Rio de Janeiro

Ronald Raminelli

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online February 2013 | | DOI:
Rio de Janeiro

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  • History of the Americas
  • European History
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  • Regional and National History


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From the 17th century on, the city of Rio de Janeiro was an important urban center in the southern Atlantic, connected to Lisbon, Buenos Aires, Angola, the Mina Coast in western Africa, and Mozambique. Later on, the city began to receive ships heading for the southern Pacific, in particular the British fleet on its way to Australia. Dating from the 16th century, the foundation of the city gave rise to war waged by the Portuguese, French, and Tupi Indians over the control of Guanabara Bay. The city’s prominence as a regional center only began after Angola was freed from the subjugation of the Dutch. Without support from the metropolis, the local elite formed a victorious army and navy and resumed the slave trade from the ports of Angola. This trade promoted the growth of both the city and the sugar plantations, just as later on it supplied the labor force to exploit the gold deposits discovered in Minas Gerais. Rio de Janeiro was a port of entry and departure, connected as it was both to the vast interior, with the gold mines, and to the Atlantic, where merchants traded African slaves, sugar, rum (cachaça), and later on textiles from Asia. Indeed, urban growth was linked not only to the production of gold and to the influx of adventurers hailing from the Portuguese kingdom and the Crusades, but also to the production of sugar and rum. Even before it gained the status of capital of the State of Brazil, the city bore an enormous political and military influence on the captaincies of the south, all of which were subordinate to the governor of Rio de Janeiro. In 1763, already as capital, it was the center of the struggles against the Spanish on the southern borders and intensified the circulation of merchandise, arms, and soldiers. The great administrative, military, and judicial apparatus that survived until Brazil became independent was created for this very purpose. In 1808 the city received the Prince Regent and the Portuguese nobles taking flight from the Napoleonic Wars. Rio de Janeiro then became the capital of the pluricontinental Portuguese Empire after Lisbon was taken over by French troops. In addition to its political prominence, the city that was previously populated by a multitude of slaves, freed people of color, mestizos, and a few white people began to receive European immigrants, merchants, and agents from the Old World spurred on by the opening of the ports to “friendly nations.” In such circumstances, the city enjoyed remarkable growth and modernization. Mention should also be made of the fact that the transfer of the court included the first official printing press, museums, academies, libraries, newspapers, and leaflets; the last in particular, which had been prohibited, played a crucial role in refining the habits of the population and stimulating political debates, especially during the process of independence between 1821 and 1822. Thereafter, the city was transformed into the political center and the cradle of the nation, developing into a highly efficient web that was responsible for keeping Brazil’s regional elites united.

Article.  8490 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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