Are you looking for vacation ideas? How about South America? We have fun facts about Brazil in this post. Since you are a traveler, you are probably looking for destinations or vacations. Brazil is somewhere you should explore. Maybe it’s already on your bucket list? As a traveler, here are some fun facts to consider about Brazil.
Brazil is a magnificent country of contradictions: Stunning but dangerous landscapes; dazzling wealth and crushing poverty; indigenous and European cultures. We look at Brazil and its history to prepare for our own visit.
Every South American country today speaks Spanish except one: Brazil. Why is that? Because the Portuguese colonized Brazil, while the Spanish colonized the rest of South America.
In the fifteenth century, Portugal had their own cartographers and hydrographers because they were sailing all over the world. Prince Henry the Navigator played a key role in the early days of the Portuguese Empire and its 15th century maritime discoveries and expansion. Formally, the brother of the king of Portugal was Infante Dom Henrique of Portugal, Duke of Viseu. He was known as Prince Henry the Navigator, though he wasn’t a great seaman. His nickname was given to him by English-speaking scholars for his patronage and leadership of maritime expeditions.
It was Prince Henry who turned his countrymen south to the Sahara to find gold and pepper. Then, the Portuguese pushed steadily south, hugging the African coast. They made it to Cape Verde and established an outpost in the Azores. The Portuguese sailed caravels, which used special equipment that allowed them to travel the Atlantic Ocean safely and efficiently.
Portuguese ships traveled farther south. In 1473, they crossed the equator. They reached the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa in 1487. This opened the Indian Ocean and trade routes to Asia. You might remember Christopher Columbus was looking for Asia by sailing west. He bumped into the Americas and named them the West Indies because he believed he was close to Asia.
In 1494, the name New World was first used for the Americas. Spain and Portugal decided to determine spheres of influence for both exploration and trade. The Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 gave Portugal all the lands east of a line of longitude running 370 leagues west of Cape Verde; Spain received all land to the west. Nobody consulted England or any other countries. Nor did they consult with the people already living in the Americas.
In 1500, a Portuguese squadron on the way to the Indian Ocean steered west into the Atlantic Ocean to avoid adverse winds. To its surprise the squadron found land that lay east of the treaty line. It was Brazil. The explorer, Pedro Alvares Cabral, claimed the area for the Portuguese Empire.
Of course, people were already living in Brazil before the Portuguese discovered it. Some of the earliest human remains found in Brazil date back at least 11,000 years. The earliest pottery in the Western Hemisphere was found in Brazil dating back to 6000 BC.
When the Portuguese arrived, the indigenous population numbered more than seven million. They were hunter-gatherers and fishermen who also survived by planting seeds in the verdant soil. After discovering Brazil, the Portuguese returned to Portugal. But they planned to return with supplies and people who could defend the port so that they could start trading resources from the New World.
The vastness of North and South America continents was not yet known. An Italian in the service of Portugal, Amerigo Vespucci, determined that the land mass was not a small island but was a continent. It soon was named after him: America. In 1522, Ferdinand Magellan, another Portuguese citizen, sailed a Spanish ship all around the globe.
More explorers would head to America. A Dutchman, Gerhard Kremer, also known as Mercator, printed the first map that was rolled as a cylinder. On the map, Europe was at the center of the world and America was visible. England, France, Spain and the Dutch used the sea to explore and conquer lands for their countries.
The Portuguese colonized Brazil to explore and gain new lands and to extract resources to which they didn’t already have access. The French and the Dutch occasionally threatened the Portuguese. But the Portuguese protected their primary settlement port. The Dutch moved north and invaded the northeast region for a few decades. The French failed to succeed in their invasions.
Dom Joao III, the kin fog Portugal, divided the Brazil into fifteen captaincies or land divisions. He installed his family and friends connected to the royal court to oversee these areas.
The Portuguese also began exporting some of Brazil’s resources, such as brazilwood. It is thought that the word brazil comes from the Portuguese word for brazilwood, a tree that once grew plentiful along the Brazilian coast. They considered brazilwood a natural resource available for extraction and trade. But harvesting large quantities of the wood required labor.
Though Portugal attempted to control the indigenous people by force, the natives rebelled. This led to the Portuguese treating the indigenous peoples with more respect, though they still were considered lower class. But resource extraction still needed a large labor force. African slaves were the answer.
Arabs controlled most of the slave trade at the time. Many Westerners think most African slaves were traded to the United States. But the United States accounted for only three percent of the total. Most African slaves ended up in Brazil.
British North America (minus North America)
The large number of African slaves imported to Brazil made a huge and lasting impact on the ideals and customs of Brazil. And as more slaves came over, indigenous people relocated to outside the colonial areas of Brazil. Initially, they came to harvest brazilwood. But soon, they were put to work on sugar plantations.
One of the most famous mountains in Rio de Janeiro is Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf Mountain. The Portuguese shipped sugar from Brazil in conical molds made of clay. The mountain reminded them of that shape.
Slavery in Brazil lasted several centuries. The British abolished slavery throughout their empire in 1833. Although the British Navy interrupted the trading of slaves, slavery existed for another fifty years before it was completely abolished. Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, without war. By then, more than four million slaves had been brought to Brazil.
By the end of the 17th century, the sugar market was in decline. Gold was discovered in the 1690s and became the new backbone of Brazil’s economy. The Brazilian Gold Rush attracted thousands of new settlers to Brazil from Portugal and its colonies around the world.
The Portuguese also discovered deposits of diamonds in 1729 in the region now known as Diamantina. UNESCO now protects this region as a World Heritage Site. All these riches did not go unnoticed. In 1807, Spanish and Napoleonic (French) forces threatened the security of continental Portugal, causing Prince Regent Joao to move the royal court from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. They needed to create infrastructure for trade and established many of Brazil's first financial institutions, including a National Bank and stock exchanges.
In 1821, Brazil annexed Uruguay, which became a province of Brazil. When Prince Joao returned to Portugal to govern, he left his son, Prince Pedro, as Regent of the Kingdom of Brazil. Prince Pedro declared Brazil to be independent and named himself as the first emperor of Brazil. In 1824, Brazil adopts its first constitution. The United States then recognized Brazil as an independent country.
Small territorial conflicts occurred until 1864, when a major war began with Paraguay. Both Argentina and Uruguay joined Brazil in the war. The War of the Triple Alliance began when Paraguay invaded Uruguay. The war ended in victory for Brazil and its allies. But all of the countries suffered terribly.
Brazil turned its focus to coffee, which had become a major item of worldwide trade. Farmers first grew coffee in Amazonia in 1727. In the late 18th century, it spread across Brazil. From the middle of the 19th century, coffee rose in worldwide popularity. Coffee was Brazil’s primary export until 1964. Brazilians built a network of railways across their country to transport coffee to the ports for export.
Rubber and cacao also became popular exports. The economy thrived but primarily for the ruling class. In 1889, the army overthrew the monarchy, and Brazil became a republic.
With coffee, rubber and cacao in large supply, many Europeans emigrated to Brazil. From the 1890s to the 1920s, the largest group of immigrants came from Germany, Italy and Portugal. Large numbers of Japanese immigrants also made the move to Brazil.
The stock market crash of 1929 affected the world economy. Demand for Brazilian coffee collapsed. The government tried to help plantation owners by buying the coffee they couldn’t sell. Popular discontent led to a revolution and an overthrow of the government. General Getulio Vargas became president (and dictator) of Brazil in 1937.
Vargas nationalized the oil, steel and electricity industries to create a socialist welfare state. In 1942, Brazil joined the Allies during World War II. After the war, Vargas resigned, and the country held elections.
Brazilian leaders came and went in rapid succession. With democracy struggling in 1964, the army staged another coup. Free elections in Brazil didn’t return until 1994. In 2011, Dilma Rousseff became the first female president of Brazil. Brazilians reelected her in 2014. But she was impeached and removed from office in 2016.
Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranks the ninth largest in the world. That might give you the impression Brazil is prosperous. But it ranks only 73rd in GDP per capita. There are definitely very rich people living in Brazil. In 2016, Forbes ranked Brazil as having the 12th largest number of billionaires in the world. But most Brazilians still live near the poverty line.
Brazil is crazy about sport. It has hosted grand prix racing since the 1930s. Brazil has produced three Formula 1 world champions: Emerson Fittipaldi (2 times), Nelson Piquet (3) and Ayrton Senna (3).
Brazilians are some of the biggest soccer (futebol) fans in the world. The Brazilian National team has won the FIFA World Cup a record five times on four different continents. Brazil has hosted the World Cup twice in 1950 and 2014. And Rio hosted the Olympics in 2016. That year, the Brazilian national team won gold in men's soccer.
Tourism quickly is becoming a major industry in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo rank as two of the most visited destinations in the country. They offer tourists views into the beauty of Brazil and its history. Today, Brazil is the most visited country in South America.
Tourists travel to Brazil for many reasons, including the beautiful beaches and bays that line the coast. Brazil also includes the Amazon River and many other rain forests. UNESCO has designated 21 World Heritage Sites in Brazil, including 14 cultural and seven natural sites. UNESCO’s tentative list includes 23 other locations.
Three World Heritage Sites are in Rio de Janeiro: Paraty/Ilha Grande, the Carioca Landscapes Between the Mountain and the Sea (which includes Sugarloaf Mountain and the Tijuca National Park) and the Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site.
Another popular tourist site is Iguazu National Park. Bordering Argentina, Iguazu Falls ranks as one of the world's largest waterfalls and is home to many rare and endangered species, such as the giant anteater.
We’re excited to visit Brazil. We’ll post about what we see and learn in this beautiful country.