Carnival in Rio de Janeiro the final Stretch

The globe’s biggest Carnival bash opened Friday, when Rio de Janeiro’s mayor handed the key to the city to rotund King Momo, the mythical jester figure who reigns over Carnival. About 850,000 tourists are expected in Rio during the raucous, five-day free-for-all. Millions of people across the country will take to the streets and sambadromes to dance and party, effectively putting Brazil on a week-long hiatus. 

The Vila Isabel samba school was crowned champion of the 2013 Rio Carnival on Wednesday for its parade highlighting Brazil's agricultural might as "the world's breadbasket." In a feverishly awaited verdict, a 40-member jury gave the Rio school, considered a cradle of samba music in Brazil, the third title of its 65-year-old history. Vila Isabel received 299.7 points, edging the popular Beija-Flor with 299.4 and sparking scenes of jubilation at its northern Rio headquarters.

With its 3800 dancers and seven giant fantasy floats, Vila Isabel was the last of 12 elite samba schools to dazzle a capacity crowd early Tuesday at the 72,000-seat Sambodrome, the parade ground designed by the late star architect Oscar Niemeyer. With music composed by several popular sambistas, including Arlindo Cruz and 75-year-old composer Martinho da Vila, the school portrayed the simple customs of country people, their music, processions and festivals.

Last year, the Unidos da Tijuca school won the title, with its tribute to the late singer and composer Louis Gonzaga, the "king of Baiao," a popular music style from Brazil's northeast.The Sambodrome parades marked the climax of the pre-Lent bacchanalian Carnival festival, a national holiday celebrated throughout this huge and racially diverse country of 194 million people. Some six million people, including 900,000 tourists, are believed to have attended the five-day Rio extravaganza, which began Friday. Hailed as "the greatest show on Earth," the Rio Carnival also featured hundreds of street bashes marked by wild samba dancing and heavy beer consumption.

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