About São Paulo

The oldest city in Brazil

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The History of Brazil starts officially on April 22nd 1500, when the Portuguese navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral reached the coast of Bahia, north of São Paulo.
Settling the new lands was not a priority of Portugal. That small country and their brave navigators had just found a maritime route to the Eastern Asian countries; using diplomacy and force, Portugal secured commercial privileges.
Bringing spicies from India and distributing them in Europe was very profitable; bringing settlers to a distant, unknown land, would demand lots of people and lots of attention. If Portugal could, they would just leave Brazil aside for a while, and would keep profiting from the Indian commerce.

However, other nations had interested in Brazil. Stimulated by their countries (which didn't recognize the sovereignity of Portugal), pirates and corsaries of several nationalities (mostly French and English) started to visit the Brazilian coast.
At first, they were interested in collecting pau-brazil (or brazilwood), a kind of tree used to dye fabrics in Europe. Later, the Spaniards found gold and silver in the Western part of South America, and Portugal dreamt of finding the same in Brazil (this would happen only two centuries later). And later on, Frenchmen and Dutch were also searching for a maritime route to the Indians, Portugal realized that they could attempt to establish bases in Brazil.

Portugal still wasn't interested in settling Brazil, but now they had interest in keeping invaders away. In 1530, the King of Portugal sent a fleet to Brazil, with the purpose of exploring their boundaries and planting stones to clarly mark them. The boundaries between the Portuguese and Spanish Americas had been agreed by the Treaty of Tordesilhas, of 1494.

The commander of that fleet was Martim Afonso de Sousa. After arriving in Bahia, he sent ships to explore the Northern coast, and commanded himself the exploration of the Southern coast. The southern boundary of Brazil, as determined by the Tordesilhas Treaty, was in the State of Santa Catarina.
The explorations took nearly three years. Besides mapping the coast, Martim Afonso spoke to the few Europeans who lived in Brazil (left by previous expeditions, including the first one, Cabral's) and the Indians they had become friends with.
Martim Afonso heard stories about tribes of Indians who adorned themselves with silver and gold (these "Indians" were probably the incas, who lived in the northern part of South America). At that time, the easiest way to reach the interior and Eastern lands of South America was by navigating the Rio de la Plata (Silver River), but, even though having attempted to navigate it, Martim knew that the river was situated in Spanish lands.

Martim Afonso them moved northward looking for a place to found a village to signify the sovereignity of Portuguese Brazil. The southernmost coast of Brazil, from Santa Catarina to Paraná, is very straight, with few bays and natural ports; Martim kept moving up, seeking a place where ships could harbor.
On January 22nd 1532, Martim Afonso used the powers granted by the King to found São Vicente (after Saint Vicent, patron Saint of the day). There were other small settlements in Brazil, but São Vicente was the first one to have legal status of village; São Vicente is considered the oldest city in Brazil.
In 1533, Martim left to Portugal. A few years later, he would become one of the Captains of Brazil, the men who received large extensions of land with the incumbence to settle them. Martim Afonso, however, became a successful official in the Indias, and never came back to Brazil. A few decades later, São Vicente would become one of the Brazilian producing center of sugar cane; the city, however, would decline along with the sugar, and never again became a major city in Brazil.

Besides establishing boundaries, the foundation of São Vicente had other goal: provide a way to access the lands of the West. Martim Afonso had learned that the local Indians knew a path up the mountains from São Vicente toward the West.
In subsequent visits, explorers were encouraged to follow the Indians in search of the gold. Also, the Jesuits, religious order with strong presence in the first centuries of Brazilian History, had interest in meeting the Indians and save their souls.
In 1554, gold had not been seen yet, but the Jesuits were founding a small college to educate Indians; the college would become the city of São Paulo; read more about the foundation of São Paulo.

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