Musical Theme Inspiration: Vltava by Bedřich Smetana
Architecture: Native American
Portuguese explorers first came across the Rio de Janeiro area in 1502 AD, which was at the time inhabited by four different groups of indigenous peoples. A small fortified settlement was erected at the site, both to deal with the natives and to fend off encroaching attacks from French pirates. On March 1, 1565 the city center was officially founded. The fertile land surrounding the settlement was planted with sugarcane and provided all of the city's early income. The small city grew to about 8,000 people by 1700, but two thirds of these were most probably slaves.
About this time scouts found gold and diamonds in the neighboring hills, generating a huge influx of both wealth and immigrants. The city tripled in size and the colonial capital was transferred here in 1763. Rio continued to wildly grow and the city spilled beyond its fortified walls. Many large romanesque aqueducts were also built at this time, the ruins of which still stand in the city. However, towards the end of the century the mines began to dry up and Central America entered the world economy with a strong sugar market of its own, both of which put Rio in a precarious position. Exports had fallen by more than half of what they were by 1796.
Coffee saved the day for Rio. In 1808 the Portuguese royal family ordered the growing of the bean and resettled themselves in Brazil, bringing a new found prosperity to the colony. Expansion of the coffee plantations gave birth to a new wave of improvements in the city, and large manor homes were built, streets were paved, and fine academic instructions were founded.
In 1822 Prince Pedro I proclaimed Brazil's independence, and named Rio as the capital of the new empire. When the country replaced the monarchy with a republic in 1889, it kept Rio as the capital city. Rio was further transformed into a modern city through the early 1900s as streets were widened, health conditions of its populace were improved, and the surrounding swamps were drained and reclaimed for future building sites. In 1960 the capital was moved to the newly constructed city of Brasilia, and the growth of Rio finally began to slow.
Rio de Janeiro is famous worldwide for its carnival celebrations, the invention of samba music, the Cristo Redentor (a modern Wonder of the World), and its landmark beaches. Unfortunately the city is also famous for its crime, and holds the dubious honor of being one of the most violent cities in the world. Despite this, it continues to attract millions of tourists every year who come to sample its charm, beauty, and relaxed spirit.