Rio de Janeiro (city, Brazil)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Rio de Janeiro (city, Brazil)

Rio de Janeiro (rē´ō də zhänā´rō, Port. rē´ŏŏ ŧħĬ zhənĕē´rŏŏ) [Port.,=river of January], city (1990 pop. 5,533,011; 1995 metropolitan area est. pop. 10,181,000), capital of Rio de Janeiro state, SE Brazil, on Guanabara Bay of the Atlantic Ocean. The second largest city and former capital of Brazil, it is the cultural center of the country and a financial, commercial, communications, and transportation hub. It has an international airport and a subway. Rio, as it is popularly known, has one of the world's most beautiful natural harbors. It is surrounded by low mountain ranges whose spurs extend almost to the waterside, thus dividing the city. Among its natural landmarks are Sugar Loaf Mt. (1,296 ft/395 m); Corcovado peak (2,310 ft/704 m), site of a colossal statue of Jesus; and the hills of Tijuca (3,350 ft/1,021 m) and Gávea (2,760 ft/841 m).

The city acquired its modern outline in the early 1900s, and extensive public sanitation and remodeling are continuing. Hills have been leveled, tunnels bored (the longest underground urban highway, linking the northern and southern sections of the city, opened in 1968), parts of the bay filled, parks laid out, and beautiful palm-lined drives built to connect the various districts. Favellas, or slums, are interspersed throughout the city; they have been plagued by drug-gang-related crime since the late 20th cent., but a concerted federal, state, and local effort to break gang power began in 2010.


Rio's harbor is deep enough for the largest vessels to come alongside the wharves, which lie near the city center. Through the port flows the major portion of Brazil's imports and exports (iron ore, manganese, coffee, cotton, meat, and hides). Rio is also a distribution center for the coastal trade. The city's manufactures include textiles, foodstuffs, household appliances, cigarettes, chemicals, leather goods, metal products, and printed material. There are two major airports.

Rio's climate is warm and humid, and although the city remains a major tourist center, its success has been hampered by a serious crime problem. Of particular attraction are the crescent-shaped beaches, especially Ipanéma and the Copacabana, with its mosaic sidewalks. The most popular holiday is the pre-Lenten carnival, with its colorful street processions and reveling Cariocas (citizens of Rio).

Points of Interest

Examples of Rio's famous modern architecture are the ministry of education, the Brazilian press association headquarters, and the museum of modern art. More recent buildings of interest include the Cidade das Artes (2013), home of the Brazilian Symphony Orchestra, and the Rio Museum of Art (2013). Older buildings house the national library, the municipal opera house, and several museums. The Itamarati Palace is also noteworthy. Foremost among educational institutions are the Univ. of Guanabara (formed 1920 as the Univ. of Rio de Janeiro), the Univ. of Brazil, now partly housed in University City on Guanabara Bay, and the Catholic Univ.; there are also military and naval academies and the Oswaldo Cruz biological research center and other scientific institutes. Notable churches include the ornate Candelária Church, the 18th-century Church of Nossa Senhora da Glória, the 17th-century Franciscan convent, and a 16th-century Benedictine monastery. Rio has beautiful subtropical parks, including the Quinta da Boa Vista (a former estate of the emperors) and the botanical garden (founded 1808). The sports stadium is one of the world's largest.


According to tradition, the Rio de Janeiro area was visited in Jan., 1502, by Portuguese explorers who believed Guanabara Bay to be the mouth of a river; it was therefore named Rio de Janeiro. It is more likely that the region was discovered in 1504 by Gonçalo Coelho. In 1555 the French Huguenots established a colony, but they were driven out (1560–67) by Mem de Sá, governor-general of the Portuguese colony of Brazil. At the same time the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro was founded by Mem de Sá's cousin. The settlement was captured and held for ransom by the French in 1711. Rio gained importance in the 18th cent., when it was designated the shipping point for all gold from the interior. It replaced Bahia (now Salvador) as the capital of Brazil in 1763 and subsequently became capital of the exiled royal court of Portugal (1808–21), the Brazilian empire (1822), and the federal republic (1889). It was superseded as capital by Brasília in 1960. In 2009 the city was chosen to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.


See J. E. Periman, The Myth of Marginality: Urban Poverty and Politics in Rio De Janeiro (1976); B. Weber, O Rio de Janeiro (1986); C. Pickard, The Insider's Guide to Rio de Janeiro (1986); J. Perlman, Favela: Four Decades of Living on the Edge in Rio de Janeiro (2010).

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