Situated 760m above sea level, the city of Sao
Paulo, in the state of Sao Paulo, represents today an area of
approximately 1500 km², consisting of 900 km² of urban area and a rural
area of approximately 600 km². These two areas together are known as
Grande Sao Paulo (Greater Sao Paulo), the biggest population in South
America with almost 15 million people.
It consists of the old centre, the suburbs and a huge number of districts which make up this megalopolis, and tell the history of the city and its population. Initially inhabited by indigenous natives and 16th century Portuguese colonisers, the city also recieved, in the 17th century - as did almost all the south central and north-east regions of the country, a considerable African slave population, the main source of manual labour for the coffee and sugar-cane plantations. Its population, though, grew very slowly until the middle of the 19th century. At this time, the area which is now formed by Greater Sao Paulo was still made up of small population areas, the future districts of Pinheiros, Freguesia do Ó and Lapa.
As coffee became the biggest commodity in the area in 1870, the city prospered, railways linked Sao Paulo with neighbouring Santo's harbour, banks and export businesses brought in more wealth and raised the population, which brought about the building of new districts. From 1870 onwards, the urbanization of the city took place with swamps being transformed into gardens. Brás, one of the oldest districts, and the area where the land belonging to the Portuguese tradesman José Brás used to be, as well as the Mooca and Lapa districts, was home to the great Italian immigration at the end of the 19th century, responsible for the great cultural boost of the city, which included the paulista accent, very peculiar and different from other regions of Brazil. At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th many farms were divided, and new districts such as Santa Efigênia, Bom Retiro, Consolaçao and Campos Elísios, (the wealthy family district at that time) were formed.
The construction of the first electrical power station in 1890 allowed the introduction of electrical streetcars from the 1900's. And in the 20th century, the industrial development created new urban areas towards the east, west and south directions of the city following the railway lines and the river-beds from Tietê, Tamanduateí and Pinheiros rivers. The Japanese immigrants that arrived in the beginning of the 20th century to work in agriculture went to what is today one of the most traditional districts of Sao Paulo, the Liberdade district, where all the customs and culture from their country is now kept. Sao Paulo has some of the best Japanese restaurants in the whole world.
Smaller, older centres around the city were incorporated into the metropolitan region of the city as time went by, and very elegant districts appeared from 1915, like the districts of Jardim Europa, Jardim América and Jardim Paulista which are known collectively today as the most sophisticated commercial centre Jardins. The Avenida Paulista, considered the Wall Street of Sao Paulo, where the most expensive offices are located, is a division in time and space that particularly characterises de development of the city. On one side there are the historical and old centres, with their ex-libris such as the Teatro Municipal, Viaduto do Chá and the Vale do Anhangabaú. On the other side of the avenue you will find the residential and modern office areas, with well thought-out architecture and engineering, notably the Jardins itself. On the same side are the Jóquei Clube and the Morumbi district, where besides the big mansions and luxurious residential buildings you can find the Morumbi Stadium, one of the football stadiums chosen by FIFA for the 1st World Club Championships tournament.
Another district that is notable for its culture and gastronomy is Vila Madalena, with a a high number of bars and restaurants, intense nightlife, inhabited by professionals, university students and artists. The majority of the districts acquired a unique personality, like the Bela Vista (also known as Bexiga) where, besides bars playing forró music (typical from the north east part of Brazil), you can find most of the city's theatres.