[Photos by AJ Paris. All Rights Reserved.]
On January 1, 1502 the Portuguese landed on Guanabara Bay. This led to the city being called “River of January” (Rio de Janeiro) because of the formation of the bay out of the river and their erroneous thinking that the bay was a river. Since that time other Europeans tried to get a hold of this area, including the French who had an intense war with the Portuguese for two years.
The European interest in the area stemmed from its sugarcane resources, as well as the gold and other minerals later discovered. Because of this fact, and the fact that it was practically better to ship things out of it than Salvador, which was the capital of that time, Rio became the capital of the Portuguese Americas in the mid 1700s.
In the early 1800s the city was so important to the Portuguese Empire that the Royal family, as well as their court, moved to the city as they escaped from Napoleon. When the country changed hands from Portuguese kings to Brazilian kings, Rio remained the capital just as it did after the country moved from monarch to republic.
Rio played an important part in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Brazil was the largest importer of African slaves, importing nearly 5 million Africans. This led to the fact that today Brazil is home to the largest community of people of African descent in the world not counting Nigeria. Before Africans were imported, and during, the Portuguese also enslaved local natives.
In the 20th Century, Rio became an important cultural city.