The Maze Rio, a Hidden Rooftop with Sweeping Views and Mosaics

One of the Maze’s many mosaic sculptures

photography by: Omri Westmark

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On first glance, the favela of Tavares Bastos in Rio de Janeiro might not seem as the most hospitable neighborhood to wander around. However, looks can be deceiving as the favela is not only among the safest areas across the city, but it is also home to a hidden gem, whose visitors often dubbed it as the single most unique place in all of Rio. Perching atop an unassuming apartment block, the Maze is a breathtaking patchwork of art, strikingly peppered with a glut of stunning vistas.

Whoever strolls across the steep streets of Tavares Bastos could mistake its somewhat shabby appearance with a crime-ridden favela, as often depicted in countless movies and series. The truth, however, is utterly different as this hillside neighborhood is probably safer than any other area in Rio de Janeiro, after all, the police’s special operations battalion sits at its very heart.


Aside from its lack of lawbreakers, Tavares Bastos is awash with dozens of scenic points which take full advantage of the hilly terrain and proximity to some of the city’s most renowned landmarks. As it turns out, though, one place on the hilltop offers far more than a mere beautiful panorama. Towering over the favela’s narrowly-spaced buildings, the Maze is a well-ensconced rooftop, beautifully covered with a series of mosaic works that blend in harmony with Rio’s iconic skyline.


This unusual art-project was the brainchild of Bob Nadkarni, a British citizen who worked as a world-travelling journalist and an artist for the best part of his life. During the early 1980’s, Nadkarni arrived at the favela, where he single-handedly constructed his own home and painting studio. What started as an unassuming residential building rapidly evolved into a full-fledged art installation when Nadkarni decided to cover parts of his roof with colorful tiles that he purchased earlier in a nearby ceramic outlet store.


As his tiled mural grew in size, Bob became increasingly passionate about it and soon thereafter opted to take his lifetime project to another level. In the years that followed, he opened a hostel at the premises where guests from all over the world could stay for weeks on end in return for one thing – taking part in his endeavor to turn his terrace into a masterpiece of mosaic art. As part of the intricate tilework, ceramic tiles of all colors, shapes and sizes were painstakingly installed piece by piece to create dozens of murals and sculptures.

Following 4 decades of toil, the once-mundane roof was transformed into a breathtaking work of mosaics which seamlessly encompassed the floors, the ceilings, the parapets and the walls at their entirety, somewhat akin to Antonio Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona. Among the many murals one can find here are a series of depictions that resonate with Bob’s personal life such as an oddly-looking portrait of himself and a glass of Guinness beer. These are accompanied by multiple animals, monuments, landscapes, figures and patterns, all of which are inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s cityscape as well as the natural beauty of Brazil.


Perhaps the single most conspicuous work of art throughout the Maze is a tiled sculpture of a face, split perfectly down the center, with one side featuring a female face, while the second half resembles a male figure. Equally impressive is a mountain-shaped opening which perfectly fits with the Sugarloaf Mountain in the backdrop.


In 2006, Bob further capitalized on his house’s scenic location and quaint mosaics by opening a jazz club and bar, which quickly attracted hordes of dedicated aficionados, earning it the title of “one of the world’s best venues for jazz music”. Unfortunately for Nadkarni, his meteoric success was cut short when local authorities, instigated by a group of envious neighbors, forced him to close all of his businesses on the pretext of non-compliance with building codes and regulations.


After years of frail health, Bob passed away in the beginning of 2023, leaving behind him an unparalleled hodgepodge of stories and creations, forever memorialized in the mosaics atop his house. The Maze is open for visitors from Wednesday to Sunday, between 1pm to 5pm, and can be explored solely with a guided tour (R$ 10 per person).