Morro da Babilônia

The Morro da Babilônia (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈmoʁu dɐ babiˈlõniɐ], Babylon Hill) is a hill in the Leme neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, separating Copacabana beach from Botafogo. It is home to a favela known by the same name, as well as the favela Chapéu Mangueira. Morro da Babilônia is an environmentally protected area.

Sugarloaf cable car and with Morro da Babilônia behind.
In the middle, Morro da Babilônia. At the back, Leme and Copacabana beaches.

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In the 18th century the Portuguese constructed a fortress on the top of the hill to protect the entrance to Guanabara Bay.[1] In the beginning of the 20th century, the engineer Augusto Ferreira Ramos, projected a connection of Babilônia hill with Urca Hill, as part of the festivities of Centenary of Ports Opening.[2] This project never went from paper to reality. In 1930, the hill was mentioned in one of poems in the Libertinagem collection by Manuel Bandeira.[3]

The Morro da Babilônia favela was founded at the end of the 19th century, when the army set up an observation post on the hill in Leme. Ordinary soldiers built the first shacks to stay on the hill. Later they were joined by construction workers that built the tunnels between the old city centre and Copacabana and Leme, as well as the tramway in the two neighbourhoods, as part of the once extensive Rio de Janeiro tramway system. The occupation of the favela really took off in the 1930s when construction workers building apartment complexes in the neighbourhood settled in the area.[4]

There are two versions about the origin of the name of the favela. One is that the area evoked images of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, with the soldiers who first settled there. The other explanation is that at the nearby tramway station (which has disappeared) the brewery Brahma had a bar that sold a beer with the name Babilônia.[4][5]

In the 2nd World War (1939 – 1945) the Brazilian Army constructed casemates on the top of the hill to protect the city against eventual attacks.[1] According to a census in 2000 1,426 people lived in the favela which counted 380 houses and shacks. However, according to the dwellers association of Babilônia there are 3,000 inhabitants and 800 dwellings. There are 18 streets that have been assigned names.[4]

Babilônia has been controlled for years by drug traffickers linked to the Terceiro Comando (Third Command) organization, which imposed its rules by force on the community. In addition to controlling the illegal drug trade, the gunmen monopolized other services like the supply of cooking-gas cylinders and imposed rules on the population such as the times when they could come and go and the law of silence. In June 2009, police occupied the area without firing a shot. The intention is to make Babilonia into a model community by installing Police Pacification Units.[6]

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