Rio de Janeiro, was discovered on January 1, 1502 by Portuguese navigators who mistook the entrance of Guanabara Bay for the mouth of a river (Rio). Sixty years later because French traders in search of pau-brasil (Brazilwood) were routinely "visiting" the area the Portuguese crown established the city of Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro. After 2 years of bloody conflict the French were expelled and settlers began to cultivate the surrounding fertile lands. In the beginning of the 18th century the city's importance and population increased immensely as it became the main shipping port for gold and diamonds that came from Minas Gerais In 1763 the colonial capital of Brazil was transfered from Salvador, Bahia to Rio.

In 1808, as Napoleon's armies began the invasion of Portugal, the decision was made to transfer the monarch and his court to Rio de Janeiro, where he would remain until 1821. During this time Brasil was elevated in status from a colony to United Kingdom with Portugal. With the advent of Independence Rio became the capital of the new empire. The city prospered economically, and by 1891 it had a population of over 500,000 inhabitants ranking it one of the largest cities in the world. As the city grew in prominence mountains were removed, bay water reclaimed, and skyscrapers constructed.