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Amazonas, Brazil's largest state. Occupying some 602,000 square miles in the heart of the vast tropical Amazon Region, Amazonas is entirely lowlands, much of it flooded for months at a time and most of it covered with tropical rain forest. The main physical features are the Negro and Solimões rivers, which flow together to create the Amazon River.

When the region was first explored by Europeans in the 1540s, it was densely populated by native peoples. Gradually the native population declined, due mostly to diseases new to the area. By the 1630s, when Portuguese military expeditions established a permanent presence there, the natives were already disappearing. In 1669 the Portuguese built a small fort near the confluence of the Negro and Solimões/Amazon rivers, focus of a settlement called São José do Rio Negro, that gradually grew into the modern city of Manaus. By the 1730s, the Portuguese had mostly dislodged the Spanish from the central Amazon. These territorial gains were legalized in the Treaty of Madrid of 1750 (confirmed in the 1777 Treaty of San Ildefonso).

For most of the colonial era, the Portuguese administered the central Amazon from Belém and São Luís, Maranhão. In 1755, however, the region was designated the captaincy of São José do Rio Negro in order to promote economic exploitation. In the ensuing years, merchants and adventurers in São José mounted great Indian slaving expeditions. The town also became the gathering point for animals and plant materials destined for export.

Amazonas became a separate province in 1850 (and a state after 1891). São José was designated a city and gained its modern name shortly afterward. From then on, Manaus was the center of a boom in natural rubber exports, stimulated by Charles Goodyear's development in 1839 of the vulcanization process for hardening rubber. The boom peaked in the early years of the twentieth century, when incredible profits accumulated in the hands of local merchants. Before the bubble burst, city fathers erected a sumptuous opera house to show off their wealth. Manaus then went into decline, but the federal government began to promote and aid the city in the 1960s. Today Manaus has more than a million inhabitants, a busy deep-water port, a free-trade zone, and a great variety of exports.

Because it is still 98 percent rainforest, Amazonas has been at the center of debates about deforestation and environmental protection. In 2007 Eduardo Braga, the governor of Amazonas, signed Brazil's first climate change law, which offered to pay farmers who avoid deforestation.

See alsoAmazon Regionxml .


Artur Reis, Estado do Amazonas (1978).

Leo A. Despres, Manaus (1991).

Additional Bibliography

Andersen, Lykke E., Clive W. J. Granger, Eustáquio J. Reis, et al. The Dynamics of Deforestation and Economic Growth in the Brazilian Amazon. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Barham, Brad, and O. T. Coomes. Prosperity's Promise: The Amazon Rubber Boom and Distorted Economic Development. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996.

Pontes Filho, Raimundo P. Estudos de história do Amazonas. Manaus, Brazil: Valer Editora, 2000.

                                     Michael L. Conniff