The dissertation consists of a cultural history of Rio de Janeiro's Cidade Nova, from the arrival of the Portuguese court in 1808, after which the neighborhood was created by royal decree, until the inauguration of the Presidente Vargas Avenue in 1944, when it was almost completely razed to the ground. The area became identified with Afro-descendents and Ashkenazi Jews, but it was also inhabited by Spanish, Italian and Portuguese immigrants. In its environment emerged some of the urban musical genres (maxixe, choro, samba) that came to define Brazilian-ness in the 20th century and beyond. The thesis explores how the Cidade Nova played a role both in the formation of Rio's culture and in the construction of a national identity, at the center of foundational discourses of Brazil as "the country of carnival" or as a "racial democracy."
Although relying on a vast historiography and works from the social sciences, as well as on a number of other sources (newspapers, paintings, photography, city plans, song recordings, etc.), this study is primarily based on the analysis of literary texts by authors like Manuel Antônio de Almeida, Machado de Assis, João do Rio, Lima Barreto, Murilo Mendes, Mário de Andrade, Manuel Bandeira, Vinicius de Moraes and Graça Aranha. In the attempt to map the neighborhood's development amidst various technological innovations (streetcars, radio, etc.) and historical events (abolition, urban reforms, wars, etc.), the dissertation discusses intersections between literary imaginaries and urban experiences, involving topics like social segregation, cultural memory, spatial porosity, cognitive mapping, and the idea of the city as a palimpsest.