History of Rio De Janeiro

Mother Earth Travel > Brazil > Rio De Janeiro > History

Rio de Janeiro was founded in 1565 by the Portuguese as a village by the Sugar Loaf, a stronghold to defend the territory against foreign invaders after the expulsion of the French settlers. The full name of the city, São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, is a tribute to the Portuguese king. In 1567 the village was moved to Morro do Castelo; by this time the population amounted to only 3000 people, most of them indians. The main industries then were fishing, especially whales, and sugar, with large sugar cane plantations and processing plants that extended from Gávea and the Rodrigo de Freitas lake to the suburbs.

At the end of the 17th century, the gold rush in Minas Gerais, north-west of Rio, gave a boost to the city development. There was a substantial increase in immigration from Portugal, that made the city the main port in the Colony. This also attracted a legion of French pirates and smugglers, who invaded the city in 1710 and 1711, when they were finally expelled. The city boomed at an amazing pace, and the increase in population forced a fast infrastructure development to support this growth. The most famous aqueduct in Rio, the Lapa Arcs, was opened in 1793. The structure is so solid that it is used today as a tramway connecting the district of Santa Teresa to the city centre.

The arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family in 1808 turned Rio into the temporary capital of Portugal, and the population increased to 70000 people. The geographical spread of this population through the various districts according to their social and economical standing that still prevails happened at that time. The more affluent families established themselves in the areas between the sea and the hills, known today as the Zona Sul, and the poorer families went beyond the hills, the Zona Norte. This time also marks the creation of the Botanical Garden, the Royal Library and the Customs House (today Casa França-Brasil).

In 1815 Rio de Janeiro was officially declared the capital of Brazil. In 1821 the Royal Family moved back to Portugal, leaving the Prince Dom Pedro I to rule the colony. In 1822, after rebelling against orders to return to Portugal, Dom Pedro I declared Brazil independent from Portugal, and became the first Emperor of Brazil. The palace known as Paço Imperial was the crown seat in Rio.

The first congressional assembly in Brazil was created in Rio in 1823, gathered where the Tiradentes Palace is now. In 1831 Dom Pedro I abdicated, but his son, Dom Pedro II, was not recognised as the ruling Emperor until 1840. It was under Dom Pedro II that Rio de Janeiro suffered significant improvements: between 1854 and 1862 the city received gas lighting, water and sewage services, transatlantic wire and telephone systems. Transport also underwent many developments, with the utilisation of trams, trains and ferry boats. In 1884 the railway that goes up the Corcovado hill was inaugurated, and the opening, in 1892, of the tunnel between Botafogo and Copacabana initiated the migration of the more affluent families to the seaside.
The end of slavery in 1888 and the extinction of the monarchy in 1889 brought a significant growth in the manufacturing industry, with a subsequent decline in agriculture.

The early 20th century brought many improvements to the city centre, with the opening of Rio Branco and Beira-Mar avenues and the construction of the Municipal Theatre, the Arts School and the National Library. In the thirties and forties the population spread along the seaside, occupying the areas of Ipanema and Leblon, and the skyscrapers started to fill the landscape of the residential districts as well as the city centre.

In the sixties the capital was transferred to Brasilia, but Rio remained as the cultural capital of Brazil, and the capital of the Guanabara state. In the sixties and seventies there were big changes to the landscape of Rio, with the creation of the Aterro do Flamengo, the opening of tunnels connecting the South and the North, the Rio-Niterói bridge and the underground.

In 1975 the Guanabara state was extinct, and Rio became the capital of the surrounding Rio de Janeiro state.