Rio de Janeiro's history is profoundly rich,
varied and multi-cultural - I LOVE RIO 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
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, then called United Kingndom of Portugal and Algarves, 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.