- During some centuries Brazil was home to some hundreds of thousands of Indians, belonging to the Tupi, Ge, Aruak, and Carib groups. Human territorial density was very low, and the concentration of power and the degree of organization were very little when compared to the Incas or the Mayans.
- April 22, 1500: Pedro Alvares Cabral, a Portuguese explorer, reached the coast of Brazil, at Porto Seguro, in Bahia, where they met the Pataxos Indians, the first tribe ever contacted by Europeans in South America (they still can be visited).
- The name of Brazil is associated to the name of a particular tropical hard wood, explored by the first Portuguese.
- Indian population was highly scattered across the territory. Calculations diverge substantially, ranging from 1 to 5 millions.
- The small number of Indians (aggravated by diseases and warfare with colonialists) stimulated the Portuguese to the begin importation of African slaves.
- In the first half of the 17th century, the Dutch and the French also settled themselves in Rio de Janeiro and Recife region, but not for many years. The Portuguese expelled them and many of the Dutch that were settled in Brazil moved to a new colony on the island of Manhattan. Brazil is, in this way, connected to New York City's formation.
- African slaves were, at first, mainly workers of sugar plantations. The sugar was the first big business line implemented in Brazil by the Portuguese.
- A significant numbers of slaves escaped from the sugar plantations and founded independent quilombos in remote areas. Portuguese military expeditions against them often failed. Final destruction of quilombos was only achieved in late 1600s, by the Bandeirantes, a well organized south Brazilian force based in Sao Paulo region that is largely responsible for the unity of Brazil.
- The relationship between the African slaves and the Portuguese colonialists didn't reach the bitterness and the white dominance of North America's. Black people resisted more effectively in Brazil and their traditions and religion are still well visible in Brazilian states as Bahia.
- Around 1700 the gold cycle began, after discovering gold near Minas Gerais, not far from Rio de Janeiro. The gold led to the development of the central interior of Brazil. Rio de Janeiro replaced Salvador da Bahia as the Brazilian capital in 1763.
- In 1807, King John VI of Portugal took refuge in Rio de Janeiro, after the invasion of Portugal by Napoleon, and Brazil became the seat of the Portuguese empire.
Image on left: D. Pedro I
- The wonders of Rio de Janeiro and the tropical life of Brazil had such an impact in the royal Portuguese family that its members remained in Brazil even after Napolean was defeated. The popular discontentment in Portugal forced King John VI to return to Lisbon, but, meanwhile, Dom Pedro I - son of the king John VI - and popular Brazilian forces declared Brazil's independence in 1822. I'm staying, said D. Pedro I, in defiance to a decree from Lisbon requiring his return.
Image on left: Tiradentes
- Just thirty years before, in 1789, there was a preliminary movement for brazilian independence, led by Tiradentes (Tooth Puller, the nickname of a merchant who exercised also the activity of dentist and physician). The rebellion failed and Tiradentes was publicly hanged in Rio and his body cut into pieces (Tiradentes is, nowadays, a national Brazilian hero, and the date of is martyrdom a national holiday).
- Pedro II (1825 - 1891) was the second and last emperor of Brazil. He was an intellectual and a reformist, responsible for the abolition of slavery. But its success as a ruler was very limited. After some conflicts with neighbouring countries, discontentment drove Brazil to go for a republican system. The royal summer palace and facilities can still be visited in Petropolis, a few miles from Rio de Janeiro.
- Near the 20th century came the rubber cycle, and great fortunes were made in places like Manaus (the rubber plant was an endogenous Amazonian plant). The gained fortunes were so great that the richest Brazilian rubber barons in Manaus used to light their cigars with bank notes. Some magnificent monuments of Manaus, like the Opera House, are a testimony of this period. The rubber cycle collapsed with Asia's competition, after the "theft" of some Brazilian rubber plants.
- The rubber cycle was followed by the coffee and cattle ranchers cycles. For more than 50 years, Brazilian politics were deeply influenced by these productions and by the industrialization and the emergence of Sao Paulo - currently a metropolis of more than 40 million people - as the economic and industrial heart of Brazil. Most of the economic power of Brazil is now centred in Sao Paulo,some adjacent regions like the Minas Gerais state (capital: Belo Horizonte), and, to some extent, Rio de Janeiro.
- In the 1960s, a new political capital was established at Brasilia, replacing Rio de Janeiro as Brazul's capital. Its goal was to encourage the development of the interior. During two decades, from the mid sixties to the mid eighties, Brazil was ruled by military governments, with some economic success if measured by its production growth.
- Democratic government was only restored in 1985. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, elected in 1994, has been responsible for the Real Plan, an economic plan that has created a new currency (the real) and holds inflation under control.
If you are looking for historic places, consider these three ones: Parati, Olinda and Ouro Preto. Belo Horizonte and Diamatina are also good options. They are true gems of the colonial Brazil, as its historic heritage of the Portuguese colonial times is extremely well preserved in these towns.
Parati is the better option for those who are accommodated in Rio de Janeiro (or Sao Paulo), especially since Paraty is located in an extremely beautiful beach zone: the Costa Verde, with astonishing places like Angra dos Reis.
Ouro Preto and Belo Horizonte
Diamantina, Ouro Preto (Black Gold, in English) and its state capital, Belo Horizonte (an hour away from Rio by plane), were at the center of 18th century's Brazilian gold rush (Ouro Preto is, according to an Unesco declaration, a world cultural monument). With its many museums, churches, colonial houses and streets, Ouro Preto, Diamantina and Belo Horizonte deserve a visit by those who love ancient baroque architecture and historical places.
Belo Horizonte is the capital of Minas Gerais state and the great hub of a vast region that includes not only Ouro Preto but also small towns like Sabar, Diamantina or Mariana, which are other terrific examples of colonial and baroque architecture.
Parati is amazing in its architecture, with one big advantage over Ouro Preto or Belo Horizonte: it's located at the coast, not far from Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, in a marvellous beach zone, the Costa Verde, with a luxurious and famous resort, Angra dos Reis.
Olinda (Oh beautiful, in English) is a small town, just some miles outside a big northeastern Brazilian city: Recife. Olinda is an Unesco world cultural monument. Here, time didn't destroy the ancient colonial buildings. It's truly spectacular and also a great beach destiny.
Rio de Janeiro is not the ideal place for an historical reconstitution. Parati or Ouro Preto, a few hours car drive away from Rio de Janeiro, are better suited for that purpose.
There are, though, some examples of cultural, architectonic and historical spots you may want to consider in Rio:
Museu Nacional das Belas Artes (Fine Arts Museum)
Igreja da Candelaria (Church)
Sao Bento (Church)
Senhora da Gloria (Church)
Santo Antonio (Monastery)
Largo da Lapa (Historic quarter)
All these sites are in the old downtown and, amongst them, the most interesting is, certainly, the Museu Nacional das Belas Artes; it houses paintings of the most reputed Brazilian painters. Rio's other museums, of which there are many, have a much more specific theme:
Museu Nacional do Indio (National Museum of Indians)
Museu Naval e Oceanografico (Naval and Oceonographic museum)
Museu da Arte Moderna (Museum of Modern Art)
Museu Nacional (National Museum: historical)
Museu da Republica (Republican Museum: historical)
Carmen Miranda museum, with artist costumes and personal possessions.
Out of city, a two hours car drive away, there is Petropolis, the summer residence of the ancient Brazilian royal family, a rather interesting historic place.
Salvador da Bahia was the first capital of Brazil. The pace of its daily life, its amazing traditions, some of its streets and its churches, namely in the downtown and Pelourinho, are truly historical places.
In some sense, Salvador is a living example of history. Its traditions tell us more about the historical Brazil, its life styles, how past centuries were, than anywhere else. Events like the Blessed Tuesday, connected to the weekly Sao Francisco de Assis Church tradition of giving out bread to the poor at Tuesdays, are extremely interesting to observe. The donations are a pretext for a massive weekly explosion of music, dance and animation around the church and in Pelourinho, lasting at least until midnight.