Aracaju is the capital and only significant city in the small state of Sergipe in northeastern Brazil. With a population of about 470,000 (2000 estimate), Aracaju is a port city and regional economic center located on the Rio Sergipe approximately six miles from the coast. Its name derives from the cashew nut trees that abound in the area. Unlike other northeastern capitals established in the colonial era, Aracaju was not founded until 1855. Its creation as a new capital to replace São Cristóvão with its inadequate port was expected to further local economic development. Its grid pattern is unusual among Brazilian cities.
Aracaju's population surpassed that of all other cities in the state by the 1890s, and the relative concentration of the state's population there continued to increase with the building of railroad lines during World War I. Agricultural products such as hides, cotton, and sugar historically dominated the commerce of the port; local industry has centered on the processing of these and other agricultural products. The state's first textile plant was established there in 1884; in the early decades of the twentieth century, the city exported a significant percentage of its textiles to other Brazilian states, including Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, and Pernambuco. The state's production of sugar and cotton declined in the 1940s due to competition from southern states. Migration from the countryside to the city began to grow significantly in the following decades, particularly after the 1960s. In 1970 Petrobrás, the national oil company, established a regional office there, and offshore oil drilling has expanded considerably since the late 1970s. There have been some efforts made to create an infrastructure for tourism, although the city lags behind other northeastern coastal cities in this area.
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