Culture & History
The culture of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil is both diverse and vibrant. The diversity is the result of ethnic and cultural mixing that first occurred in the Portuguese colonial period beginning roughly in the year 1500 and continued with significant immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century. (Click here for a complete timeline on Rio and Brazil’s history).
When the Portuguese first arrived in Rio in the year 1502, they found native Indian tribes that numbered nearly seven million. Today, it is estimated that there are fewer than 200,000 of Brazil’s indigenous people who survived and they mostly inhabit the jungle areas of the Amazon. However, those Indians who did assimilate into colonial Portuguese rule found the Portuguese freely intermarrying and blending their European traditions with Indian rituals.
The colonial period (1530 – 1822) first saw agriculture (and especially sugar) as a cash commodity which brought with it the importation of African slaves. Exploration into the country’s interior resulted in the discovery of gold and later coffee served as the dominant export and source of wealth for the region. African slaves and Indians who provided the labor for the country’s agricultural economy blended their religions and customs with the Portuguese. In fact, the Indians, Africans and Portuguese freely intermarried and the resulting intermingling of the Brazilian population was to a degree not seen elsewhere.
In the late 19th century, when coffee production was at its height, the boom brought with it a wave of nearly one million European immigrants (mostly Italian). In addition, the 20th century also saw large immigrations of German, Spanish, Arab and Japanese. These waves of immigration also play an important role in the country’s culture creating a distinctive multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society.
The 300+ years of Portuguese rule has played the most significant role in Brazil’s culture resulting in its language (Brazilian Portuguese), dominant religion (Catholicism) and historic traditions. However, the real story of Brazil is the ethnic mixing which has resulted in a unique culture with significant "Amerindian and African" influences on the language, religion, dance and cuisine. The diversity has led to many festivals and celebrations that have become known around the world making Brazil and Rio de Janeiro a popular destination for tourists.
In Rio, an early capital of Brazil (Salvador was the first capital), there are many important museums and landmarks that speak to their history and rich cultural diversity. Major cultural assets include the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library); Theatro Municipal (Municipal Theatre); Museu Nacional de Belas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts); Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden); Museu Nacional/UFRJ (National Museum/UFRJ); Academia Brasileira de Letras (Brazilian Academy of Letters); Museu de Arte Moderna (Modern Art) ; and the Museu Histórico Nacional (Natural History Museum).
Today, the Federal Republic of Brazil and its population of more than 200 million are rapidly developing into an economic and cultural leader in South America with increased influence on the international stage. Rio is known the world over for its music and dance (Samba and many other unique genres), its passion for football, spectacular natural scenery and festive spirit. However, visitors are also delighted to discover it unique architecture, focus on the arts, diverse cuisine, respect for the environment and genuine friendliness.
Kiosk. Photo: AF Rodrigues/Rio...
An oasis in the city - Jardim ...
Boating Opportunities at the G...
Surfing at Dusk - Pontal Beach
Babilônia Photo: AF Rodrigues...
"Travel and change of pace impart new vigor to the mind" - Seneca