Rio’s famed Sugarloaf cable car, one of the world’s most visited tourist landmarks, fetes its 100th birthday Saturday with plans to extend its service to other neighboring hilltops.
Inaugurated on October 27, 1912, the cable car ferries visitors to the top of the Sugarloaf Mountain, the 395 meters (1,250 feet) tall iconic granite peak that towers over Rio de Janeiro.
The original “bondinho” was a wooden car similar to the yellow tramways that plied the streets of Rio at the time. It was given its current “floating diamond” shape in 1972.
It was the third passenger cable car in the world after the Mount Ulia system in Spain in 1907 and the Wellerhorn tramway in Switzerland in 1908.
A visitor must first take a cable car to a lower hill called Morro da Urca before boarding a second car to the top of the SugarLoaf.
The original cable car ran for 60 years, said Maria Ercilia Leite de Castro, head of the privately-owned Sugarloaf Aerial Tramway company.
“My father joined the company as technical director. He then built a new cable car bigger and more modern,” Leite de Castro told AFP.
“He thought the cable car needed to have glass on all sides. He wanted it to look like a diamond that you would see above the city whether its was going up or down, and for the people inside the cabin to have a 360 degree view of the city,” she said.
The Rio project was the brainchild of Augusto Ferreira Ramos, an engineer who decided in 1908 to link the city’s Vermelha beach to Sugarloaf Mountain, a distance of some 1.4 kilometers (0.9 mile).
Ferreira Ramos wanted the world to have a new image of Rio, which was then the country’s capital and in the process of becoming a modern city.
“Ramos was viewed as a madman. Even his fellow engineers suggested to him that the planned system should link the Sugarloaf directly to a nearby mental hospital,” Castro told AFP.
The original wooden cars could ferry 22 people. In 1972 the capacity was increased to 75 with the introduction of the diamond cable cars, but reduced to 10 in 2007 due to the heavier weight of passengers.
The cable cars have served as a prop for countless movies, including the 1979 James Bond thriller “Moonraker.” Prominent past visitors include Albert Einstein and US president John F. Kennedy.
This year 1.5 million tourists, half of them foreigners, are expected to visit Sugarloaf Mountain, slightly less the total for its nearby rival, the giant statue of Christ the Redeemer, located atop the 710-meter (2,300-foot) Corcovado mountain.
Ahead of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics, the tramway’s two stations are to be modernized with faster access to avoid waiting lines.