Rio is a beauty. But São Paulo - São Paulo is a city.
- Marlene Dietrich
In 1554, the Jesuit priests José de Anchieta and Manuel da Nóbrega established a mission station on the banks of the Rio Tietê in an attempt to bring Christianity to the Tupi-Guarani Indians. Called São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga, it was 70km inland and 730m up, in the sheer, forest-covered inclines of the Serra do Mar, above the port of São Vicente. The gently undulating plateau and the proximity to the Paraná and Plata rivers facilitated traffic into the interior and, with São Paulo as their base, roaming gangs of bandeirantes set out in search of loot. Around the mission school, a few adobe huts were erected and the settlement soon developed into a trading post and a base from which to secure mineral wealth. In 1681, São Paulo - as the town became known - became a seat of regional government and, in 1711, it was made a municipality by the king of Portugal, the cool, healthy climate helping to attract settlers from the coast.
With the expansion of coffee plantations westwards from Rio de Janeiro, along the Paraibá Valley, in the mid-nineteenth century, São Paulo's fortunes looked up. The region's rich soil - terra roxa - was ideally suited to coffee cultivation, and from about 1870 plantation owners took up residence in the city, which was undergoing a rapid transformation into a bustling regional centre. British, French and German merchants and hoteliers opened local operations, British-owned rail lines radiated in all directions from São Paulo, and foreign water, gas, telephone and electricity companies moved in to service the city. In the 1890s, enterprising "coffee barons" began to place some of their profits into local industry, hedging their bets against a possible fall in the price of coffee, with textile factories being a favourite area for investment.
As the local population could not meet the ever-increasing demands of plantation owners, factories looked to immigrants to meet their labour requirements. As a result, São Paulo's population soared, almost tripling to 69,000 by 1890 and, by the end of the next decade, increasing to 239,000. By 1950 it had reached 2.2 million and São Paulo had clearly established its dominant role in Brazil's urbanization: today the city's population stands at around ten million, rising to at least sixteen million when the sprawling metropolitan area is included.
As industry, trade and population developed at such a terrific pace, buildings were erected with little time to consider their aesthetics; in any case, they often became cramped as soon as they were built, or had to be demolished to make way for a new avenue. However, some grand public buildings were built in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and a few still remain, though none is as splendid as those found in Buenos Aires, a city that developed at much the same time. Even now, conservation is seen as not being profitable, and São Paulo is more concerned with rising population, rising production and rising consumption - factors that today are paralleled by rising levels of homelessness, pollution and violence.
Residents of the city, Paulistanos, talk smugly of their work ethic, supposedly superior to that which dominates the rest of Brazil, and speak contemptuously of the idleness of cariocas (in reply, cariocas joke sourly that Paulistanos are simply incapable of enjoying anything, sex in particular). But work and profit aside, São Paulo does have its attractions: the city lays claim to have long surpassed Rio as Brazil's cultural centre, and is home to a lively music and arts world. The city's food , too, is often excellent, thanks to immigrants from so many parts of the world.