Rio de Janeiro

Short history

Rio de Janeiro was founded by the Portuguese in 1565 and became crucial for the sugar cane industry, due to the exploitation of slave labor. By the 1700s, it emerged as a vital port for the export of gold and diamonds. The city’s importance further increased in the early 19th century when it became the seat of the Portuguese royal family and court, transforming Rio into the capital of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil, and the Algarves. This era ushered in significant urban and cultural advancements. Following Brazil’s independence in 1822, Rio continued as the national capital until 1960, when the capital moved to Brasília. Rio gained international fame during the 2016 Summer Olympics, and remains a key player in Brazil’s economic and cultural framework.

Geography

Rio de Janeiro, located in Brazil’s southeast, is framed by the Serra do Mar mountains and the South Atlantic. Its varied terrain includes mountains like the iconic Sugarloaf and Corcovado peaks, besides famous beaches, presenting a spectacular beauty. The city’s sprawling coastline is punctuated by the renowned Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Furthermore, the Tijuca National Park, one of the largest urban rainforests in the world, is a green oasis with wildlife and numerous outdoor recreation opportunities. The Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon is situatedwithin the city, while the Guanabara Bay surrounds Rio to the east.

The city’s tropical climate provides warm, wet summers and cooler, drier winters. Benefiting from a pleasant climate all year, Rio de Janeiro is a perennially popular tourist destination. The city’s varied geography leads to distinct microclimates, emphasizing its natural diversity. This mix of beach, mountain, and urban environments makes Rio de Janeiro a compelling case study for environmental and geological research. 

Population

Rio de Janeiro’s population is approximately 6.7 million. The city is a cultural melting pot with a mix of ethnicities including but not limited to Brazilians of Portuguese origin, Afro-Brazilians, Italians, Germans, Spaniards, and Japanese. These diverse origins have created a specific culture reflected in the city’s cuisine, music, and the world-renowned carnival.

The primary religion is Roman Catholicism, with a wide range of other religions practiced, including Protestantism, Spiritism, Candomblé, and Umbanda. Portuguese is the official language, thanks to the historical connection to Portugal, yet the city is marked by a variety of accents and linguistic influences owing to its diverse population. This makes Rio de Janeiro a distinctly global city.

Main sights

  • Christ the Redeemer Statue: Positioned on Mount Corcovado, this famous statue is recognized globally as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. It stands as a symbol of Rio de Janeiro, peace and Christianity.
  • Sugarloaf Mountain: This peak is reachable via a cable car, offering unparalleled views on Rio and its environs. It’s a prime location for capturing the beauty of the city in photos.
  • Copacabana Beach: This world-renowned beach spans 4 km of golden sands, dynamic atmosphere and lively nightlife, making it the epicenter of Rio’s beach scene.
  • Ipanema Beach: Made famous by “The Girl from Ipanema,” the beach is surrounded by sophisticated boutiques, chic dining spots, and breathtaking seaside views.
  • Maracanã Stadium: Known for its football legacy, including hosting two FIFA World Cup Finals, Maracanã is a pilgrimage site for sports fans.
  • Rio Carnival: More than just an event, the Rio Carnival is a spectacular demonstration of parades, costumes, and dancing that highlights the city’s cultural life and passion for samba.

Food

  • Feijoada: Brazil’s national dish, a rich stew of black beans with pork or beef, typically accompanied by rice, collard greens, farofa, and orange slices.
  • Moqueca de Camarão: A shrimp stew flavored with garlic, onions, tomatoes, and coriander, typically served with rice and farofa, reflecting Rio’s coastal essence.
  • Coxinha: A beloved snack in Rio, this tear-shaped chicken croquette is mixed with cream cheese, then breaded and fried.
  • Pão de Queijo: Crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside cheese breads, a satisfying treat at any time of the day.
  • Açaí: The Amazon’s superfood, served frozen with granola, strawberries, and bananas for a cool, nutritious snack.

Fun facts

  • Rio de Janeiro was the capital of Portugal between 1808 and 1821, the only city outside of Europe to have ever been a European country’s capital.
  • The Christ the Redeemer statue is listed among the New Seven Wonders of the World, towering at 30 meters with an 8-meter pedestal, positioned atop Corcovado Mountain, offering splendid views of the city.
  • Rio’s Carnival holds the Guinness World Record as the globe’s biggest carnival, with an average attendance of two million people each day during the event.
  • The Maracanã Stadium witnessed a crowd of 199,854 people during the 1950 FIFA World Cup final, the largest audience ever for a World Cup final.
  • Copacabana Beach’s promenade is famously adorned with a black and white wave pattern, in honor to Rio’s seaside lifestyle, courtesy of Roberto Burle Marx.