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Rio de Janeiro - History

Em Português: História do Rio de Janeiro.

The first Portuguese expedition to explore the Brazilian coast, between 1501 and 1502, visited places in Rio, like the Guanabara Bay and Angra dos Reis.
The only product which attracted some interest was pau-brasil, which was very abundant in this region; because of the pau-brasil, there were many reports of French ships visiting the area and trying to establish relationships with the indians.

After the creation of the hereditary capitanies, in 1534, the territory of Rio was split into two capitanies: São Tomé and São Vicente; the former was returned to the King in 1545, after constant attacks from the indians; the later prospered, based on the plantations of sugar cane, but the progress was concentrated on the southern part of the capitany, around the villages of São Vicente (the oldest city in Brazil) and São Paulo.

In 1555, the French occupied the area around the Guanabara Bay and founded the Antarctic France; until 1565, there were combats between French and Portuguese; in 1565, the French were expelled, and Estácio de Sá founded the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.
To populate the area and protect it from further invasions, Portugal not only defined Rio as one of the administrative centers of the colony (the other was Salvador), but also stimulated the foundation of several villages along the coast, such as Angra dos Reis, Cabo Frio, São Pedro da Aldeia, Macaé, Paraty and Campos dos Goitacazes.

The economy grew at a slow pace. The pau-brasil soon exhausted. Cabo Frio started the exploration of the marine salt, activity which has been lasting all these centuries. The culture of sugar cane wasn't so successful as in other areas, but, by the end of the 17th century, it was the most important production of Rio de Janeiro; the largest farms were in the area of Campos, where the production of sugar is, until today, an important economic activity.

Late in the 17th century, gold was found in Minas Gerais (read History of Minas Gerais); to facilitate taxation and combat contraband, the King of Portugal determined that all the gold production should be exported through the port of Rio de Janeiro.
Even though the production was concentrated in Minas Gerais, many villages were founded along the path between the mines and the port. Big transformations happened in Rio: increase of population (with immigrants coming from Portugal and other areas of Brazil), the appearance of a free working class (in contrast with the master-slave structure which existed in the cane production areas), diversification of plantations, etc.
In 1763, the city of Rio became the only administrative capital of Brazil. In 1808, fleeding from the Napoleonic Wars, the King moved the entire court to Rio de Janeiro; the city saw improvements in the urbanization, to receive the noblèsse, which in turn brought a cultural atmosphere that the city otherwise would never have.

In 1822, after Brazil became independent, the city of Rio became capital of the Empire. Besides, while all capitanies were turned into provinces (with governants appointed by the central government, not always to the best interest of the local population), the capitany of Rio de Janeiro retained an unique status: it would be ruled directly by the Emperor (this status would bring many budgetary privileges to Rio).
Rio de Janeiro was not only the largest urban center of Brazil, but also the one with faster growth; there were economic, social and culture refinements, which would make Rio the most well known Brazilian city.
The Independence coincided (better saying, had a close relationship) with the decline of the gold production. Resources were then redirected to a new product: coffee; Rio de Janeiro had plenty of land, idle working force, a well established commerce structure, the animals used for transportation, the port. Around 1860, coffee was responsible for more than half of Brazilian exports, and the State of Rio produced more than seventy percent of Brazilian coffee (later on, the product would find even better conditions to grow in São Paulo, which, based on coffee, would take from Rio the position of richest Brazilian State).
With coffee, along came the railroads, which permitted a more efficient transportation. The first rails were laid toward Petropolis (named after the Emperors, Pedro I and Pedro II) and inaugurated in 1854; many cities were also reached by trains, and had economic gains: Vassouras, Rio Bonito, Itaboraí, Campos and others.

In 1889, when the Republic was proclaimed, the culture of coffee in Rio was already seeing a decadence. The soil of Rio proved to be less fertile than in other parts, and erosion became a serious problem (many coffee farms were replaced with cattle ranchs). More significant, however, was the fact that farmers from Rio had a heavy dependence on the slaves, while São Paulo had already started to bring immigrants; when slavery was abolished in 1888, many farms in Rio faced bankruptcy.

With the economic decline, Rio lost also the political power.
With the rapid development brought by coffee, São Paulo and Minas Gerais became the most important Brazilian States; during the First Republic (until 1930), politicians from São Paulo and Minas alternated offices in the Presidency (the carioca Nilo Peçanha was President for a brief period - June 1909 to November 1910 -, but just because he was vice-President of Afonso Pena, who died). During the period, the State of Rio had tough times to overcome the coffee decline and find a financial balance.

In the 1940s, when Getulio Vargas disrupted the São Paulo - Minas oligarchy, the State of Rio had an economic boost. Large steel, naval and oil plants were opened (see Economy of Rio de Janeiro). More recently, petroleum and tourism became major economic activities; today, Sao Paulo is the city which receives most foreign visitors in Brazil (a good part of them are business people), but Rio remains the biggest attarctor of tourists.

In 1960, when the capital was moved to Brasilia, the city of Rio was turned the State of Guanabara. In 1975, the States of Rio de Janeiro and Guanabara were unified, and Rio de Janeiro returned to the status of city.

During the long time that it was the capital, Brazilians from all States were sent to Rio de Janeiro; likewise, while, for decades, immigrant workers were distributed across many other States, the diplomats and business men headed to Rio. Because of these facts, even after loosing economic leadership to São Paulo, Rio retained the status of cultural capital of Brazil.

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