Morro da Babilônia

The Morro da Babilônia (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈmoʁu dɐ babiˈlõniɐ], Babylon Hill) is a favela in the Leme neighbourhood of Rio de Janeiro, built on a steep ridge separating Copacabana beach from Botafogo.

The origin of the favela dates back to the end of the 19th century, when the army set up 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.[1]

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.[1][2]

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.[1]

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.[3]

Babilônia in film

Large tracks of the award-winning film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) (1959) were shot in Babilônia.[4][5]

The film Tropa de Elite (2007) is about the police actions in Babilônia in 1997, before the visit of the pope to Rio de Janeiro, when the elite squad BOPE (Special Police Operation Battalion) is assigned to eliminate the risks of the drug dealers in a dangerous slum nearby where the pope intends to be lodged.


  1. ^ a b c (Portuguese) Democracia nas favelas, O Globo multimedia special
  2. ^ (Portuguese) O Morro da Babilônia se chama assim por causa da Brahma, O Globo, November 23, 2007
  3. ^ Without Firing a Shot, Cops Chase Drug Dealers from Rio Slum, Latin American Herald Tribune, July 10, 2009
  4. ^ Social Science Representations of Favelas in Rio de Janeiro: A Historical Perspective, Licia Valladares
  5. ^ Movie palace, The Guardian, January 14, 2006

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