Reading Comprehension Text and Exercises


The Isle of Fantasies

The federal capital of the largest South American nation, Brazil, Brasilia is a capital city with a short but particularly fascinating history.

Founded in 1960 for the specific purpose of acting as the new national capital, Brasilia was planned and developed by world-famous architect Oscar Niemeyer and city planner Lucio Costa to be one of the world's most unique and ambitious new cities.


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The name Brasilia was chosen to refer closely to the nation's name, Brazil (In Portuguese, spelled Brasil). This name itself originally derived from the name of the pau-brasil, the Brazil tree, a red- or ember-colored tree which was exported from South America to Europe in great quantities during the early years of European colonization.

A Brief History of Brasilia

  • The idea to create a new capital city for Brazil to be located near the center of this vast country (primarily in order to make sure that Brazil's resources were less concentrated in the southeast region around the largest cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo) existed since at least the early 19th century.

    In 1827, the plan for a new capital named Brasilia to be constructed was conceived by Jose Bonifacio, advisor to Emperor Pedro I, which was presented to the General Assembly of Brazil (its ruling body at the time), but was not put into practice.

    In 1883, the Italian priest Don Bosco laid out a dream in which he described the building of a new, futuristic city at the heart of South America, adding strength to those arguments which sought to undertake such a project.

    However it was not until 1957 that plans to do so were officially begun by the Brazilian government.
  • Brazilian urban planner Lucio Costa was selected to guide the construction of the new city, designing a distinctive cross-axial shape for the city as a whole, simultaneously resembling a cross, an airplane, or a bird in flight, which is thought to symbolize the discovery and conquest of Brazil.

    The city was designed to incorporate two major components, the so-called "Monumental Axis" which ran from east to west and is designated for political and administrative activities, and the "Residential Axis" which ran from north to south and was intended for housing, schooling, and recreation.

    The epic scale of this project, inspired by the modernist architectural concepts of thinkers such as Le Corbusier who thought that good architecture and planning could change the way that people lived their lives, created an ambitious and unique city which was officially inaugurated on April 21st, 1960.
  • Since its inauguration, the population of Brasilia has grown at a rate that exceeded initial expectations, becoming the third-most populous city in Brazil.

    In 1987, the city's original urban and governmental buildings were granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in recognition of the historical significance of their modernist design.

    Since 1988, the city has held the right to elect its own Governor and District Assembly, as well as continuing to act as the base for all of the major offices of the federal (national) government.

    In 2014, Brasilia welcomed thousands of new visitors from around the world as it was selected to act as one of the host cities of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

National Congress of Brazil

Home of the Federal Senate and the Chamber of Deputies which make up the National Congress, this impressive building epitomizes the modernist architectural project which was undertaken through the construction of Brasilia.

Designed by Lucio Costa's chief collaborator, Oscar Niemeyer, who was responsible for the design of most of the city's government buildings, the Congress is divided between four main buildings, two separate semi-spheres which host the Senate and Chamber of Deputies respectively, divided by two vertical office towers.

Located in the middle of the city's Monumental Axis, the Congress buildings back onto the Praca dos Tres Poderes, or Three Powers Plaza, a large public square when the Supreme Federal Court and Presidential Palace are also located.

Cathedral of Brasilia

Also known as the Catedral Metropolitana Nossa Senhora Aparecida or "Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Aparecida", the Cathedral of Brasilia is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brasilia.

Also designed by Oscar Niemeyer, this striking building was completed and dedicated on May 31st, 1970, and is constructed from 16 gigantic concrete columns, weighing 90 tonnes each, which come together to form a distinctive shape which is designed to resemble outstretched hands reaching up towards heaven.

The cathedral's impressive interior is dominated by a 32,000 square foot (2,000 square meter) stained glass work by artist Marianne Peretti, which casts beautiful shades of blue, green, and white across the cathedral chamber, while four 9.8 foot (3 meter) tall bronze statues representing the four Evangelists (Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) dominate the square immediately in front of the Cathedral.

Lake Paranoa

This large artificial lake in the center of the city, which has a circumference of 50 miles (80 kilometers), was designed specifically to provide Brasilia with a body of water for recreational and aesthetic purposes.

Formed due to the damming of the Paranoa River during the construction of the city between 1957 and 1961, the shores of the lake host numerous embassies and consulates of foreign nations, as well as the Palacio da Alvorada, the official residence of the President of Brazil.

The lake is used by a number of different watersports clubs and enthusiasts, with its relatively calm waters the perfect place for beginners to safely learn new sports such as windsurfing or water-skiing.

Brasilia National Park

Located 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) outside of the city center, the Brasilia National Park is the largest park in an urbanized area in the world. Covering an area of 163.64 square miles (423.83 kilometers), the park was created in 1961 at the same time as the city itself, in an attempt to provide a protected forested area around the new capital.

Now administered by the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, the park contains a number of different springs and creeks whose water is thought by some to have healing properties, and is home to many of Brazil's most impressive animal species, including the giant anteater, the jaguar, and the maned wolf.

An Authentic Brasilia Dish

As the capital of a vast and diverse nation, Brasilia is a great place to try examples of cuisine from across Brazil's many different regions in one place.

One dish which originated in the northern Brazilian city of Salvador in the northern state of Bahia, but has since become very popular on the streets of Brasilia, is acaraje.

This dish is made from peeled black-eyed peas which are formed into small balls and deep-fried in palm oil, which are then split in half and served with caruru, a mixture of okra, onion, and shrimp, and vatapa, a paste made from bread, shrimp, coconut milk, and ground peanuts.

Comprehension Exercises

Vocabulary Questions

  1. What does "simultaneously" mean?
    1. all at once
    2. one after the other, in quick succession
    3. at the same time

  2. What does "ember" mean?
    1. hot coals in a fire
    2. cold water at the bottom of a glass
    3. sour milk

  3. What does "inaugurated" mean?
    1. fixed or repaired
    2. opened or declared to be open
    3. announced or proclaimed

  4. What does "significance" mean?
    1. focus or aspect
    2. shape or form
    3. importance or value

  5. What does "epitomizes" mean?
    1. exaggerates or over-emphasizes something
    2. is the perfect example of something
    3. misunderstands or mistakes something for something else

Collocation Questions

  1. Brasilia is one of the world's most well-known ___________ cities.
    1. schemed
    2. planned
    3. thought

  2. The city ___________ near the exact center of Brazil.
    1. lies
    2. lounges
    3. reposes

  3. Before the construction of Brasilia, political and economic power was overly ___________ in the southeast of the country.
    1. rigorous
    2. concentrated
    3. intense

  4. The ideas of the modernist architect Le Corbusier were highly ___________ on the work of Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer.
    1. influential
    2. persuasive
    3. trend-setting

  1. Brasilia ___________ a number of matches during the FIFA World Cup that was held in Brazil in 2014.
    1. hosted
    2. guested
    3. patronized

  1. The Cathedral of Brasilia's ___________ in dominated by the light and shadows shaped by its impressive stained glass windows.
    1. insides
    2. innards
    3. interior

  1. The four statues which stand outside the Cathedral are ___________ of the four Evangelists.
    1. models
    2. representations
    3. carvings

  2. Lake Paranoa was ___________ specifically to provide Brasilia with a body of water for recreational purposes.
    1. created
    2. forged
    3. hatched

  3. Jaguars, giant anteaters, and maned wolves ___________ freely across Brasilia National Park.
    1. saunter
    2. roam
    3. strut

  4. The cuisine of Brasilia ___________ extensively on Brazil's diverse culinary traditions.
    1. sketches
    2. paints
    3. draws

Wh Questions

  1. What is the name of the architectural tradition which most inspired the construction of Brasilia?
    1. Brutalism
    2. Modernism
    3. Postmodernism

  2. Why was Brasilia built in the first place?
    1. to try and address the disproportionate power of Brazil's southeastern cities
    2. to create jobs in the remote central region of Brazil
    3. because of a suggestion by the Pope

  3. Where is the work of Marianne Peretti on prominent display?
    1. Cathedral of Brasilia
    2. National Congress of Brazil
    3. Lake Paranoa

  4. How tall are the bronze statues of the four Evangelists outside the Brasilia Cathedral?
    1. 3 meters
    2. 13 meters
    3. 14 meters

  1. When did Jose Bonifacio first propose the building of a new capital city to the Brazilian General Assembly?
    1. 1872
    2. 1827
    3. 1957

Evaluating Statements

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is true?
    1. Acaraje is a dish that was invented in Brasilia.
    2. Acaraje originated in Bahia province before becoming popular in Brasilia.

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, which statement is false?
    1. Brasilia National Park is overseen by the Chico Mendes Institute.
    2. Brasilia National Park is overseen by the Oscar Niemeyer Institute.

True or False?

  1. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "As well as being the seat of the federal government, Brasilia has its own governor."
    1. True
    2. False

  2. Based on the information in this lesson, is the following statement true or false?

    "Brasilia's original government buildings were granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1988".
    1. True
    2. False

Answer Key

1. C | 2. A | 3. B | 4. C | 5. B | 6. B | 7. A | 8. B | 9. A | 10. A | 11. C | 12. B | 13. A |14. B | 15. C | 16. B | 17. A | 18. A | 19. A | 20. B | 21. B | 22. B | 23. A | 24. A

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