By Shasta Darlington
Rio de Janeiro - Rio de Janeiro crowned the champion samba school from the city's all-night Carnival parades on Wednesday, bringing an end to five days of pre-Lenten revelry.
Rain-drenched fans cheered as judges awarded the hotly-contested title to Imperatriz Leopoldinense for the second year in a row, this time for its depiction of the arrival of Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral to Brazil.
On Sunday and Monday, Rio's top 14 samba schools paraded down the sambadrome runway with lavish floats and glittering dancers in displays that paid tribute to this year's theme - the 500th anniversary of Portugal's "discovery" of Brazil.
Each school competed for the Carnival crown with 300-piece percussion sections, towering floats depicting Portuguese galleons, the Amazon jungle and Indian communities and 4 000 brightly costumed dancers wearing little more than feathers.
The second-place winner, Beija Flor samba school, shocked but impressed spectators with its brutal portrait of slavery and a scene of a white man raping a slave woman on a float decorated to look like a slave ship.
A tropical downpour that brought an end to the Carnival on Wednesday failed to dampen fans' enthusiasm as they flocked to the sambadrome for the final decision.
Hundreds of drums thundered out Imperatriz Leopoldinense's theme song after the decisive announcement and ecstatic supporters broke into rapid-fire samba.
"Land in sight! A shout of conquest from the discoverer," sang out the crowds that were wearing the school's trademark red and white colours.
In the rest of Rio and throughout Brazil, Carnival pageants petered out and people trickled back to work.
"Carnival is over for us," said Marta Camacho, a clerk at a juice bar in downtown Rio. "We had to go back to work, but we're still glued to the television to see the awards ceremony."
Rio's Carnival officially kicked off festivities to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Portuguese explorer Cabral's arrival in Brazil on April 22, 1500.
This week, Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso flew to Portugal to attend ceremonies marking the departure of Cabral, who made landfall in what is now Brazil's north-east after weeks of sailing.
Cardoso will attend the departure of a regatta marking the anniversary. It is sailing from Lisbon to Brazil's Porto Seguro. - Reuters