History of Sao Paulo

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In the beginning of the 16th century Brazil had just been discovered by the Portuguese, and the paulistano (from Sao Paulo) area at the top of the Serra do Mar mountain range (southeast region) was inhabited by the Guaianás indigenous population. The first white man to settle there was the Portuguese sailor Joao Ramalho, survivor of a shipwreck in 1510 on the Sao Paulo shore. Ramalho married a native woman, Portira (or Bartira), daughter of the tribal chief Tibiriçá, and started a family. In 1532, Joao Ramalho helped lord Martin Afonso de Souza, commander of the first colonial expedition sent to Brazil by the Portuguese government, to establish the Piratininga village on the upland, subsequently changed, in 1553, to the village of Santo André da Borda do Campo.

One of the main missions of the Jesuit priests that arrived in Brazil on the 16th century, along with the first Portuguese colonisers, was to introduce the local natives to the fundamental principles of Christian faith. In 1553, the superior Jesuit priest of Brazil, Manuel da Nóbrega, planned to reach the banks of the river Paraná to convert the brave tribe of the Carijós. To do so, he needed a base in the upland region of the capitania, (the first administrave areas in Brazil), so Sao Vicente (the future state of sao Paulo), a shelter where the priests could live and initiate the conversion, was chosen. In January 24th 1554, a group of 13 Jesuit priests, commanded by the priest José de Anchieta started building on the banks of the Tamanduateí river, next to the Vale do Anhangabaú (now the centre of Sao Paulo). The building received the name of Colégio Sao Paulo and, from there, the biggest city of South America, and one of the biggest in the world, was slowly built up.

In 1560, the neighbouring population of Santo André da Borda do Campo received an order to move to the Colégio Sao Paulo area in order to help fight a possible attack from the Tamoios native tribe, who were allies of the French, who had invaded Rio de Janeiro area. The Santo André da Borda do Campo village was extinct, and the Colégio Sao Paulo was elevated to town status. During the 16th and 17th century Sao Paulo was still a poor town, with a small part of the population dedicated to meagre agriculture (only for their own survival) and it was practically isolated from Portugal and the rest of the colony.

During those years, many expeditions to the interior of the country were organised from Sao Paulo in order to find gold and precious stones and also to capture natives for slavery. These expeditions were named entradas e bandeiras (entries and flags). When gold was found in Minas Gerais state, the Portuguese crown showed more interest in the colony, and the capitania of Sao Vicente was bought by them and given to the descendents of its first owners. After that it received the name of Capitania de Sao Paulo e Minas Gerais, and the headquarters were in the town of Sao Paulo.

In 1711 the town was promoted to the city category. The gold rush in Minas Gerais, a similar phenomenon to the gold rush in California years later, made the paulista explorers very rich. Through this, from the second half of the 18th century, the sugar-cane agriculture was developed and the first processing plants were built. At the time of the Napoleonic wars in Europe, the Portuguese royal family was forced to move to Brazil, in 1808. Once here, and after several constitutional and political crises, the regent prince D. Pedro I proclaimed the independence of Brazil from Portugal in 1822, on the bank of the Ipiranga river in Sao Paulo. According to the French naturalist Saint-Hilaire, who was visiting the city in that year, Sao Paulo had, then, more than 4000 houses and a population of about 25,000 people. The real urbanization of the city began in the 1870's, stimulated by the impressive industrialization of the first half of the 19th century, which was partly due to the profit from coffee production.