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Historical Description[]

Portuguese explorers discovered Guanabara Bay in southeastern Brazil on New Year’s Day, 1502. They mistook the inlet for a river mouth and so named the site Rio de Janeiro or ‘river of January.’ Later the French settled there, but the Portuguese returned in 1565 and conquered the area after two years of bloody warfare. The town they established grew wealthy exporting sugar, gold, and diamonds from the interior, and in 1763 it was declared the capital of colonial Brazil.

In response to Napoleon’s march on Lisbon in 1808, Portugal’s royal family and their court fled to Rio de Janeiro, making it the only colony ever to serve as its mother country’s seat of government. It retained this role as Brazil’s first capital following independence in 1822. Elegant hotels and opulent Carnival celebrations made Rio a world-famous tourist destination in the twentieth century, celebrated by popular songs about its Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. Though the government moved to Brasilia in 1960, Rio de Janeiro remains one of the largest and richest cities in Latin America.

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