Iguassu Falls are considered to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world and are the most overwhelming and spectacular waterfalls in South America. The falls are over 3km wide and 80m high and their beauty is unsurpassed. They are also one of, if not the major natural attraction in Brazil. At the heart of this immense body of water is the Devil’s Throat, where 14 separate falls join forces, pounding down the 90meter (350ft) cliffs in a deafening crescendo of sound and spray.
Situated on the Rio Iguaçu, the border between Argentina and Brazil, the falls lie 19km (12miles) upstream from the confluence of the Rio Iguaçu with the Rio Alto Paraná. Bridges connect the Brazilian city of Foz do Iguaçu with the Argentinean town of Puerto Iguazú and the Paraguayan city of Cuidad del Este. The Iguaçu falls are situated in the middle of the national park – Parque Nacional Foz do Iguaçu that is divided between Brazil and Argentina.
The Brazilian National Park was founded in 1939 and the area was designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1986. Due to the high humidity caused by the spray from the falls the park is very rich in superb flora and fauna. The Itaipú dam, on the Río Paraná 12 km (7.5miles) north of the falls, is the site of the largest single power station in the world, built jointly by Brazil and Paraguay.
It came into operation in 1984 and produces enough electricity to power the whole of Southern Brazil and much of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais. The Jesuits set up missions among the Guaíra indians in this region in the early 17th Century. These missions flourished until they were violently attacked a few decades later by the slave-hunting bandeirantes from Sao Paulo and were forced to move further south within Brazil and across the border to Argentina and Paraguay. Although geology research proves that the Iguassu falls were formed over 100 million years ago due to massive volcanic eruptions, the falls are steeped in myth and legend according to ancient native Indian beliefs of the tribes that lived on the borders of the Iguaçu River.
One such legend among the Caingangue indians tells of the creation of the falls as a result of a tragic love story involving the daughter of an indian chief. The best time of year to visit is August-November, when there is least risk of flood waters hindering the approach to the catwalks.
Geological information about the falls dates back to the Triassic period, 120 million years ago, when a series of volcanic eruptions occurred. The first European visitor to the falls was the Spaniard Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca in 1541, on his search for a connection between the Brazilian coast and the Rio de la Plata: he named them the Saltos de Santa Maria. More than half a century later the Jesuits followed.
The Jesuits set up their first mission among the Guaraní Indians about 1609, in the region of Guaíra, 130 km north of Iguaçu on the border with Paraguay. The missions (aldeias) flourished: cotton was introduced; the Indians wove their own clothes, dressed like Europeans, raised cattle, and built, sculpted and painted their own churches. But in 1627 they were violently attacked by the slave-hunting bandeirantes from Sao Paulo and were forced to move into Paraguay and further south into Argentine Misiones and Brazilian Rio Grande do Sul.
Several leading Jesuits, such as Father José de Anchieta in Sao Paulo, declared that the Indians were to be protected, not enslaved, which put them in direct conflict with the interests of the colonizers. The Jesuits built schools and missions, around which Indian villages sprang up, in an effort to protect them from slave traders. It was because of the Jesuits and their initial success in preventing enslavement of the Indians that the colony turned to Africa for manpower. In 1755 Portugal freed all Indians from slavery, but the effects were negligible. By 1756 the Jesuits were expelled and their missions in southern Brazil and Paraguay put under the control of lay directors who could make profits from the Indians´ forced labor.
All that is left of the Jesuit missions is some ruins, and only few show any signs of their former splendor. Though the falls were well known to the Jesuit missionaries, they were forgotten, except by local inhabitants, until the area was explored by a Brazilian expedition sent out by the Paraguayan president, Solano López in 1863. In the 20th century, the falls have become recognized globally as a major tourist attraction as well as the world’s largest hydroelectric power plant. This huge cataract eclipses Niagara. These falls are an amazing scene of 300 falls, 270 feet high and almost 3 miles wide, filling the place with spray. The neighboring city of Foz do Iguaçu has undergone a population and economic boom in recent years due to the construction of the nearby Itaipú hydroelectric plant.
Construction of the dam began in 1975 and it came into operation in 1984. The dam has now become a tourist attraction in itself. The Iguassu Falls provide power to the 12,600-megawatt Itaipú dam, the largest single power station in the world. The Itaipú hydroelectric project, which covers an area of 1,350 sq km, was built by Brazil and Paraguay and is well worth a visit. The dam is 8 km long; the powerhouse 1.5 km long. Paraguay does not use all its quota of power so this is sold to Brazil, which powers all of Southern Brazil and much of Rio, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais
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