BRAZIL  |  São Paulo, Brazil Travel Guide
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A Brief History of São Paulo

A Brief History of São Paulo

São Paulo’s roots actually start in the state of Bahia. Jesuit priests arrived in the mid-16th century and attempted to set up schools. They were largely unsuccessful and so dispatched one of their number, Father José de Anchieta, with instructions to find a new location. Heading south, he arrived on a plateau surrounded by rivers and only 35 miles from the coast. In 1554 with the help of local Indian tribes, he built a mission that was both a church and a school. He named it São Paulo (St. Paul). Two years later a new church and three convents were added. São Paulo grew around them, but the mission town remained little known until it became the departure point for the bandeirantes (flag bearers). Their expeditions were designed to look for gold and gemstones, set borders for Portugal, to capture and enslave Indians and, later, escaped African slaves. They cleared trails from São Paulo into the interior and many became vital roads.

By 1725, São Paulo had grown into a small city and a needed economic boost arrived in the form of coffee. The local climate and soil were perfect for growing coffee plants and, with the arrival of a rail line, São Paulo became one of the largest coffee producers in the world. Slaves had been brought to the area to work on plantations, but when slavery was abolished in 1888, new laborers were needed. Immigration was encouraged and workers from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany and Japan arrived to work in both plantations and the factories springing up nearby.

While the city prospered, it wasn’t until after WWII that it became the financial and commercial center it is today. Part of the boom can be attributed to foreign investments, especially in the manufacturing of automobiles. Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen built huge plants here, making São Paulo the center of auto manufacturing in Latin America. São Paulo has an important stock exchange and a huge financial district located on Ave. Paulista and in the historic center of town. There are specialized industries throughout the state. Money has been spent to widen streets, build colleges and cultural institutions, towering skyscrapers, and shopping and entertainment centers. But with no master plan and a haphazard approach, many buildings from São Paulo’s historical past were destroyed. Today, there are few colonial buildings. The modern city has some interesting sections that can be easily explored on foot.

You’ll not be surprised to learn that São Paulo has a smog problem since it has traffic jams, old buses and an industrial park on the outskirts of town.

The city has no beaches, but there are beaches on the coast about an hour or two away.

Last updated October 13, 2008
Posted in   Brazil  |  São Paulo
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