Sao Paulo History

Historically São Paulo has developed in a very different fashion to Brazil’s colonial coastal cities that boast a notable Portuguese heritage such as Salvador.

A mass celebrated in 1554 by Jesuits marked the beginnings of Piratininga as the city was formerly known. The original foundations of the Jesuit chapel built where this mass took place at Pateo do Collegio can still be seen today. The chapel was built to convert the natives to Catholicism and the site was chosen because of its location on a river and between the ocean and fertile lands. São Paulo only officially became a city in 1711.

In the early years, the town was little more than a backwater used as a base by explorers, slave owners and prospectors who wanted to delve into the Brazilian interior and exploit its resources such as precious metals and stones. A gold boom at the end of the 17th century and the subsequent sugar cane production did little to change its relatively low profile status.

But with São Paulo state’s advantages of a cooler climate and altitude, it was only the rise of coffee production in the 19th century that began the city’s rise to eventual economic domination of Brazil. The city became the richest in the nation and the coffee boom sparked mass immigration, particularly from Europe ie Italy, Germany, Lithuania, Ukraine, Poland, Portugal and Spain, as well as from Japan and Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Lebanon. Railroads were built, connecting São Paulo to other important cities.

And even by the turn of the 20th-century when coffee’s predominance began to wane because of a decline in coffee prices and more global competition, immigrations continued as growth more focused on industrial development within the city. In addition, poor, uneducated workers from Brazil’s northeast also flooded into the city in the hope of economic improvement. Industrialization initiatives during the 1950s helped the automotive industry to grow – in fact one of the factory workers in the in the 1960’s and 70’s was none other than Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who went on to become president.

São Paulo continued to grow in population and influence and steadily, its industries were steadily replaced by commerce and service industries. Today the city is home to large banks, multinationals, law firms and advertising firms. More recently, the city is also rapidly gaining a worldwide reputation for its arts and culture, its thriving nightlife and dining scene and as a fashion centre.

Now in the 21st century, São Paulo is the economic powerhouse of Brazil. A recent decade of economic growth in Brazil has seen the development of a large new lower-middle class although vast numbers of economic poor still habituate the favelas ringing São Paulo’s outskirts. Meanwhile, the legacy of immigration is evident today in the city’s diverse population. São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan, whilst its Italian, Arab and Jewish communities are also flourishing.

With the World Cup and Olympic Games imminent, it only remains a matter of time before São Paulo cements itself on the international stage as one of the world’s leading cities.

Edited by Tina Banerjee
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