History in Rio de Janeiro

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Rio de Janeiro (River of January) has an exciting, ancient history dating back to the 16 th century involving pirates, natives, nobility and all the exciting stories that piece together to form the past of this great city. It was first discovered on 1 st January 1502 after being “accidentally” found by a captain by the name of Gaspar de Lemos who was a captain of a ship in Pedro Alvares Cabral’s fleet. It is legend that they thought that the bay that they eventually named Guanabara Bay was a river hence the name Rio which means river in Portuguese. The Portuguese then took little interest in the land until 1555 when French colonizers under Nicolas Durand de Villegaignon (looking for pau-brasil a native wood used to make dye and mineral riches) settled on a small island and created a settlement called “France Antarctique”. The Portuguese initially took little notice of this invasion but in 1560 a naval expedition led by Governor-General of Brazil Mem de Sa tried to expel them. They weren’t able to totally expel them until 1967 with the help of Mem de Sa’s nephew Estacio de Sa. The French were aided by the Tamoio Indians.

The city was founded on 1 st March, 1565 by Estacio de Sa who initially named it Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro in the name of the Portuguese King Sebastian I. The city was developed as a military base against the French and even after their expulsion was frequently attacked. The city was built and expanded along the mountains (one particular one called Pao-de-Azucar) and expanded southwards and westwards which it continues to do to this day. There were many fortress castles built on the mountains that are still there. The first main industry of the city was sugar-cane for which the Africans and Natives labored, but this industry faded after higher quality sugar came from Northern Brazil . Rio didn’t really start to thrive until the beginning of the 18 th century when its neighboring state found gold and diamonds and needed to use Rio for transport of these minerals as they were the closest port.  

In 1710 the French got wind of this sudden serge of wealth and attacked twice, failing the first and getting paid a ransom for the city in the second which they ended up losing in storms at sea. The flourishing Rio then became the colonial capital of the Vice-Kingdom of Brazil as its former capital Salvador was going through civil problems and the population in Rio was then 50 000.  

The capital remained mostly colonial until 1808 when most of the Portuguese monarch Dom Joao and other nobles fled Lisbon , Portugal from the invasion of Napoleon. The entire kingdom’s capital was then transferred to Rio becoming the first European capital to be outside of Europe . Dom Joao inaugurated many landmarks (Botanical Gardens, Royal Library etc) but he moved back to Portugal when things quieted down leaving his son Pedro behind who led the journey to the independence of Brazil on7th, September, 1822. Rio really became stable and started to develop more with plumbing, sewage system, gas lights etc under the rule of his son Pedro II. When the slaves were freed in 1888 by Princess Isabel there was a large migration from the country fields to the city which took place creating the first favelas and shanty towns in the city.  

There was a miltary coup in 1889 that made Brazil into a republic under the first president Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca and Rio remained the capital until 1960 when the capital was removed to Brasilia after 5 years of construction under President Juscelino Kubitschek. Between 1960 and 1975 Rio was a city-state under the name State of Guanabara . However, for administrative and political reasons, a presidential decree known as The Fusion removed the city's federative status and merged it with the state of Rio de Janeiro in 1975.  

Before the 20 th century the city was concentrated aroung the mouth of Guanabara Bay known as the Centro business district but it began to shift south and west in the 20 th century to a place now known as Copacabana which together with the natural beach beauty and the by the recent years of favela violence.

April 03, 2006 change by giorgio

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