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World Travel Guide > Guides > South America > Brazil > Sao Paulo

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Sao Paulo History

Historically São Paulo has developed in a very different fashion to Brazil's colonial coastal cities.

The beginnings of Piratininga, as São Paulo was formerly known, were celebrated with a mass at the Jesuit chapel at Pateo do Collegio.

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.

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 the rise of coffee production in the 19th century propelled São Paulo towards economic domination.

The city soon became the richest in the nation and the coffee boom sparked mass immigration. Railroads were built, connecting São Paulo to other important cities.

Even by the turn of the 20th century, when coffee's predominance began to wane, immigration continued with a growth in the city's industrial development.

Poor, uneducated workers from Brazil's northeast also flooded into the city. Industrialisation initiatives during the 1950s helped the automotive industry to grow.

São Paulo’s industries were steadily replaced by commerce and service trades. Today the city is home to large banks, multinationals, law firms and advertising companies.

The city has gained a worldwide reputation for its arts and culture, its thriving nightlife and dining scene, and as a fashion centre.

São Paulo is the economic powerhouse of Brazil. The population is primarily lower middle class, though a large working class population still inhabits the favelas ringing São Paulo's outskirts.

Did you know?
• 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.
• Legendary F1 racing driver Ayrton Senna was born in São Paulo in 1960.
• In 2006, São Paulo's mayor, Gilberto Kassab, passed the Clean City Law, which banned all billboard advertising.

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Featured Hotels

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Grand Hyatt

Only in the moderately priced bracket if booked in advance because this is a luxurious residence bearing the hallmarks of quality expected from a Grand Hyatt. Located in the Pinheiros financial district it has all the amenities you could wish for including high speed internet a choice of bars and restaurants 466 rooms and suites and an exemplary spa. The Wine Library bar offers guests a giddying choice of 2 500 bottles. Breakfast included.

Hotel Excelsior

This 198-room hotel in São Paulo with its mammoth convention centre flatters beyond its 4-star billing. The rooms behind Excelsior's art-deco frontage are plain and businesslike yet excellent value. Wi-Fi is free rooms come with LCD TVs and there is a bar and fitness centre onsite. The location is also close by downtown Praça da República with nearby cultural icons such as Teatro Municipal and Edificio Copan. Staff speak English and can help book tickets and tours. Breakfast included.

Hotel Unique

Like a stranded copper-green Noah's ark, renowned architect Ruy Ohtake's fantasy creation is the pinnacle of imaginative design. Every inch of this boutique São Paulo hotel near Ibarepuera Park is surreal. Rooms with arched wooden floors reflect the hotel's curvature, and furnishings are sci-fi chic. A blood-red swimming pool on the rooftop tops off this extraordinary architectural adventure.

Fasano

This hotel's ethos is opulent familiarity, hence why new arrivals are greeted by an inviting sunken lounge bar of plump leather sofas, with reception concealed within a Babylonian brickwork interior. The theme of easy decadence flows into the rooms with lots of wood and timeless leather furnishing. The Italian cuisine within the sparklingly lit Fasano Restaurant, under chef Salvatore Loi's direction, is one of São Paulo's finest. Naomi Campbell and Yoko Ono are among illustrious past clients.

L'Hotel Porto Bay São Paulo

Popular with business clientele yet conveniently enough located off Avenida Paulista to crack the leisure market. The 76 rooms of this Portuguese chain offer ample comfort for those on the move with iPod docking stations and Wi-Fi. With a beautiful falling staircase and striking artworks on the wall, this hotel oozes grandeur, yet comes at a reasonable price.

Staybridge Suites

This modern skyscraper offers good rates for travellers in the thriving commercial district of Itaim Bibi with fabulous vistas towards Moema district from the corporate top floor rooms. The Staybridge is also conveniently incorporated into an open mall with a cinema gym and restaurants so there's no need to risk life and limb crossing busy surrounding roads to go out.