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Rio de Janeiro

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Lat: 22&deg 53' S — Long: 43&deg 17' W, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is the capital city of Brazil.

São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, to give the city its full name, became the vice-regal capital of Brazil in 1763, when the office of Viceroy was transferred from the captaincy-generalship of Bahia, located in the city of Salvador de Bahia, some 1400 kilometers to the north by sea.

Situated on the western side of Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro has one of the finest natural harbours in the world, and today is one of the largest coastal cities in South America.

The Portuguese first saw Guanabara Bay in January 1502, and assumed they had discovered the entrance to a large river (hence the name Rio de Janeiro).

The following year a trading post was established about 4 kilometers south of the Centro district, near what came to be known as Ponto Flamengo (Flamengo Point).

In 1555, French settlers arrived in the bay led by Nicholas Durand de Villegagnon, who had persuaded the French crown to establish a colony for French Protestants based on producing sugar cane and trading in Brazil Wood.

De Villegagnon however proved a tyrant and many colonists returned to France. The Portuguese also sought to establish a settlement and gradually eventually control of the Bay during the 1560s.

In 1640, Portugal regained its independence from Spain, and with the loss of empire in India and East Asia focused on securing control and wealth from Brazil.

Founded in 1565, Rio de Janeiro was the administrative capital of a relatively small captaincy, but one that had long been a major sugar-growing region. After the discovery of gold within Brazil’s southern interior in 1694, the city grew became the main port through which gold was shipped to Portugal, and slaves, equipment and consumer good were supplied to the gold fields.

The wealth and strategic location of the city led to invasion by a French squadron under Jean François Duclerc in 1710. In the resulting battle half of the 1000 or so French troops landed were killed, and those who surrendered were imprisoned and brutally treated. The following year the French again attacked and this time took control of the city, forcing the Portuguese authorities to pay a large ransom crusados, 500 cases of sugar and provisions for their return voyage to France.

After the failure of the French assault on Rio de Janeiro the Portuguese were unchallenged masters of Brazil until the era of the Seven Years War (1756-1763).

The elevation of the captaincy-generalship of Rio de Janeiro to vice-regal status in 1763 occurred as a result of reforms by the Portuguese government aimed at promoting economic growth and the volume of trade between the colony and Portugal. It was also motivated by fear of Spanish aggression. Rio de Janeiro was strategically positioned to protect access to the mining region of Minas Gerais, as well as being a more secure base for defensive action against sea borne Spanish invasion than Salvador de Bahia.

In late 1760s the Viceroy sought to strengthen fortifications on the points of San Juan and Santa Cruz at the entrance to Guanabara Bay, and within the Bay on the strategically located island of Villegagon.

In the 1760s, the city was much smaller than today’s sprawling metropolis, and was largely confined to the broad promontory now known as the Centro (Downtown) district, off shore of which lies the Ilha das Cobras (Island of Snakes).

The most significant part of the city was the Praça do Palácio, a large waterfront square, on the eastern side of which stood the Palace of the Viceroy. In surrounding streets lay the customs house, government buildings, trading company offices and shops.

Gracing many of the hills rising up behind the city were houses of religious foundations or military fortifications.

Related Entries for Rio de Janeiro
People: Rolim de Moura Tavare, Dom Antonio (1709 - 1782)

Places: The Great Road, Guanabara Bay | Pao de Acucar | Brazil | Cabo de Sao Tome | Ilha das Cobras, Island of Snakes

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Prepared by: Turnbull, P.
Created: 15 October 2001
Modified: 10 December 2003

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000071

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