The history of Rio de Janeiro as the city we know today starts in 1502 with the arrival of explorers from Portugal. These early explorers were attracted to the area by the Guanabara Bay and the abundant pau brasil trees that were found along the coast. The pau brasil trees were used to produce highly coveted dyes and bows for musical instruments such as violins. They are the national tree of Brazil and inspired the naming of the country. While a city wasn't immediately founded by the Portuguese, they did establish a successful holding over the Rio area and began exporting pau brasil wood back to their homeland. Other European nations soon took an interest in the commercial possibilities of modern-day Rio and the pau brasil trade, and the French even went as far as to built a fort on one of the Guanabara Bay islands. This led to problems and a significant amount of bloodshed.
When it comes to interesting facts about Rio de Janeiro, it is interesting to consider that it wasn't until 1565 that the city was founded by Portuguese settlers. Battles between the French and the Portuguese in the region raged from 1555 to 1565, with the Portuguese eventually winning out. The Portuguese couldn't maintain the pau brasil trade for much longer, however, as the supply was running out. As such, the land surrounding the city was used to produce sugar. The sugar industry was the city's main industry until the late 1600s. Gold and diamonds were found in the area in the late seventeenth century, which plays a very significant role in the history of Rio de Janeiro. As was true of nearby Paraty, Rio became a port of choice for exporting all the wealth back to Portugal, and hence it started to grow significantly, not only in size, but in importance as well.
The gold and diamond trade in the Rio region helped to attract European settlers in waves in the early 1700's. In 1750, approximately 25,000 people called Rio home, and by 1763, it was designated as the colonial capital of Portuguese America. This is the role that Rio played until 1808. When Napoleon invaded Portugal in 1808, the Portuguese royal family fled to Rio de Janeiro and basically set up court there. The city became the capital of Portugal for all intents and purposes. This is one of the most interesting facts about Rio de Janeiro, and it has a lot to do with the city being named the capital of Brazil once the country became independent in 1822. Prince Pedro I, who led Brazil to independence, saw fit to keep Rio as the capital, perhaps out of convenience. By 1843, his son Pedro II had founded the summer retreat of Petropolis and all was going well on the imperial side of things.
The gold rush in the Rio de Janeiro region started to dry up by the mid-1800s, and as such, coffee production became the main local industry. The State of Rio de Janeiro was Brazil's leading coffee producing region for much of the 1800s, but this industry was severely hampered by the abolition of slavery in the country in 1888. One year later, the history of Rio de Janeiro saw the royal family celebrating its last Imperial Ball at the palatial Ilha Fiscal on November 9, 1889. Just five days later, Brazil became a republic.
In the early 1900s, Rio de Janeiro was experiencing a decline while cities such as Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais were doing quite well. By the 1930s and 40s, however, the opening of various plants, the development of a petroleum industry, and a boost in tourism had helped Rio get back on its feet. The city's landmark luxury hotel, the Copacabana Palace, especially helped to put Copacabana on the map and establish Rio's reputation as a fine beach vacation destination. In the 1960s, Rio might have lost its capital status to Brasilia, but the Tom Jobim song, The Girl from Ipanema, only helped to attract more tourism to the city. Tourism is still a main industry, and when it comes down to it, Rio still remains the country's cultural capital.
When it comes to interesting facts about Rio de Janeiro, no discussion would be complete without mentioning Carnival. Rio Carnival history has its roots in the 1720s. This is when immigrants from Portugal brought with them a sort of festival known as Entrudo. Throwing water at people, and maybe even a little mud or food, was at the heart of the Entrudo festivities. Rio Carnival history sees the old Entrudo trends eventually being replaced by masquerade balls and such by the 1840s. By the 1850s, street parades related to Carnival were adding more flare to the festivities, and by the late 1800s, samba sashayed to the forefront. Also worth noting when it comes to Rio Carnival history is the emergence of the city's samba schools. Today, these schools, the first of which were founded in 1928, organize the Rio Carnival. The best of the bunch compete in the famous Sambadrome parades that have helped to make this Rio festival one of the world's most renowned events, and most visitors who come to Brazil have seen plenty of Rio carnival pictures prior to their arrival.