Colonial cities

Upon its discovery by Pedro Álvares Cabral in AD 1500, Brazil was claimed for Portugal. Large scale colonisation of the country began in the 1530s with towns and cities appearing along the coastline.

The earliest settlers were more interested in agriculture than imperial expansion, so little effort was made to progress into Brazil’s interior until after 1600. São Paulo, established by Jesuit priests in 1554, was the only non-coastal settlement at this time.

From the 1600s, São Paulo began to expand as the infamous bandeirantes set out on expeditions from the settlement, first to capture slaves, then to find gold, which was discovered in Minas Gerais in the 1690s, bringing new settlers to the area.

The first football tournament in Brazil, the Campeonato Paulista, was founded in São Paulo by an Englishman, Charles Miller, who was also the tournament’s top scorer in 1902.

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  • 1

    Rosary; Bahia; 19th century 


    The belief in the importance of spreading the Christian faith was a central part of the perceived justification for European colonisation. A sympathetic understanding of indigenous culture and language lead to success for the missionaries in Brazil, who at times fought against other colonists to prevent the enslavement of the native people.

  • 2

    Diamond container; Brazil; 19th century 

    Diamond container

    After the gold-rush of the 1690s, precious stones and diamonds were also discovered in Brazil. Thousands of African slaves worked in the diamond mining industry.

    This bamboo tube was constructed with a wooden stopper to make a suitable container for travellers to discretely carry diamonds.

  • 3

    Pair of clogs; Bahia; 19th century 


    Besides the Portuguese, other nations were also involved in the colonisation of Brazil. The French made unsuccessful attempts to establish coastal colonies and the Dutch controlled a large area in the north-east of the country between AD1581 and AD1654. These clogs, similar to Dutch clogs but collected in Brazil, show how European influence and fashion permeated the colonial cities.

  • 4

    Apron; Munduruku people; late 19th - early 20th century  


    As city communities grew and became more cosmopolitan, European styles, African influences and indigenous techniques merged to inspire the diverse material culture for which Brazil is famous today. This Munduruku apron demonstrates how materials brought into Brazil by colonial traders spread quickly across the country.