Story it is a construction of narratives and, undoubtedly, every place has its narrative built, however small it may be. Therefore, it would be unfair to judge the degree of historical importance of Brazilian cities and put them in a ranking, as if it were possible to compare the intrinsic importance of these narratives. Any city has its historical relevance insofar as it contributes to the identity of its inhabitants, composing the mosaic that we call Brazil.
That said, a list of 5 largest Brazilian cities it needs to be justified by definite aspects, which legitimize the cast and do not fall into the geographical arrogance of large cities. For this reason, I propose a script, a thematic guide, which, at the same time, will serve as a chronological guide and justification for the cities mentioned there to be.
In this itinerary, the insertion of the five cities follows the following major premise: which cities had local experiences that impacted the construction of the national identity in the 19th century? In other words: if “being Brazilian” is the result of an imagined and built community, what cities would be important in this construction?
Cities that built the national identity
During the 17th century, although the seat of government was Salvador, the crown jewel was in Pernambuco. The state coast was the place where most sugar was produced in the world, and Recife, being the capital, attracted attention from several European states, including Holland, which invaded the city in 1630.
The importance of Recife is not only due to the historical heritage left by the Dutch, as for example, the first synagogue in Brazil (Kahal Zur Israel) and the attraction of the most varied artists, but also in the mythology of national construction in the expulsion of the Dutch. The episode known as the battle of the Guararapes, which until today is a major date for the Brazilian army. All of these factors show that our identity formation has a strong relationship with this period and with this city.
Rio de Janeiro
The second scale of the text could also be the last, since, within the analytical framework suggested in the introduction, Rio de Janeiro can be considered the most important historical city in the country. Colony administrative headquarters since 1763.
From 1808, with the arrival of the royal family, the city became the administrative headquarters of the entire Portuguese empire, and RJ would maintain its position as an administrative center in the republic until 1960. So, we are talking about almost 200 years being the political center -Administrative of the country, that is, in periods when Brazil has undergone great changes and transformations, RJ was in focus.
The importance in the construction of nationality during the empire stands out, especially in the Second Reign, with the construction, for example, of the IHGB. The cultural issue is evident with the various historic buildings and museums, such as Paço Imperial, National Library, Municipal Theater, Catete Palace.
For the next city, we will continue in the Southeast and travel to the 18th century. Ouro Preto, at the time still called Vila Rica, was the capital of Minas Gerais and one of the most attractive cities in the period called the Golden Cycle.
The growth was substantial, which encouraged not only the movement of interiorization, but also the construction of a colonial society of urban customs, such as going to the theater and cinemas.
Ouro Preto’s artistic streak is also very striking, the development of a truly Brazilian artistic expression, combining the European influences of Rococo with Baroque. Antonio Francisco Lisboa, Aleijadinho, is considered the largest producer of Baroque art in Brazil and has most of his works exhibited in cities, especially in churches.
In 1980, the historic center of Ouro Preto received the title of Cultural Heritage of Humanity, being the first Brazilian city to have this title granted.
Now, climbing more than 2.5 thousand kilometers, we reach Belém. The fact that it is located in the North of the country stands out, in addition to being one of the states that are part of the so-called Legal Amazon, which aims to plan social development. and economic impact of the regions that comprise the forest.
In addition to being one of the largest natural heritage sites in the world, it is a symbol of national identity as well. Belém was once the most visited city in Brazil at the time of rubber and had a strong architectural development in this colonial period, preserved until today.
The customs are very rich and diverse, especially in gastronomy, the famous Mercado Ver-o-Peso attracts many tourists and stimulates the dynamism of the capital.
Back to the Southeast. São Paulo – the country’s economic capital. Taking a historical step back, it is inevitable to mention perhaps the main agricultural product in the country’s history. Interestingly, it had its first crops in Belém, and then reached the Southeast (RJ and SP). Coffee was consolidated as the basis of the country’s economy from the mid-19th century to the first half of the 20th, and São Paulo was the city that most acted and underwent changes with regard to the factors of the coffee economy. In order to dispose of the product, the first railway in the city and the second in the country, built in 1867, were built.
The dynamism and wealth that flow in the state were reasons for the attraction of more than 4 million immigrants in a relatively short period of time, late 19th and early 20th century, coming mostly from Europe. In the current economy, São Paulo has the highest GDP in Brazil and experts say that, in 10 years, the projection is to be among the 5 largest GDPs in the World.
Building narratives is essential when visiting a place, understanding its origin and studying culture is somehow identifying with its people, making that tour more vibrant and special. This is just a script out of the thousands possible by cities of our country, but it is certainly a path that every historian would like to take.