Sao Paulo History

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

The beginnings of Piratininga, as the city was formerly known, were celebrated with a mass at the Jesuit chapel at Pateo do Collegio, which can still be seen today. The chapel was built to convert 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 altitude and a cooler climate, 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 soon became the richest in the nation and the coffee boom sparked mass immigration, particularly from Europe, Japan and Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Lebanon. Railroads were then built, connecting São Paulo to other important cities.

Even by the turn of the 20th century, when coffee’s predominance began to wane because of a decline in prices and increased global competition, immigration continued with a growth in the city’s industrial development.

In addition, poor, uneducated workers from Brazil’s northeast also flooded into the city in the hope of economic improvement. Industrialisation initiatives during the 1950s helped the automotive industry to grow – in fact one of the factory workers 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 its industries were steadily replaced by commerce and service trades. Today the city is home to large banks, multinationals, law firms and advertising companies. More recently, the city gained 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, lower middle class although vast numbers of economic poor still habituate the favelas (shanty towns) 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.

It only remains a matter of time before São Paulo cements itself on the international stage as one of the world’s leading cities.

Did you know?
• São Paulo is the only city in the world to have a control tower just for helicopters. There are over 400 helicopters registered in the city.
• The first European in São Paulo was actually a shipwrecked sailor from Portugal called João Ramalho. After washing ashore in 1510 he went on to marry a native inhabitant.
• In 2006, São Paulo’s mayor, Gilberto Kassab, passed the Clean City Law, which banned all billboard advertising. Some 15,000 billboard adverts were removed from the city.