Easily the most exciting city in South America, Rio de Janeiro is also one of the most prominent medical tourism destinations on the continent. However, long before the city began to draw people on medical tourism looking for the perfect body (whether theirs or someone else's), Rio was a city of diamond miners and sugar cane plantation owners.
Brazil’s most iconic city was officially established in January 1565 by Portuguese settlers who promptly named the city for the month of its founding. With Sugarloaf Mountain acting as a natural deterrent to future invasions, the area seemed like an ideal place to set up camp. At this point, Rio was still populated by native indigenous tribes who numbered around 3,000. The natives depended on fishing and sugarcane plantations for their livelihood.
In the 17th century, when gold and diamonds were discovered in Minas Gerais, a region just north of Rio, the population began to increase. Portuguese settlers began arriving in larger numbers, and Rio soon developed into a prominent port. The city’s blossoming fortunes attracted French pirates who invaded the city on two occasions, only to be firmly expelled both times.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the mines began to dry up, and increased competition from other sugar cane growers in the continent led to a decline in Rio’s fortunes. However, this Rio received an unexpected boost shortly thereafter. The Portuguese royal family temporarily relocated to Rio, making it the capital of Portugal for 13 years.
During this period, Rio witnessed massive growth with many of the city’s famed landmarks (ex: the Botanical Garden and the Royal Library) being built around this time. This was also when Rio’s much talked about socio economic divisions began to take shape. The affluent moved to the area today known as Zona Sul, located between the hill and the sea, while the poor retreated to the Zona Norte.
In 1815, Rio was established as the capital of Brazil. Six years later, the royal family moved back to Portugal, and Prince Dom Pedro I was appointed to rule the colony. After a rebellion, Dom Pedro declared independence from Portugal, and declared himself the emperor of Brazil.
When Dom Pedro abdicated, his son Dom Pedro II took over. Dom Pedro II ushered in an area of great prosperity for cariocas. Transportation, trade, and commerce all flourished under his tutelage. By the time the monarchy was abolished in 1889, Rio had become not just the political, but also the cultural capital of Brazil.