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Rio de Janeiro.

Rio de Janeiro History

Portuguese explorers landed in Guanabara Bay in January 1502. They named the area “Rio de Janeiro” (January River) after mistaking the bay for the mouth of a river. Portuguese knight Estácio de Sá officially founded the city March 1, 1565, with the name São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro (Saint Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro), paying homage to King Sebastian I of Portugal. For sometime, it was referred to as São Sebastião.

Though the main industries in Rio’s first years were fishing and sugar plantations, the discovery of gold and diamonds in the neighboring Minas Gerais state brought an influx of people and an economic boom. With Rio’s significance increasing, the colonial administration moved from Salvador (in northeast Brazil) to Rio in 1763. In 1808, the Portuguese Royal Family moved to Rio in order to escape from Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal, forcing some residents out of their homes in order to make room for the noblemen that followed.

For a closer look at the history of nobility in Rio de Janeiro state, nearby Petrópolis is a great city to visit for a day tour. Referred to as the “Imperial City,” it was home to such noble figures as Emperor Dom Pedro II and Princess Regent Dona Isabel (their tombs can be found in the Catedral São Pedro de Alcântara).

Rio remained Brazil’s capital through the proclamation of independence in 1822 and the overthrowing of the monarchy in 1889. Brasília replaced Rio as the capital April 21, 1960. Rio continues to be an important port for goods and popular destination for tourists, but the intense poverty experienced in some parts of Brazil has created a problem as people seek better means in metropolitan areas. These people make their way to the larger cities and usually settle in favelas, or shantytowns.

Favelas can be somewhat of a shock when entering Rio if you aren’t familiar with them. When poorer Brazilians move to Rio in search of work, they settle into the hillsides, where there is usually no standard electricity or running water. The government fails to recognize these areas as inhabited in many cases, which inhibits proper safe and sanitary development. Favelas are dangerous to its inhabitants because of possible landslides and because of the conflict between police and drug lords. Tourists should avoid favelas unless on accredited guided tours. Obviously, favelas are just as significant in the development of Rio de Janeiro as the high rises in Barra de Tijuca. Despite some efforts to resolve the problem, much more work has yet to be done.

With regard to petty theft and assault on tourists, the best advice is to leave whatever you can in a safe place and carry the minimum amount as possible. If you unfortunately are approached, just give the thief what they want. Do not put up a fight. In some cases, thieves will not display a weapon but will use it if necessary.

Rio’s poverty and crime, though serious issues that need to be dealt with, should not prevent anyone from coming to visit the city. If you are careful about what you carry and how you carry it, you should be as safe as in many other large cities around the world. Be smart, be safe, and have fun! Worrying isn’t allowed in Rio.

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