The world’s largest festival, known as the Greatest Show on Earth, takes place annually in Rio de Janeiro for the five days preceding Ash Wednesday.  The unique nature of the celebration has its origins in the importation of the festival by the Portuguese in combination with the rhythms, music and dance contributed by Africans brought to the country as slaves.


The highlight of the festival is the parade along the Sambadrome strip, performed by numerous Samba Schools, groups of people from many communities in Rio, bringing dancers, musicians, dressmakers, painters and sculptors together.  Each School must pick a theme for its float based on topics of history, social criticism, sports or any other subject related to Brazilian culture.  During the parade each school is led by a dancing Porta Bandera, its flag bearer, dressed in an elaborate sequin and feather costume, and accompanied by the Mestre Sala, also sumptuously arrayed, whose job it is to dance with her and interact with the audience.  Behind each couple are “alas”, separate groups each in different breathtaking costumes and representing a part of the plot, replete with dancing, singing and hundreds of percussion instruments.  Each school has an 80-minute time slot in the parade, and the festivities continue until dawn.  Viewed by two million partying people, the floats, costumes, dancing and music are rated by 40 judges. 


Once the five days are over and the Sambadrome empties, the festivities continue with hundreds of street parties and balls throughout the city, with people singing the songs of the Samba, drinking and dancing.


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