A lot has changed in the decade since Rio de Janeiro was selected to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. New hotels have risen from coastal Barra da Tijuca—including the Windsor Marapendi and the Grand Hyatt—as has architect Santiago Calatrava’s mammoth Museum of Tomorrow. (If you noticed something that looks like a sci-fi spaceship docked in Rio for the Olympic Games, that’s it.)
But, really, Rio's fascination with futurism has been going on for nearly two centuries, since Brazil gained independence from Portugal in 1822. Rio has introduced the world to the sinuous buildings of architect Oscar Niemeyer, Bossa Nova music (The Girl from Ipanema is one of the most famous examples), and the vibrant possibilities of a city that chose to decriminalize and embrace street art.
Some things about The Marvelous City have gone unaltered, of course. Its most recognizable landmarks are as old as the land, like the bleach-white stretch of Ipanema Beach, and Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf Mountain.
For a look back, we found beautiful black-and-white photos in the TIME/LIFE archives that capture moments in Rio’s past from as far back as 1939—only eight years after the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue rose over the city.
Here, it’s easy to see how Rio’s skyline has shifted, how beachwear has shrunk, and how Brazil’s infamous Carnivals are as wild as they’ve ever been.