Rio de Janeiro's history is profoundly rich, varied and multi-cultural - POSTO9.com looks into the early development of rituals and practices, the arrival of foods and styles from around the world, and the birth of the city's landmarks.
It provides fascinating information about the evolution of neighborhoods, the origin of festivals, parties, genres, televisions shows and fashions, as well as evocative snapshots of the past, from the old coffee plantations of the 19th century, the musical effervescence of the 1970's and the 80's, and the festivities of the early 20th century.
Rio Cidade Maravilhosa
Rio de Janeiro is one of the most eclectic metropolises in the world - a vast and truly unique mosaic, comprised of a wide range of social, cultural and physical landscapes. Understanding the city's past is vital in understanding its exceptional and multi-faceted contemporary identity.
Rio's history follows a fascinating trajectory: ranging from early indigenous population to Portuguese colonial rule, and from a monarchy to a republic, and even a military dictatorship. Throughout its various important epochs, the city has generated beautiful architecture, arts, culture, music, food, and a vibrant spirit.
Rio's sea-port made it a region of vital strategic importance in the trade of sugar, gold and coffee and the state was hence made capital of the country in 1763 – a title that it retained on and off for almost two hundred years. The port's position and city's role of capital are widely considered to be two of the most important factors in the expansion and evolution of the somewhat unlikely swampy and mountainous region.
The geographical development of Rio is marked by an extension out from the historical Center and the development of three surrounding regions: the trade-oriented Northern Zone, the posh and touristy Southern Zone, and the newly developed and modern Western Zone.
The region known as Brazil was inhabited for thousands of years by indigenous populations who by some accounts reached the Americas from Asia, by land across Alaska or by sea along the pacific ocean. These semi-nomadic tribes lived as migrant hunters-gatherers, and never developed written records or monumental architecture, therefore not much is known about their history. To this day, many places in the Rio de Janeiro area are still named using indigenous words - the famous beach 'Ipanema' is one example, with 'Ipanema' meaning 'bad waters,' most likely in reference to fishing. The very word 'Carioca,' used today to indicate residents of the city of Rio de Janeiro, is derived from the indigenous word 'kari' oca' meaning 'white house' or 'house of the white man.'
The area where the city stands was 'discovered' on the 1st of January 1502 during a Portuguese expedition led by Gaspar de Lemos, who believed he had reached the mouth of a great river, and named the city 'River of January' accordingly.
In 1565 the Portuguese general Estácio de Sá officially founded the city in an attempt to expel the French who had been fighting to take control of the area for 10 years: he named the city 'São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro,' and until the eighteenth century the city was called just 'São Sebastião.' São Sebastião the First was Portugal's king at the time of the city's creation, march 1st 1565, and he was carrying the same name of the saint that was later made saint patron of the city: São Sebastião.
The French were successfully expelled two years later but continued to battle for dominance for the following fifty years. The coast around Rio de Janeiro attracted Portuguese and French colonists because of the profitable trade of Brazil Wood and sugar, that could be conducted through the port.
In the 17th Century the city was still densely populated by indigenous índios. In fact, by 1660, it was home to an impressive 6,000 indigenous índios, in comparison to only 750 Portuguese and 100 Africans. In the late 17th and early 18th Century, the city became the principal trade point for slaves, as well as gold and precious stones mined in the neighbouring state of Minas Gerais, and for this reason in 1763 the general government was transferred from the city of Salvador in the north-east of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro, making the city the capital of the State.
Throughout the Portuguese colonial era, between 1763 and 1822, Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Brazil. During this period, in part due to its status as capital, and in part for being a vital center of commerce, Rio attracted people from many parts of the world. Immigrants from various parts of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East established activities in the city and in the surrounding areas, giving origin to the culture of assimilation that still now is characteristic of Rio.
In the late 18th Century, an economic crisis struck the city, as other countries in South America were competing with Brazil in the production of sugarcane. The changing tides and fortunes would transform Rio de Janeiro significantly in the following century.
Due to napoleon's ongoing war with Portugal back in Europe, Rio de Janeiro became the temporary capital of Portugal between 1808 and 1821, and it was at this time that the royal court was transferred to Rio onboard of 40 ships. The Portuguese royal family arrived in in Rio in 1808, bringing along 20,000 members of the Portuguese court, as well as refined architectural standards, artists, studious, and academics, and the desire for churches and modern diplomatic practices.
Rio became capital of the Brazilian empire in 1822, further expanding trades and commerce with Europe and the rest of the world. During this period, the principal activity in the capital was the production of coffee, leading to the creation of various farms and the building of many mansions still in existence.
Coffee production significantly boosted the economy and commerce, and later became one of the most important exports of Rio de Janeiro, making coffee popular in all corners of the world on an unprecedented scale.
In 1822, the War of Brazilian Independence began, and Rio de Janeiro became the capital of the new and independent monarchy. Later, the city remained as the capital of the Empire of Brazil until 1889, and finally during the republican years of Brazil until 1960, when the capital was transferred to Brasília.
Throughout its history, Rio de Janeiro was the heart of strong and innovative political and intellectual currents that led to the abolishment of slavery in 1888 and the formation of a Republic in 1889.
With the decline of slave labour vital to coffee and sugarcane plantations, the city started to receive large numbers of European immigrants and former slaves, attracted by the potential for paid work and between 1872 and 1890 the population doubled. This demographic explosion caused a housing crisis which had existed since the mid-nineteenth century, and precarious housing settlements began to emerge atop the city's hills: these settlements would later come to be called 'favelas,' now famous worldwide due to their characteristic look and their important cultural contributions such as the musical genre 'samba' and the development of the spectacular carnival teams that parade every year in the city.
By 1890 about one million people lived in the city, with about a quarter being immigrants - this in addition to former slaves from coffee and sugar plantations freed in 1888 by a decree of princess Isabel.
In the early 20th Century Mayor Pereira Passos undertook wide scale reforms to the urban fabric of the city, building roads, wide avenues and modern buildings, as well as providing asphalt paving to the city centre and surrounding districts. The infrastructure was modelled on Parisian architecture of the time, and is considered some of the most important and influential work to have taken place in Rio de Janeiro's history. This is when the terms 'cidade maravilhosa,' or 'wonderful city,' was born and forever engraved in the city's soul and identity.
At this time the city's heart lay at its centre, delimited on one side by the coastal bay, while the interior was populated by small allotments and farms. With the arrival of electricity towards the end of the 20th Century, the demographic began to change and electric trams enabled people to live at a significant distance from their workplace, expanding the city's boundaries. The old city, close to the sea, was turned into 'Centro' (Center) – region of commerce and business, while the residential urban fabric expanded out along the coast and towards the interior to form the Northern Zone. Expansion had to manoeuvre around the peculiar topography of the city, where mountains are carved through by valleys and lined by beaches.
Between 1920 and and late 1950's Rio de Janeiro became extremely popular with high-end visitors and international celebrities - it was during this period, in 1923, that the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel was inaugurated, and famous movies were filmed.
As of the the 1930's the ocean-front districts of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon, which had previously been conceived of as exotic beach destinations, became highly regarded residential locations, thanks to the opening of the tunnels, and the arrival of tram lines.
Literature of the time extolled the health and social benefits of coastal air and sea bathing and beach and coastal life became the new trend - the mark of sophistication and elite leisure. The South Zone came to be seen as the cultural heart of the city, home to grand hotels, refined restaurants, cinemas, clubs and theatres. The musical genre 'Bossa Nova' was born in these regions and blossomed in the 1960's, 70's. and 80's.
In 1960, the federal capital was transferred from Rio to Brasilia, stimulating the city to find a new identity focusing on being the cultural capital of Brazil.
The creation of tunnels and roads also opened the western coastal stretch up to intense developments. During the 1970s the area witnessed a vastly accelerated urbanization process, allowing large swathes of the affluent population to relocate to the district of Barra da Tijuca as well as further west to Recreio dos Bandeirantes, home to spectacular parks and beaches. Large houses, condominiums, shopping malls and mansions began to populate the western landscape, giving rise to the most moderns districts in the city.
Starting in the 1990's, municipal powers have continuously stimulated city-wide developments, fully mobilizing the urban and ecological potential of the city, and promoting culture, leisure and sporting activities. The beaches have been transformed into leisure spaces for sports and activities such as musical performances and shows, while museums and art galleries have been revitalized and developed across the city. The general and cultural revitalization of the city included hosting important sporting events, such as the FIFA Soccer World Cup in 2014.
An important milestones in the history of the city began in 2008 with the implementation of pacifying police units in several favelas across Rio de Janeiro: these forces significantly reduced levels of crime making the city much safer for living, visiting and conducting business, stimulating a new period of growth and development and highlighting Rio's new and prestigious role on the world's stage.
Rio de Janeiro's culture is marked by its indigenous beginnings, the legacy of colonization, important influences from a wide array of international cultures, and the geographical positioning of the city – its port, mountains and beaches. The city's unique history has sculpted it into a truly organic entity and an living playground of cultures and ideas.