Parque das Ruinas. From there you will have amazing views over Rio de Janeiro! Rio’s historical center lays also very close by above mentioned attractions. The central area is one of the few areas of Rio, where you can still see colonial buildings and cobblestone streets! The zone is full of history and interesting curiosities. Read more about Santa Teresa
To discover this area, I recommend you to join into our Free Waking Tour Rio de Janeiro Downtown and Lapa. During this 3-hour tour you will get familiar with the city’s history, and visit some main attractions of the city center. We end the tour at Selaron Staircase, where you will have time to search for tiles from your home countries!