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Flag of BrazilThe Federative Republic of Brazil is continental South America’s largest country having borders with every other South American nation except Chile and Ecuador. Those countries bordering Brazil are Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. Brazil’s land area of over 8.5 million square kilometres (3.3 million square miles) makes it the fifth largest nation in the world after Russia, Canada, China and the United States of America.

Brasilia is the capital city and the seat of Federal Government and is situated at an average altitude of 1,100 metres (3,500 feet) above sea level and about 1,100 Km (680 miles) from Brazil’s best known city, Rio de Janeiro, on the coast. Other major cities include Manaus, Recife, Santos and Sao Paulo.

As Brazil is based on relatively stable continental crust, much of the country is below 500 metres (1,700 feet) and there is little or no volcanic or seismic activity. There are three key elements to the physical geography of Brazil: the low lying Amazon basin and Pantanal wetlands in the North and North West of the country; a rolling central plateau where the capital Brasilia is found and rugged hills and mountains in the south and along the Atlantic coast – the Brazilian Highlands near Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo where the highest point in Brazil can be found, the Pico de Neblina at 3,000 metres (9,900 feet). Over 66% of Brazil’s land surface is still covered by forest.

The climate varies according to the terrain and latitude. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, Brazil has its winter from June to August. The Amazon basin has a tropical climate with high temperatures, rainfall and humidity. The Brazilian Highlands in the South and South East along the Atlantic coast are cooler and drier, having frequent frosts and snow. The central plateau is more temperate and contains rolling grasslands like the Pampas of Argentina, although it can still snow and some regions are also classed as sub-tropical.

The flora and fauna of Brazil are as diverse as its geography. Brazil has the highest number of species of primates, amphibians and plants in the world, and is in the top five in the world for number of birds and reptile species. Much of this biodiversity is due to the Amazon basin with its dense tropical rainforests and the Pantanal wetlands.

The rainforests support the highest concentration of different species in Brazil. Whilst appearing monotonous, a typical acre of rainforest will support around 250 species of tree, compared with around 10 species an acre in typical forests in Europe. In a constant fierce competition for light, canopies form a roof over the rainforests, allowing little light to penetrate below, resulting in little plant and animal life on the forest floor. In addition to the huge number of tree species, orchids and lianas live in the canopies, using trees as their anchors and as sources of nutrients. Cacti live in the more arid areas of Brazil.

The canopy also supports huge populations of birds, including Toucans and Macaws, mammals, including monkeys and bats, invertebrates, most notably butterflies and beetles, amphibians – especially the brightly coloured tree frogs – and reptiles like anacondas and boa constrictors. Breaks in the canopy along river courses host colonies of crocodiles and capybaras whilst the rivers themselves have over 1,500 identified fish species, manatees, pink freshwater dolphins and the world’s largest freshwater turtles. Jaguars prey on the birds and larger mammals.

Little remains of the architecture of pre-colonial Brazil. Megaliths, or standing stones in rings, have been discovered in the hills of southern Brazil, which bear striking resemblance to the Celtic relics found in Europe. The oldest remaining buildings include ruins of medieval style hill forts, essentially glorified trading posts, from around 1530 onwards. Older settlements were thought to be constructed from daub and wattle style or palm thatch.

The greatest influence on the 16th and 17th century buildings was from Portugal and the Jesuit missionaries, mainly preserved as churches and monasteries. As mining settlements grew in the interior churches and monasteries were built inland, such as Ouro Preto the old colonial capital of Minas Gerais province. Examples of Jesuit missions also survive in Brazil. These architectural styles persisted until the late 18th century. Early 19th century Brazilian architecture followed the early Neoclassical style then in vogue in Lisbon. Late 19th and early 20th century building closely followed the French styles.

During the 20th century Brazil’s architecture has evolved its own style, whilst still drawing from major 20th century innovators like Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. Possibly the greatest example of 20th century architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture was the creation of Brasilia, the new capital from 1960. Oscar Niemeyer, Brazilian born and having worked with Le Corbusier, was responsible for many of the great buildings in Brasilia. Another important architect in the late 20th century is Linda Bo Bardi, Italian born, whose works include the Museum of Art in Sao Paolo.

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