How Was Rio’s Statue of Christ the Redeemer Built?

Rio’s famed statue of Christ the Redeemer is a modern day world wonder, but how was it built? We look into its history to find out more.

Apr 13, 2023By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art

how was christ the redeemer built


Christ the Redeemer is one of Rio de Janeiro’s greatest highlights, and one of the modern seven wonders of the world, standing tall on a mountain peak over the Brazilian city. Completed in 1931, it has since become a unique calling card for tourists from all over the world, who trek to the hazardous peak of Mount Corcovado to visit this colossal statue. But do you know how it was actually built? It took more than ten years of preparatory work and behind-the-scenes activity to create and safely install this striking Art Deco icon on the summit of a Brazilian mountain. We take a closer look at some of the extensive work involved in bringing this modern masterpiece to life. 


The Original Model for Christ the Redeemer Was Made in France

paul landowski christ redeemer france
Paul Landowski’s model for Christ the Redeemer in the 1920s.


French sculptor Paul Landowski designed and created the statue that would become Christ the Redeemer, using large pieces of clay. These huge sculptures were then shipped to Brazil, ready for the next stage of the process. Due to the transport issues of moving such large sculptures, Landowski had to make his sculpture in parts. He carved the head and hands in full-size, while he created a 4-metre-high version of the body which would be further extended once on location. Meanwhile Landowski asked Romanian sculptor Georghe Leonida to carve the final face of Christ, which was a careful, delicate task.


It Was Cast in Reinforced Concrete

christ redeemer head construction
The head of Christ the Redeemer during the 1920s construction phase.


Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa and French engineer Albert Caquot were responsible for transforming Landowski’s sculpted pieces into a concrete sculpture on site. Caquot designed the internal structure of the statue, working out how it could hold the sheer weight of the concrete pieces. Meanwhile, he arranged for Landowski’s sculpted pieces to be cut into cubes, so they could be cast in concrete and assembled in parts. A vast team of workers prepared cement on site, using water hauled from a water fountain that was 984 feet from the site. Workers carried all the necessary materials up the mountain by a small cogwheel railroad normally reserved for tourists who wanted to see the view from the top of the mountain without having to climb the mountainside’s steep paths. 


Workers Covered the Statue with Soapstone Tiles

statue head soapstone tiles
Close up of Christ the Redeemer, completed in 1931, showing the soapstone tiles covering its surface.

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Once the concrete sculpture for Christ the Redeemer was complete, a large team of workers set about covering the entire surface of Christ the Redeemer with around 6 million soapstone tiles. They did this under the guidance of Silva Costa, who disliked the rough finish of concrete for a final work of art, preferring the softer, polished veneer of natural stone. The stones themselves were shipping from Sweden, before being transported onto the summit of Mount Corcovado. 


Construction Took 9 Years

construction work rio brasil
Construction work being completed on Christ the Redeemer.


The entire process of carrying the concrete pieces of Christ the Redeemer to the location and piecing them together on site took a team of workers 9 years to complete. The foundation stone was ceremonially laid down on the 4th of April 1922, the very day Brazil announced their independence from Portugal, while the statue officially opened to the public on the 12th of October 1931.


statue mount Corcovado rio brazil
Statue of Christ the Redeemer today.


Building the statue of Christ the Redeemer cost around $250,000 US, an equivalent of approximately $4.8 million US by today’s standards. In order to put together the 38-metre-tall construct, a huge scaffolding was put in place, which workers had to climb every day to reach the upper parts of the statue. It was painstaking work, making sure every cast piece hauled up the scaffolding was put into the exact location. Finally, in 1931, the completed sculpture was ready to be unveiled to the public.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.