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Posts in ‘Film, Art, Theatre, Music & Dance’

Homecoming Scotland 2014

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Homecoming Scotland 2014 is the follow up to the highly successful first edition of 2009. The initial Homecoming was designed to encourage people of Scottish ancestry to visit the area and to celebrate all things Scottish. Of course, it also served as an open invitation to visitors from all over the world.

Homecoming Scotland was originally born from the idea of celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns; the famous national poet. The event grew into showcasing Scotland’s other significant contributions in the realms of culture, heritage, innovations, golf and of course, whisky. 

The year-long programme for Homecoming Scotland 2014 will feature the same attributes as it did the first time around. The two main events this year are the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup in Pertshire. The other events spread over the year focus on activities, ancestry, creativity, food & drink and nature, celebrating the very best that Scotland has to offer. Here are our favourite picks from the vast selection of events:

Highland Games

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There will be staging of the traditional Highland Games in towns, villages and castles across the country. The exciting games, where contestants compete in some truly unique activities such as caber tossing and competitive dancing, are a combination of culture, sport and social entertainment with a uniquely Scottish twist! Some of the more well-known locations for the games are Cowal, which stages the largest Highland games in the world, Braemar, attended annually by members of the Royal Family, and the Ceres Highland Games, the oldest free games.

Stirling – Battle of Bannockburn

28 Jun 2014 – 29 Jun 2014

The medieval city of Stirling in Central Scotland will host a number of exciting events that will recreate and commemorate the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a significant victory for the Scots in the Wars of Scottish Independence. Here you will see extraordinary re-enactments choreographed by Clanranald, known for their work on Hollywood blockbusters such as Gladiator and Thor II. Walk amidst interactive medieval encampments of 14th century Scotland; kitchens, blacksmiths and armouries with a real feel of the excitement before the great battle. There will also be hundreds of tartan clad pipers, drummers and Highland dancers providing a real Scottish atmosphere.

Edinburgh

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Edinburgh will once again be at the heart of cultural activity and festivals by running the renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. There will be a number of activities to choose from revolving around music, books, art, traditional storytelling, comedy shows and much more.  The annual festival is truly the peak of this artistic gathering and outpouring, and the sweet dish at the end this feast of performing arts will be a spectacular fireworks display at the iconic Edinburgh Castle. The Fringe Festival runs between 01 – 25 August 2014.

Of course there is more to Edinburgh than all the arty stuff.  Not far away from the city are the fabulous Highlands of Glencoe and the legendary Loch Ness – if you are the sporty type, you might even consider taking part in the popular Loch Ness marathon.

Whisky

Homecoming Scotland 2014 will be big on celebrating and imbibing the uisge beatha (water of life).  World Whisky Day will no doubt be a very spirited affair while there will be month-long celebration at the Spirit of Speyside Festival (1 – 5 May 2014), and also at The Islay Music and Malt Festival (23 May – 1 Jun 2014).  There will be eating aplenty too at farmers’ markets and food festivals, all inevitably washed down with a wee dram of good Scottish whisky or draft beer. If you want to combine the beauty of the highlands with a tipple or two, you could take a day tour exploring the best of both worlds. 

Nature

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Beyond Scotland’s cultural and gastronomical fame, are its natural and scenic wonders made famous in song, verse and painting throughout centuries. The Scottish landscape is one of the most dramatic in the world with rugged mountain peaks, thousands of miles of coastline, fairy-tale forests and glens populated by thriving wildlife and plants.  Majestic deer and vast colonies of seabirds have made Scotland their home, and a trip up the spectacular highlands is an unforgettable experience.

Scotland is a place of ancient legends, grand scenery, amazing people, a unique and rich culture and producer of great minds that will be well represented in all the events of Homecoming Scotland 2014. If you’re still hungry for more Scottish wonders in 2014, take a look at our offering, from sightseeing tours to ghostly walks in the eerie Edinburgh vaults to touring the wonderful highlands.

For more information on Homecoming Scotland 2014, go to Visit Scotland.

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Oscar-Nominated Films Bound To Impact Tourism

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The Oscar nominees are out!  The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present the 86th Academy Awards on 2nd March 2014 at the Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles.  The ceremony will be watched by millions all over the world. 

These Oscar-nominated films also have a massive impact on tourism around the world.  This phenomenon has been on the rise for a while now.  The Lord of the Rings and Narnia series saw tourism to New Zealand grow by leaps and bounds.  Braveheart and Mamma Mia! did precisely the same for Scotland and Greece respectively.

The latest Oscar-nominated films are bound to see people “discovering” the settings.  Here are a couple of movies from the latest batch that are sure to put the spotlight on locations where they were shot.


12 Years A Slave

This movie is bound to increase visits to the pre-civil war and historic plantations of Louisiana. Based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup,  a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery to work on plantations in Louisiana.

There are several plantations in the area, such as the idyllic Oak Alley and Laura that have been beautifully preserved.  Their rooms echo with the history and drama of a bygone era, while providing insights into the unique Louisiana Creole society.  Significantly the slave quarters still survive, which is sure to resonate with scenes from the movie. 

12 Years a Slave won the 2014 Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama.  It has been nominated for nine Academy Awards.


The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the real-life exploits of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker.  He set up several securities frauds that reflected the high stakes corruption on Wall Street in the 1990s.  It depicts a decadent lifestyle, sex and drug fuelled parties and dangerous stock trading deals.

The movie is surely going to motivate people to visit this best known street among New York’s avenues and districts.  Wall Street had previously gained notoriety for its financial shenanigans that caused the epic meltdown of 2007-2009.  It is now looked upon as the lair of rogue traders carrying out complex dirty deals, that have the power to ruin lives and even the economies of entire countries.

On Wall Street traders made billions of dollars through their trading excesses while millions of people lost everything and banks collapsed.  The Wolf of Wall Street plays into that reputation, while drawing visitors from far and near.

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La Tomatina, Buñol – A Sanctioned Tomato War

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Buñol is a small, quiet town about 38kms from the Mediterranean Sea and the city of Valencia.  It has a population of about 9,000 souls.  Every year on the last Wednesday in August it goes crazy with an influx of mainly British, French, German and Spanish tourists who come to indulge in a tomato fight of epic proportions.  This year the tomato-fest is on the 28th of August.

The tomato fight started in 1945 when a group of young men were not allowed to participate in the local festivities, which involved costumed figures of gigantes y cabezudos, or “Giants and Big-Heads.”  They staged an impromptu tomato fight in the Plaza del Pueblo.  This was instantaneously popular; repeated the next year and has been carried on till today becoming a traditional, free-for-all, fun sport with an international flavour and participation.

In 1980 it became an official event with the local authorities organising the spectacle. In 2012, about 40 tonnes of tomatoes were trucked in from the Extremadura region as ammunition for the festivities.  La Tomatina has even acquired religious sanction.  The tomato throwing is now done to honour San Luis Bertrán and the Mother of God of the Defenceless (Mare de Deu dels Desemparats- another attribute of the Virgin Mary), patrons of the city of Buñol.

La Tomatino begins at 10am, with a greasy, two-storey pole climb.  The pole is coated with soap and a ham tied to the top.  Whoever reaches the ham gets to keep it!  As the climbers attempt to slither up to the prize, the crowd sings and dances, all the while being showered with water.  Once the ham prize has been acquired, the tomato fight begins, signalled by a loud shot.

That is the ideal situation but most times it takes too long to get to the ham, sometimes not at all.  So the fun part – throwing the tomatoes – begins regardless.  There are no teams and each man has to fight his own tomato battle.  The pandemonium lasts for an hour when another loud shot is fired to signal the cessation of the tomato war.

By this time the whole town square is a gory, pulpy scarlet and so are the participants, of course.  Fire trucks shower the players and the streets to remove the tomato paste.  A side effect of the festivities is that the cobblestones in the square and surrounding streets become spotlessly clean because of the tomatoes’ acidity!

You would think that indulging in the messy pleasure of throwing tomatoes would be a simple affair.  Well think again.  There are rules, instructions rather.  They are:

  • The tomatoes have to be squashed before throwing to avoid injuries.
  • No other objects except tomatoes are allowed.
  • Participants have to give way to the trucks.
  • The festival doesn't allow ripping off T-shirts.  (This one is seldom adhered to.   The players will often tear each others’ shirts off – man or woman.)
  • After the second shot signalling the end of the tomato battle, no tomatoes should be thrown.

Here are couple of tips when going into this purée making battle.  One is – wear goggles to protect your eyes or take a cloth to keep them clean.  The other is – for heaven’s sake; don’t take your camera in to the square.

Last year some 50,000 people showed up for the festival.  That was a tad too many for the limited confines of the square.  So this year (2013) the town authorities have limited the number of entrants to 20,000 people and are issuing entry tickets to the square.  The town residents get 5,000, while outsiders get 15,000.

The tickets are not free, of course!  They will cost €10 each.  Tickets can only be bought online from the town’s official website.  The ticket will take the form of a wristband.

I wonder if a few rebellious souls will stage a parallel red war to protest the regulations and limitations placed on them.  Will 1945 repeat itself?

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The Fairy Tale Land of Mont Saint-Michel

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One kilometre off the northwest Normandy coast of France sits the unique little island of Mont Saint-Michel. It is cut off from the mainland at high tide while vast sandbanks are exposed at low tide, which can be just as deterring as the powerful water flows. Today there is a motorable causeway connecting it to the mainland and unaffected by high tides.

All of 247 acres in area and 300 feet at its highest, this strategically situated rocky island embodies the expression that ‘life is stranger than fiction.’ The ancient monastery, massive stone fortifications, winding climbing streets, houses with sloping roofs and tiny quaint shops give Mont Saint-Michel an ambience that could very easily be the setting for a fantasy tale with dragons, elves and wizards in it.

Mont Saint MichelFor most of its history, Mont Saint-Michel has been a redoubtable fortress. It was a Roman outpost till the 460 AD, followed by Gallic occupation till the Franks came along and pushed them out. Sometime in the 8th century the island’s role changed when the first religious buildings were constructed.  However, its strategic importance remained and is even featured in the famous Bayeux Tapestry. It was the Normans however who were the architects of the grand and imposing abbey that gives the town and the island so much of its character.

In the 11th century William de Volpiano, an Italian architect was charged with building the Abbey. He designed the Romanesque church seen today. In the early 12th century Philip Augustus paid for the construction of new Gothic-style sections, which included a refectory and cloister. Thereafter Charles VI added more fortifications, built the towers and added courtyards. Today many of them are filled with flowers that make the place very pretty.

For many centuries Mont Saint-Michel was an important pilgrimage centre but that function slowly declined and by the time of the French Revolution the abbey was almost abandoned. The Republicans converted into a prison.  In the nineteenth century such luminaries as Victor Hugo petitioned to restore the buildings, resulting in it being declared a historic monument in 1874.

In 1979 Mont Saint-Michel and its Bay were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The isle attracts more than 3 million visitors every year. Compare that with the permanent residents who number only 44, at last count.

That is Mont Saint-Michel for you – tiny in size but large in history and heart.

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San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain

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San Fermin

The fiesta of San Fermin is a deeply-rooted celebration —held from 6 to 14 July every year—in the city of Pamplona, Spain. It is celebrated in honour of Saint Fermine, patron of Navarra, and is locally known as Sanfermines.

The festival is a celebration of many traditional and folkloric events including the most popular encierro, or 'the running of the bulls'. Its events and worldwide fame, along with its attraction of a vast number of visitors from around the world are closely related to the description in Ernest Hemingway’s book, The Sun Also Rises.

The rave-up basically is about the consumption of large quantities of alcoholic beverages (sangria), music, bullfighting and partying.

The ceremonial process

The San fermin Festival starts at noon on 6 July each year and is marked by setting off the pyrotechnic chupinazo – a ceremonial rocket or the explosion of rocket from the balcony of the city hall at midday.

From the 7th to the 14th, the encierro – letting loose the bulls through some of the streets of the old part of the city take place when the clock on the church of San Cernin strikes 8 o'clock in the morning. From then on risk and excitement go hand in hand with high spirits and non-stop fun.

Running with the bulls is free but extreme caution must be exercised as it is an extremely risky sport, even considered male-only tradition. It has had 15 deaths since 1925 and most insurance don’t cover it – so you may only participate at your own risk.

The fiesta carries on with clear broth chocolate (caldico), long doughnuts (churros), the ceremonial giants (Gigantes), the aperitif and the fireworks at night; which then give way to all-night partying.

The dress code for the festival is red and white. And so for the next nine days, the streets turn into a celebration — of friendship, music, non-stop partying and open-air dances to the rhythm of the charangas and the peñas.

Tickets for the bullfight can cost anything from 25 to 70 Euros.

Closing

On the final day, i.e 14 July, thousands of people once again gather in the Town Hall Square with lighted candles and singing "Pobre de mí" (Poor me), to send off the Sanfermines until the next year.

Although most tourists know the festival as ‘The Running of the Bulls’, it is actually the party atmosphere, the celebration of life and the overall experience of the full-on Spanish fiesta that makes visiting Pamplona during San Fermin such an exciting and memorable one.

Have you booked your tickets yet?

Image credit: Rufino Lasaosa

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British Summer Time Hyde Park

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Barclaycard British Summer Time Hyde Park

We aren’t even done nursing the hang-over from the Glastonbury festival yet, but there’s gonna be another exciting mini-festival at London’s Hyde Park already! How about 10 awesome days of music and entertainment?! Yep, that’s right; be prepared – for there will be entertainment galore over back to back weekends!

Barclaycard presents the first-ever British Summer Time Hyde Park – a fabulous summer concert series – from Friday 5th July to Sunday 14th July 2013; with Bon Jovi headlining followed by The Rolling Stones.

In addition to these headliners, top-class support acts will be performed across 4 different stages by such artists as Elton John, Jennifer Lopez, Kaiser Chiefs, The Vaccines, Palma Violets, Bush, Tribes, Jake Bugg, Tom Odell, Chic. Featuring Nile Rodgers, Eliza Doolittle, Beverley Knight, Charlie Simpson, The Temper Trap, Gary Clark Jnr, All The Young, Leogun, Rival Sons, Little Barrir, The Coronas, The Virginmarys and many more…

The event includes a village green with a pub and farmers’ market. There will be four themed zones across the park, each with its own installations and entertainment including restaurants, bespoke salons, pubs, cocktail bars, cafes, bistros and food stalls.

What’s unique about this BST Hyde Park event?
Each live music-packed weekend will be sandwiched by a midweek programme of various entertainments. From Monday to Thursday, visitors will get the chance to be involved with smaller events including film, music, sport, literature, specific family day etc. to expand the Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park experience to genuinely appeal to the whole family.

There will be three zones during the week: The Village Green (that offers a rural retreat in the city), the Piazza (that captures the atmosphere of a buzzing European square) and the Carnival (appreciation of the spirit of Hispania, South America and the Caribbean), which will all be free to access from 8 to 11 July.

There will also be four nights of live comedy in The Barclaycard Unwind Theatre that will include such big name as Russell Kane.

For full line-ups for the concert, check out the official website.

When: 5th to 14th July 2013
Where: Hyde Park, Rangers Lodge, Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH
Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge Station

ARE YOU READY FOR MORE FUN, LONDON?!

 

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Downton Abbey Country Location Tour

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Highclere Castle

The movies and travel and tourism are becoming inextricably entwined. One would say the two industries are almost symbiotic. Where movie-makers go, it seems that tour and travel operators are quick to fill bus loads of folks and show them ‘the scene.’

From Braveheart to the Da Vince Code new tourist trails are being blazed in the UK. Now it is the turn of the global hit TV series, Downton Abbey to get in on the act. The series has inspired fans to go traipsing through picturesque Oxfordshire villages and down a pint at rural pubs. So great is the demand of Downton Abbey fans to follow in the footsteps of the aristocratic Crawley family and their staff that tours by one or two companies are sold out for the 2013 season!

The Downton Abbey Country Location tours are very comprehensive. They are generally of three days duration. They take visitors to Dower House, home of Cousin Violet aka Maggie Smith, Swan Inn, Downton Hospital, and the pub at Kirkbymoorside. The tour buses play excerpts and episodes of the series more or less relating to the location you will be visiting – just so that your memory is refreshed on the locations and characters.

You have to remember that though the setting for the fictional Downton Abbey is Yorkshire, many of the key film locations are not actually in that county. Highclere Castle is in Hamphire and used for all the exterior shots and most of the interior scenes. The exterior shots were taken in the picturesque village of Bampton in Oxfordshire, including St Mary’s Church. World War I battle scenes, in France, were filmed in the Suffolk countryside.

Haxby Park (featuring in the second season) is actually Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire and Greys Court, Oxfordshire was used as the family’s secondary property mentioned in the third series. Another historical mansion featuring in the series is Lincoln Castle, just south of York, where the prison scenes were filmed.

So if you are a Downton Abbey addict you could sip afternoon tea and stroll in the beautiful gardens of the elegant homes that feature so prominently in the movies.
 

Image credit: zen whisk

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The Last Supper

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The Last Supper

The Last Supper is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most well-known works; and along with the Mona Lisa, could be said to have established his fame as a painter. The painting represents the scene of The Last Supper of Jesus with his 12 disciples where he announced that “one of them would betray him”.

The painting is located at the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan, covering the wall of the dining hall. In it, Leonardo grouped the apostles in four groups of threes, with Jesus in the middle sitting calmly.

The remarkable thing about this composition is how Leonardo brilliantly depicts identifiable reactions of the apostles with varying degrees of shock, outrage and disbelief when Jesus dropped the bombshell announcement.

Deterioration and restoration

Leonardo’s decision to use oil paint rather than the more reliable, fast-drying and stable watercolour fresco technique meant that the painting deteriorated soon enough. Several painters attempted to repair and major restoration works were done from 1978 to 1999, but the popularity of the work remains.

It could be argued though, that very little of the original paint now remains after all its repairs.

The fascination continues…

The painting continues to mystify and fascinate nonetheless. Speculations by writers and historical revisionists centre around supposed purported hidden messages or hints—and plenty other such-like interpretations —within the painting.

The fact that it plays the central role in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code does little to quench the spurring of new wave of research and interpretation of one of this world’s most famous artworks.

The Last Supper Tickets

It is advisable that you book your ticket well ahead because of it being a very popular attraction…or simply prepare to be disappointed! Also be warned that visitors are not allowed to stay long.

The excellent audio guide will help you make the most of this must-see painting.

Image credit: Waiting For The Word
 

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Entertainment at the Benidorm Palace

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Night show at Benidorm Palace

Benidorm is a town that sits on the coast of Spain’s western Mediterranean region. It was once a sleepy fishing village. But today it is a whole different kettle of fish. It is now a playground with a large hotel and tourist industry catering to visitors who come for the beaches and the entertainment. Make no mistake entertainment is the main attraction here. And no one provides more excitement, razzmatazz and fun than the Benidorm Palace.

Benidorm Palace is a nightclub, cabaret, restaurant and variety show venue all rolled into one. Spending the evening and night there is a great way to get best of all entertainment worlds. The various acts and performances at the Benidorm Palace change every year, which is terrific because you are in for a different treat on every holiday. It has also earned itself the reputation of having one of the top shows in all of Europe.

The Palace is large, spacious and stunningly decorated (a trifle too loud for me – but then it is a nightclub!) and fitted out. It would seem that no expense was spared.   

The dances are spectacular with the beautiful exotic dancers feathered, fabulously costumed and most times topless (joy for the boys!). Shows typically last for about two and a half hours and feature several different acts. There are laser light shows, juggling feats and choreographed dances with styles including Flamenco and influences ranging from Ireland to Egypt. There are comedians, acrobats and live bands.

It would be advisable to make an advance reservation for a good table. Otherwise you could have a long wait to get it and that takes away from the fun. At €5 a head it may seem steep but the measure is worth the price as the place can get rather crowded and good viewing places can make the difference in your enjoyment.

Besides the regular entertainment the Benidorm Palace regularly engages a variety of top artistes from around the world to perform concerts. Do check before you go or you might find that you are not going to get the famous regular nightclub reviews.

A few tips to take into consideration in order to enhance your enjoyment. You get one free drink on your ticket – after that you pay. You could have a meal at the Benidorm but the food can be a bit of a mixed experience. It is sometimes excellent and other times the quality slips. It also takes a long time between ordering to arriving at your table. If you are vegetarian you could have a very restricted choice and you have to request it. The focus is non-vegetarian.

The Benidrom Palace opens on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays all through the year. In the summer they also open on Wednesdays.

Doors Open at 8.30pm; dining commences at 9pm and its – Showtime at 10pm!
 

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Cristo Redento Statue in Rio de Janeiro

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Cristo Redento

With wide eyes looking out from a serene art-deco concrete and soapstone face, Cristo Redento stares out across the vast urban sprawl that is Rio de Janeiro.  The statue faces Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay while keeping an eye on the golden sands of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

The 30 metre tall statue of Christ the Redeemer stands at the top of Corcovado Mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro.  Its arms spread out, symbolically embracing the whole world; the statue is the 5th largest, of Jesus, in the world.

Otherwise known as Christ the Redeemer, this icon of a city and symbol of a country is considered one of the new wonders of the world.  The panorama that the location affords is breathtaking for the two million people who make the trip up to the statue every year.

The idea of building a religious monument was first suggested, in the 1850s, to Princess Isabel of Spain by a Catholic priest, Father Pedro Maria Boss. It did not get very far. The statue idea came up again in the early twentieth century with several designs being put forth. The open-armed statue representing universal peace was chosen. The French-Polish sculptor Paul Londowski began sculpting it in 1922. It was completed in 1931 at the (then) cost of US $250,000 (equivalent to $3,200,000 in 2013).

In 2006, a chapel was built under the towering statue and its pedestal. It is dedicated to the patron saint of Brazil – Nossa Senhora Aparecida or "Our Lady of the Apparition".

The statue has been the target of nature and humans. In 2008 lightning struck it during an electrical storm. The head, fingers and eyebrows suffered damage. To repair it soapstone from the quarry where the original material was sourced was used. New lightning rods were installed.

Two years later Paulo Souza dos Santos, a house painter, took his trade a bit too far. He spray-painted graffiti on the statue’s head and right arm. He was arrested and convicted for his delinquent artistic ‘crime against the nation.’  Besides these two incidents, maintenance work needs to be regularly done because of the strong eroding winds to which the statue is subjected.

The statue has featured in several films including Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious and numerous video games. It was controversially blown up in the disaster movie 2012. It also has songs dedicated to it.

Views of the statue and from it are spectacular and almost otherworldly – especially on cloudy nights. The face of the city is one of the most amazing structures and landmarks of the world.
 

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