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Impressive Rio Landscape | © 12019 / Pixabay
Impressive Rio Landscape | © 12019 / Pixabay
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How Rio de Janeiro was Once the Capital of a European Country

Picture of Will Lees
Updated: 8 May 2018
Rio de Janeiro is easily the most iconic city in Brazil. It was a bustling hub and most active port in the ‘New World’ and served as the capital of Brazil for nearly 200 years until the creation of the current capital, Brasilia, in 1961. But Rio de Janeiro was not only the capital of Brazil, read on to find out more.
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Rio from Sugarloaf Mountain | © assy / Pixabay

As the Spanish conquered their way down the western half of South America, the Portuguese had a blank map in regards to the east and claimed the resource dense area, which became the Portuguese Empires largest state, Brazil. As the centrally and strategically located port of Rio de Janeiro began to grow, the primary capital of Salvador was stripped of its crown which was handed, in 1763, to Rio de Janeiro.

As the Portuguese began to expand, and settle more and more of Brazil, the future could not look brighter for the empire, but uneasy times back home in Europe, were painting a different picture and a tyrannous man’s own personal agenda would change the shape of history for both Brazil, and Portugal. In October 1807, as Napoleon Bonaparte’s army was commanding its way west through Europe, Spain agrees to sign a secret treaty with France, in which they planed to divide Portugal and simultaneously invade the country. Due to their alliance, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland come to the aid of the Kingdom of Portugal and declared war on both France and Spain in what became known as the Peninsula War.

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Portrait of Lisbon | © rmac8oppo / Pixabay

Foreseeing an inevitable invasion, the Royal Family escaped the nation’s capital of Lisbon just days before it came under siege. They made their way across the Atlantic in seek of refuge, under the protection of the British Royal Navy, in Brazil. Landing in the inaugural capital of Brazil, Salvador, Prince John signed a law opening trade routes between “friendly nations” particularly and unsurprisingly with Great Britain, which broke a previous agreement that Brazil was to only trade directly with Portugal.

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Napoleon Before Peninsula War | © tonyneton / Flickr

In spring of 1808, Prince John and the Portuguese Royal Court arrived in Rio de Janeiro, and then in December, as the year came to a close, Prince John created the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves, elevating the status, rank and administrative independence of Brazil, an enormous foundation towards gaining future independence. Now, with all the nations sitting on the same pedestal, and the Royal Family being situated in Rio de Janeiro, the city became the capital of the Kingdom, and the Royal Family remained there until Napoleon’s defeat in 1814. It was not until 1821, that the Royal Family departed Brazil for Lisbon, but by this time migration from Portugal had increased, the population of Rio de Janeiro had grown significantly and the city had transformed itself into an economic capital in South America.

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Capital of Portugal Today | © nuno_lopes / Pixabay

Rio de Janeiro remained the capital until 1822, a total of 13 years, but having served as not only refuge for the Royal Family, but also the capital of the kingdom, they rightfully refused the demands by the Portuguese Cortes to return to the status of a colony once again, and this led to the independence of the Kingdom of Brazil, on September 7th, 1822 drawing a curtain on the new nations colonial dominance from Portugal, which lasted 322 years. As the Spanish Empire was fighting a number of revolts on the western side of the continent, the events in Europe which forced Portugal to move its capital to Brazil became the backbone of one of South America’s only peaceful transititions to independence.