RIO DE JANEIRO // Rio was set to dazzle the world with a breathtaking display of fantasy pageantry yesterday in a rousing climax to its annual Carnival celebrations.
Last night and again tonight, the city's top samba schools prepared allegorical floats and hundreds of lavishly costumed singers, dancers and musicians to send down a specially designed parade route to the renovated Sambadrome, "the temple of Samba".
The arena reopened last Sunday after a nine-month makeover. It has now been expanded to offer a 72,500-seat capacity.
Rio is facing increasing competition from its rival, Sao Paulo, which staged sumptuous parades in its own sambadrome on Friday and Saturday.
But Cariocas, as Rio residents are called, will be keen to show that they can indeed put on "the greatest show on Earth", one that will be broadcast to a worldwide television audience.
On Saturday, more than two million revellers flooded central Rio for a mammoth street bash organised by Bola Preta, one of the oldest and most popular Carnival associations.
But the parades mounted by the city's top 13 samba schools for the title of Carnival champion will be a much more organised and designed affair.
The winner will be judged on choreography, music, dancing and creativity and is feted like a champion football team.
Preparation for the sambadrome parades starts months in advance, as each samba school mobilises thousands of supporters who must create the various parts of the school's display.
Some of the allegorical floats are extremely elaborate and they carry people, statues, and other luxurious sculptures.
The parading schools are divided into a number of sections and each section has a number of wings of about 100 people wearing the same costume.
In between the wings, there are several floats, separating the sections. Most of them are pushed along by men from the school's community but some are motorised.
The floats carry special guests along with some drop-dead gorgeous, scantily-dressed dancers.
Organising a parade costs between US$2 and $5 million (Dh7.3 and 18.3m). Some schools are believed to be funded by gambling syndicates.
Seats at the Sambodrome arena cost between $50 and several thousand dollars, depending on whether one sits on packed benches in the open or in air-conditioned VIP boxes stocked with champagne.
Brazilian companies invite stars, including foreign celebrities, to their skyboxes overlooking the processions to lure customers to their brands.
Each year, schools choose a different theme for the parades such as famous figures of Brazilian history or one paying tribute to the country's diverse racial and ethnic heritage.