Getting into Ibirapuera Park on the weekend is a challenge itself. You need to cross the pedestrianised walkway encircling the park which is a steady stream of people whizzing by on their bicycles, roller blades and skateboards. With my friend’s children in hand (or possibly being braver, they took me in hand!), we decided to just step off the sidewalk and make a run for it, weaving our way through the traffic until we reached the (relative) tranquility of the green spaces in the centre of the park.
Ibirapuera Park is a 2 square kilometre green beating heart in the concrete vastness that is Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brasil. As the most important park in the city, many compare Ibirapuera to New York City’s Central Park.
Opened in 1954 to celebrate Sao Paulo’s 400th anniversary, Ibirapuera Park was created by the famous Brasilian architect, Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx was also instrumental for creating many of Rio de Janeiro’s urban parks. He was the first to recognise that local vegetation (that other people dismissed as useless shrub) was cool for its variety, shapes and sizes.
You can tell where Ibirapuera is in the city because it contains the Obelisk, a memorial devoted to the 1932 revolutionaries who started a short-lived rebellion against the federal government of Brasil. The Obelisk pierces the blue sky as the tallest monument in the city, fairly stark in its stone simplicity.
Ibirapuera is great for people-watching on a sunny weekend because it seems half the city is there. There are families out with their children, young couples on dates, and lots of skateboarders and cyclists. When I was living in New York, I always felt I could wander into Central Park and run into someone I knew even though it was a city of 8 million. Considering how crowded Ibirapuera Park is, I’m sure locals feel the same way about their park.
A lot of the playground equipment wouldn’t meet American or European safety standards but that does not seem to bother anyone other than my friends and me. There, are plenty of things to climb on for young children. For older people, there are other forms of entertainment like ping pong tables, basketball courts etc. I love the concept of poles hung up where you can bring your own hammock and hang out in the sunshine!
Sao Paulo’s most famous architect son, Oscar Niemayer, designed many of the buildings in the park. Like Barcelona’s city centre park, Ibirapuera is also the setting for several museums. I thought the coolest building was Niemayer’s recently built musical hall, the Ibirapuera Auditorium. Although designed in the 1950’s, it was only completed in 2005. It’s instantly recognisable – a white trapezoidal building with a red metal marquee sticking out like a tongue from the entrance.
If you are in Sao Paulo and want to get a sense of how the local community enjoys their free time, I definitely recommend a stroll through Ibirapuera Park.